Shoppers rush to buy extra-strength vacuum cleaners before EU ban comes into force

‘Which?’ accused of encouraging the stampede by panicking its readers

Tom Bawden
Tuesday 02 September 2014 19:24 BST
Tesco reported a 44 per cent increase in sales of vacuum cleaners in the second half of August
Tesco reported a 44 per cent increase in sales of vacuum cleaners in the second half of August

There is no chance for the dust to settle in this battle, as those who oppose the EU’s ban on high-powered vacuum cleaners are being accused of Euroscepticism.

“Banning vacuum cleaners isn’t about saving the planet – it’s about Brussels grabbing even more power,” one right-wing tabloid thundered today, adding to the chorus of opposition to the ban, which is accompanied by a new energy-efficiency rating system.

The media coverage in the run-up to the ban on vacuum cleaners that use more than 1,600 watts, which is aimed to help the environment by forcing vacuum cleaners to become more energy-efficient – resulted in a stampede among shoppers rushing to buy powerful models before the ban came into effect, with Tesco reporting a 44 per cent hike in sales in the second half of August.

The Boxing-Day sales- style rush was exacerbated by reports that five of Which? magazine’s seven “best buy” vacuum cleaners would be outlawed under the new ban, prompting the consumer bible to give consumers the following heavily-quoted advice: “If you’re in the market for a powerful vacuum, you should act quickly, before all of the models currently available sell out.”

However, experts have now rounded on those who oppose the ban, dismissing their objections as misleading Euroscepticism.

“There’s a lot of hype around this new law, much of which appears to be motivated more by a dislike of Europe than any rational analysis of the facts,” said Dr Robert Gross, director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College London.

“For a start, 1,600 watts is perfectly powerful enough for the vast majority of uses. Second, numerous models will be unaffected by this change. Will consumers be worse off? In my view, very few would have even noticed if this issue hadn’t been hyped to the hilt by certain sections of the press,” Dr Gross added.

Far from dealing a blow to consumers, the new ban will actually help them, cutting fuel bills and making vacuum cleaners quieter, according to advocates.

The rules will make the average vacuum cleaner 63 per cent more efficient, cutting Europe’s collective household energy bills by £2.4bn a year – or £11 per household, according to EU data.

The maximum wattage will be reduced to 900 watts by September 2017, a target which experts say is clearly more ambitious but still perfectly feasible, with James Dyson using motors as small as 700 watts since 2008.

But what of the Which? advice to go out and buy a powerful cleaner? The answer lies in the very next sentence in the release.

“Despite what is being widely reported by some other media outlets, a large motor size does not guarantee impressive action. Our independent testing has found many Best Buy vacuums under 1,600 watts, proving that clever engineering and a well-designed floorhead are equally, if not more important, than a powerful motor.”

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