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The UK Reveal Plans of a Possible Return of Imperial Measurements

Shops in the UK may be allowed to sell products using traditional imperial units according to a recent government announcement named 'Brexit Oppurtunities: Regulatory Reforms'. This has long been a cause for conversation in the UK but due to Brexit, the government have put forward a review of the legal use of imperial units.

But what does this actually mean, and how does it affect UK traders? Let’s unpack:

Does the UK currently use metric or imperial units?

Currently, under EU law, traders in England, Scotland and Wales must legally use metric measurements such as grams, kilograms, millilitres and litres. This includes government, the NHS, the armed forces and all companies that sell a measurable product. This was put in place in 2000 and anyone found still using imperial measurements for buying and selling after this point would be made to face prosecution.

Confusingly, many people in the UK still freely use imperial measurements in everyday speech, and it’s still common to walk into a fruit and veg shop and see fruit displayed in pounds and ounces. However, draught beer or cider (pint), milk (pint) and precious metals (troy ounce) all use imperial measurements. All distance signs and speed limits are measured using the imperial measurements of feet and miles, as these were deemed too expensive and too confusing to convert to metric wholesale.

What are the current UK laws for trading?

To ensure that a customer receives the correct amounts of weighed goods, a trade approved weighing scale must legally be used. This is the case for any shop, butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer or anyone selling a product with a price directly related to its weight. For more information on trade approvals and who needs to use one, see our blog post.

Approved equipment is only permitted to use the units that are currently deemed as legal for trade, currently grams and kilograms, and there is no way to change the scale to imperial without illegally tampering with the instrument’s internals. Metric calibration weights must also be used and must be stamped with the crown stamp.

Shops must display prices in grams and kilograms, although they are permitted to have ‘supplementary pricing’ in imperial units, as long as it is not more prominent than the metric measurement.

It’s important to remember that a Trading Standards officer can visit your business at any time to check that you are using the correct weighing scales with the proper approvals, and that your products are displayed using metric units.

What happens if the UK change back to imperial units?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called it “an era of generosity and tolerance towards traditional measurements”, although what that actually means for UK traders is still uncertain.

It could be that traders may have to purchase new weighing scales and calibration equipment as a result. As previously stated, all trade approved weighing scales in the UK must use metric units, so it is uncertain as to how imperial measurements could be integrated into this. When the UK implemented the metric system for weighing in 2000, many traders had to buy suitable, legal weighing scales as their imperial machines were made redundant. 

Equally, it could all amount to nothing - the proposals outlined in the 'Brexit Oppurtunities' document are yet to be discussed in parliament so may never even see the light of day. If it does happen, there remains no timescale on when the shift to imperial units would take place. As this story progresses, we will provide more information to help keep you up to date.

Need further advice on trade approved weighing scales? Get In Touch

For further reading, we recommend:

ACS Advice on Weights and Measures

UK Metric Association

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