/ Home & Energy

End Dangerous Products: the changes we’ve made and where next

burnt tumble dryer

Our campaign has pushed for major recalls, strengthening the regulatory system and identifying new challenges for four years. Here’s what we’ve achieved and where we’re heading.

When white goods manufacturer Whirlpool first announced a fault affecting more than five million of its tumble dryers in the UK in November 2015, resulting in them posing a fire risk, Which? was one of the first voices to call for an immediate recall of the affected appliances.

The company’s failure to do so and its flawed handling of a serious safety incident exposed the shortcomings of the UK’s product safety system, leading us to launch a campaign calling not just for Whirlpool to recall its dangerous dryers but for wider reform of the safety system.

And lots of you agreed with us. More than 165,000 people have now signed our petition calling for an end to dangerous products, while thousands of campaign supporters got involved by sharing their concerns with MPs and the regulator or telling us about safety issues they experienced here on Which? Conversation.

We’ve achieved some big wins as a result, bringing about real improvements to the system.

Our progress so far

In January 2018, the government set up a dedicated national regulator for product safety – the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).

In July of this year, the regulator published new guidance on the use of non-disclosure clauses relating to safety incidents, after Which? raised concerns about the misuse of such agreements. 

On Whirlpool, last year the company was finally forced to recall its up to 800,000 unsafe tumble dryers still in UK homes, also publishing the full list of its 627 affected models that Which? had repeatedly called for.

As well as being offered a free replacement machine or repair, affected customers now also have the option of a partial refund. 

And it appears that Whirlpool is learning lessons when it comes to product safety. In December 2019, the company announced that it was voluntarily recalling more than 500,000 washing machines – again because they posed a fire-risk.

While there were still issues with its initial handling, the recall has resulted in one of the highest success rates for a white goods recall in the UK.

What happens next?

We’ve made great strides together in recent years but this doesn’t mark the end of our calls for change. 

We’re continuing to make the case for the new Office for Product Safety and Standards to be made independent with a clear duty for consumer protection and public safety.

This will ensure the UK’s product safety system will be able to meet new and global challenges head on and keep unsafe products from reaching people’s homes. 

Our testing has also uncovered large numbers of unsafe products being sold on online marketplaces, so we’re pushing for the sites to have greater legal responsibility for the safety of products sold on their platforms – and hope to have your continued support as we do. 

For now, we want to take a moment to thank you for the change you’ve helped make so far.  

Comments

Which? has reported on dangerous products on sale on online marketplaces and reported its findings to the Office of Public Safety and Standards. I am not aware that any action has been taken.

I can still find examples of potentially dangerous products from reading Amazon reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lloytron-F2003WH-Staywarm-Upright-Settings/dp/B000WIYILW/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

The one star reviews mention the plastic case melting, smoke, sparks and there are plenty of references to the plug overheating (Some of these are likely to be due to the owner plugging the heater into a damaged socket).

The seller is not some unheard of company based in the Far East but JC Trade Supplies in Bradford.

Does the problem have to become worse before action is taken about potentially dangerous electrical goods? I am not making any allegations but invite readers to look through the numerous pages of one star reviews.

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/03/product-recall-goodhome-colenso-fh-115-fan-heaters-recalled-because-of-safety-risk/
Did this meet the relevant safety standard?
This was available from B&Q and Screwfix.
It is not whether the seller is unheard of but from where they source the products they sell and whether or not they are diligent in checking their integrity – for example, is their provenance genuine. A defective (non-compliant) socket tower was listed by a well known UK seller.

We must prosecute, and fine significant amounts, companies that sell products that do not meet safety regulations. Only by making the sale of non-compliant not worthwhile might we begin to stop this irresponsible/criminal behaviour.

It was reading that story that prompted me to look at fan heaters sold on Amazon.

At least there is a chance that owners of the Colenso heaters might get to know that they have been recalled. For example B&Q display prominent notices in their stores and there is a link to recalled products on the homepage of their website. Screwfix features the recall on their homepage.

I agree that action must be taken against companies that sell or distribute dangerous products. It’s the job of the government of the day to make sure that happens.

At present online marketplaces are, we have been told, not responsible for what their traders sell and I do not know what if any legal action can be taken against companies based overseas.

From the Which? article: “Owners of the GoodHome Colenso FH-115 have been urged to return their heaters for a refund or dispose of them at a local recycling centre.”

If the fan heaters are returned to the manufacturer or retailer there is a good chance they will be destroyed. If the owner is left with the responsibility of disposing them they may continue to be used (on the basis they are still working fine). If they are taken to a recycling centre, they could be taken by visitors and some recycling centres collect electrical goods for reuse if they appear to be in good condition.

My question was – did these heaters meet the relevant UK regulations for safety. If not then I think Kingfisher should be prosecuted.

This is a manufacturer’s recall:

“Risk
Electric shock and fire.

Details
B&Q has identified a potential risk of electric shock and fire when using this product.
In some cases, the product may overheat causing damage to the case.”

We do not usually get to know whether this or other recalled products are compliant with standards, certainly in the case of electrical goods.

“Failed” products are one clear example of what should be investigated by trading standards as they may not comply with relevant safety standards. Retailers/distributors have the responsibility of selling safe products and should be prosecuted if they don’t. Otherwise we will never get a hold on proper consumer protection.

I agree Malcolm but until TS are given sufficient funding I do not see much chance of progress soon. Maybe if TS had access to money raised from fines, as was suggested recently, that would help.

We have suggested that before. However as fines can go into general government funds then Trading Standards organisations could (should) be centrally funded.

We keep repeating that we need to properly resource the organisation that is officially appointed to protect consumer safety. That, currently, is Trading Standards.

To enforce safety regulations requires resources – money and qualified people. Until we do that, and until we prosecute and penalise offenders, irresponsible and criminal traders will continue to harm us.

Here is a page from a blog on the Trading Standards website, where an employee says that the council system is broken: http://tradingstandardsblog.co.uk/do-we-need-a-national-trading-standards-department

With national and multinational companies it makes little sense for a local TS office to deal with problems.

How do we get action from our government?

Patrick Taylor says:
11 March 2021

Perhaps the first step would be ..
How do we get any action from the self-claimed consumer champion

How many subscribers have EVER written to the Trustees on these matters where the charity appears oblivious or acts supinely ? The Trustees are totally responsible for the good name and direction of the charity.

That is an interesting outline of a better structure for trading standards. I would like to see the words ‘consumer protection’ somewhere in the narrative to locate it better in people’s minds.

It could be that a thematic approach might be better where major appliances, or DIY products, or travel and holidays, or groceries [for example] each have their own bureaux.

Being pre-coronavirus, the suggestions do not give any consideration to the enormous on-line market that has changed the face of personal purchasing or to the trades in energy, communications, digital experiences, and so forth.

I think there is still a case for a local function in each county town or major city and for localised inspection and testing [historically called ‘weights and measures’].

It would probably take the reading of every edition of Which? magazine over ten years to cover the ground that needs to be addressed by trading standards, so a very flexible organisation is necessary able to react to emerging situations while maintaining activity on routine functions.

Scams and consumer fraud tend to be dominant themes at present and get a lot of coverage but little practical action or remedy; have we got the priorities wrong, or is the expertise lacking? Is it easier to deal with problems arising from selling dolls eyes and fly-papers, rather than with equity release or funeral plans, so that’s where the energy goes?

Perhaps a national debate is called for led by a leading consumer organisation.

“One swallow doesn’t make a Summer” and the term “broken” is much overused. However, it has been clear for years that trading standards was underfunded and under-resourced. We have discussed it many times.

In my view there should be a National Trading Standards – extending the existing one – to cover national issues, including national traders. There should also be local Trading Standards who cover local issues and traders, for example and to pass national issues to the national body. The consumer should be able to report appropriate issues directly to either, not through a charity and see what is being done.

Which? have had little to say about how the trading system should be policed. I would like them campaign and lobby Government to restore national and local trading standards into an effective policing organisation. We do not need to go through all the rigmarole of setting up a new body; just make the existing one effective.

@gmartin, George, have Which? any interest in doing this?

Patrick Taylor says:
11 March 2021

If one were cynical you may regard the silence of W? in the last decade on the destruction of Trading Standards as an appreciation of the gap it left for Which? Trusted Trader to commercialise.

There is a huge problem in the UK of bodies that nominally are responsible but in actuality are either paper tigers or lack any desire to be effective.

This is compounded by the plethora of initials /names AND the almost clockwork regularity of the merging of departments and changing of responsibilities.

If one were suspicious that this is actually a deliberate policy to fudge and confuse one might look to the early last century when Governments seemed to able to run without constant name changes.

Private Eye was always finding easy meat with the Fundamentally Supine Authority or the Fundmantally Complicit Authority. Originally the SIB founded 1985.
” The defunct Financial Services Authority (FSA), invariably referred to as “The Fundamentally Supine Authority” in reference to its reluctance to act and its seemingly close relationship with the industry it was supposed to regulate, often contrasting its performance with the swift and draconian methods of its United States counterparts.
The FSA’s replacement body, the Financial Conduct Authority, is usually referred to as the “Financial C**k-up Authority”, or the “Fundamentally Complicit Authority” – underlining that it appears to act in a manner little differently from its predecessor.”

It also revealed the ineptness of the CQC
“Residential establishments, unlike hospitals, can easily be closed, or sold, and reopened with a new identity. Private Eye reported in November 2015 that most of the 34 homes closed under Cynthia Bower after failing their inspection later reopened with a new name or under new ownership, but with similar problems. Compassion in Care told the magazine that if a home changed name or ownership it was then listed by the CQC as “new services” and “uninspected” by the CQC, and there was no link to reports on the same establishment under different ownership, even if the new owners were linked to the previous owners, and there was no follow up inspection if problems had been identified. They had found 152 homes reregistered as new, when they had only changed owner or name. The commission had identified safety concerns in more than 40% of the homes it had inspected, and 10% were rated as inadequate.”

In the case of residential homes of course W? had an interest as it was reproducing the CQC information despite this significant failing in oversight. You might say W? was complicit in the fudge by not pointing out this major defect.

It also did not discuss the financial takeover of numerous homes for the purpose of asset stripping and eventual collapse under the debt-loading. These being entirley foreseeable and to the detriment of consumers. There is some academic research showing that run for profit homes have less staff and more deaths.

W? cannot change everything but it most certainly could be more openly critical of both commercial companies and of oversight bodies. It does a huge disservice to readers and to it’s reputation by being blind and or mute to consumer wrongs.

Not something I’d be able to answer I’m afraid Malcolm. However we did release the following views to press very recently:

“The government must seize this opportunity to put in place a world class product safety regime that ensures consumers can have confidence that protections will keep pace with technology.

“We want to see the current regime enhanced and gaps addressed. This includes ensuring that online marketplaces are given more legal responsibility for preventing unsafe products from being sold on their sites.

“We are calling for an independent regulator to oversee the system and ensure it keeps pace with market developments – and crucially puts consumer interests first. The government should therefore make the Office for Product Safety and Standards an independent, consumer-focused regulator as part of this review.”

In response to: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-modernise-product-safety-laws-to-ensure-theyre-fit-for-21st-century

I’ve just had an email from B&Q about a recall of a heater. Not one that I had bought and they only had my email because I have ordered online before but not opted in for marketing. I’m delighted I got this email and just goes to show recalls can be communicated better than they usually are. Well done B&Q!

Thanks Abby. Here is a recall notice about the heater in question: https://media.diy.com/is/content/Kingfisher/5059340046921_lgl_EN_BQpdf

It’s good to give credit where it is deserved and there are companies that do behave responsibly and act promptly when they know there is a problem.

Patrick Taylor says:
11 March 2021

I was slightly distressed at your response Abby. You appear to be condoning the use of your address for any recall message whether it is relevant to you or not.

The growth of this concept with mutiple retailers no doubt would be a mountain of recall notices. Surely a messgae to those who bought it from was the correct move.

Anything else either indicates poor use of database, a way of checking your email address is still active, and of course keeping their name in your consciousness.

Until there is an effective recall system I don’t have a problem with what B&Q have done here, and Abby is certainly not complaining. There are not many recalls at present: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/product-safety-database-unsafe-products

With so many buying on credit or debit cards you might suppose that would be one possible route to target purchases?

Which? have been vocal in demanding “full product recalls” – Whirlpool tumble dryers and washing machines for example – while totally ignoring the fact that such a recall is impossible. No system to do it. Despite being told of ways a proper recall system could be set up they have made no apparent effort to develop suggestions and put them forward.

What is the point in claiming to protect consumers when you avoid making constructive proposals?

@dieseltaylor If I buy in store they would not have details of my purchase. As this is a serious safety issue I am more than happy for them to do this. I don’t think they would be doing it for things that are lower risk as it would reflect badly on the company to be constantly told their products are not safe. In the absence of a national recall system this is the next best thing.

@malcolm-r I think that’s a bit unfair. There are many different ways that a recall system could work and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. As a campaign it needs to have a clear message to put pressure on the institutions that would be implementing a recall system. If you talk about specifics in a campaign people will get caught up in the detail of it and will be less likely to engage with it.

You have to remember, people like us are not… ummmm… ‘normal’?!? Most people are not as invested as we are and need a simple message to cut through everything else they have going on in their lives.

The Office of Public Safety and Standards now has a weekly list of recalls. It does not go back further than January (maybe that will change), it is not searchable and you cannot sign up to be notified of updates by email: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/product-safety-database-unsafe-products

Electrical Safety First has a more comprehensive list but it is not always up to date and although email notification used to work fine it no longer does for me: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/product-recalls/

CTSI has a searchable list of recalls, but problems with electrical products are buried amongst food recalls, many of which are only relevant to those with food allergies and intolerances: https://www.tradingstandards.uk/consumers/product-recalls-and-safety-notices

As Abby says we have busy lives and I think we need to establish the most effective ways of getting information to as many people as possible.

dieseltaylor says:
12 March 2021

Abby you did not buy the product subject to the recall. There is no linkage to you and to the product.

I can see clearly that there is either ccock-up or it is deliberate for the reasons I have outlined.

If we look at the larger view say B&Q have a million peoples email adresses of which 5000 have bought the product. You are applauding perhaps 995,000 messages that are irrelevant to the recipients – is this a definition of spam?.

Now perhaps if we go slightly further I would suggest that my view is put to ICO. AFAIR there are previous dealt cases of contacts being made on the basis of minimal reasons.

I am registered with B&Q and I did not receive an email about the recall mentioned by Abby, and I cannot remember receiving information about other recalls. Like Screwfix they do send email receipts, though this is optional. I agree that it would be best to contact those who had bought products.

Abby – I cannot agree with your response to Malcolm in relation to how Which? has dealt with recalls. Which? has completely failed to engage with those of us who have been trying to suggest ways of making product recalls work. There has been no reaction either for or against which is very disappointing. Dismissing proposals by ignoring them is a form of insolence if not contempt.

I often feel that Which? should stop seeing everything as a campaign and pay more attention to what some of its loyal and dedicated subscribers are saying on important issues. I believe more would be gained by Which? getting into a position where government wanted to listen to it rather than constantly looking for the hostile or negative line. The unassailable fact is that Which? today has less influence with legislators, the government and the regulatory authorities than it did fifty years ago.

Demanding impractical solutions does not enhance Which?’s reputation and is not worthy of a mature representative organisation.

dieseltaylor says:
12 March 2021

I always recommend at looking how other countries deal with this problem and see how it could be adopted.

In France there is this site: oulah.fr
Depuis 2015, Oulah ! a répertorié
5389 rappels de produits en France.
which is searchable and will send a weekly email for free.

There is the government site here: economie.gouv.fr/dgccrf/securite/avis-rappels-produits

The dgcrf is a very serious department indeed and fraud is the f in its title.

The DGCCRF
Within the Ministry of the Economy, the DGCCRF ensures the proper functioning of markets, for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

The DGCCRF acts in favour of :

compliance with competition rules
the economic protection of consumers
the safety and conformity of products and services.

As a control authority, it intervenes :

in all areas of consumption (food and non-food products, services)
at all stages of economic activity (production, processing, import, distribution);
whatever the form of trade: shops, e-commerce sites or sites linked to the collaborative economy, etc.

I purchased Beldray 1.2kW Halogen Heater from Argos. This Heater caught fire at home!!! Thank God I felt the smell of burning plastic (which might be poisonous), and turned this heater off immediatelly, thus saving our house. I reported this issue to Argos, but it does not seem that they are too concerned. Promised a refund, but it does not seem that they will do anything about this hazardous heater.

Hi Katie – I’m sorry to hear your story and fortunately you were there at the time. The fumes from burning plastics can be toxic so it’s important to avoid breathing them.

The official advice is as follows: “If you are a consumer and want to report a dangerous product as a consumer, please contact Citizens Advice.” If you have photos that would be useful. It would also be worth contacting Beldray, the manufacturer, Beldray, which might want to look at the damaged heater.

Manufacturers tend to issue a recall when there have been a number of incidents, so it’s essential that they get to know whenever there is a problem.

It would be good to hear if you get a positive response from Beldray.

It would also be useful to know if you got a positive response from Citizens’ Advice. I would much rather you could report these problems to Trading Standards, whose official job is to protect UK consumers from unsafe products.

dieseltaylor says:
18 March 2021

Seems almost amusing that we have an article about dangerous products but AFAIR Which? has never discussed or campaigned on chemicals/compounds that are long term dangerous. Que Choisir does and provides an app to help shoppers …

theintercept.com/2021/01/24/toxic-chemicals-human-sexuality-shanna-swan

Because it is long term does not make a lesser danger. Research showing a 60% drop in sperm production and alterations to genitals and sexual desire are probably extremely important. The UK remarkably keeps dosing furniture with a dangerous fire retardant ….

Raju Anupam Sinha says:
25 March 2021

I dislike companies whom cheat likeTalk Talk.

Many goods bought are faulty and difficult to get money back.

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/03/the-serious-pushchair-safety-hazards-that-could-put-your-child-at-risk/

“We test according to the latest British Standard BS EN 1888:2019, with our experts checking everything from choking and entrapment hazards to the stability of the pushchair and handlebar strength. In the last year we’ve found 31 pushchairs with safety risks. Nine pushchairs have had serious enough failures to be named Don’t Buys.

I would suggest that making them Don’t Buys is insufficient; surely if they are dangerous Which? should be asking for them to be withdrawn from sale.

@gmartin, George, glad to see you back. Can you ask Which? to tell us what they are doing about the nine serious failures to protect consumers?

Hi Malcolm. Everything there is to know is already in the story I’m afraid. Which? has advised consumers not to buy the products that failed Which? safety tests – a decision that isn’t taken lightly. That’s the extent of the outcome at this stage.

Thanks George. It seems to me that Which? should pursue this more vigorously. The vast majority of consumers will not see a Which? story – maybe more if it becomes a press release. The only way to stop dangerous products, in my view, is to penalise the sellers if the products make fake claims, have products withdrawn from sale to protect consumers, and raise the failures with the manufacturers.

I would like Which to investigate and campaign to change laws on neighbours who burn dangerous chemicals to save on energy costs. My local council took favour on polluting neighbours because their flue was deemed to be within current building regulations distance allowed. Yet, this neighbours smoke from his flue lingers across my forecourt throughout the night and into my closed bedroom window. I have had to put gaffa tape around my landing window because the toxic odour was seeping in while we sleep. We wake up coughing every morning. We cannot use our gardens or open house windows. This is ongoing day and night for 8 months of a year, every year. I’m getting nose bleeds, stomach pains and shortness of breath. How can the current laws be fair? This has to change. Please respond Which.

Have you discussed this with other neighbours, MissA? If they are affected too then perhaps they could report this to the council.