/ Home & Energy

Update: taking our product safety concerns to Parliament

UK parliament

It has been over two years since the news first broke about Whirlpool’s fire risk tumble dryers, and in those two years we’ve seen some shocking failures in the UK’s product safety system.

Giving evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, I pressed the committee to launch an inquiry into product safety and to finally hold the government to account for its inaction that has left millions of consumers unnecessarily at risk.

Whirlpool dryers

As some of you will know, in August 2015, Whirlpool informed Peterborough Trading Standards (PTS) that up to 5.3 million tumble dryers in the UK were affected by a fault.

These machines were at risk of catching fire and required modification to address the problem and by 2016 around 750 fires were reportedly linked to Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline, Swan and Creda tumble dryers.

The manufacturer has consistently resisted calls for a recall of the dangerous products despite the clear potential for tragedy. Instead, it launched a repair programme despite having limited capacity to deliver this commitment due to the scale of the problem.

More than a year after the issue first emerged, people were facing lengthy delays waiting for a repair of their potentially dangerous dryer. And all the while Whirlpool dangerously advised customers to keep using their dryers. That was until we issued an application for judicial review against PTS, which soon after saw PTS issuing Whirlpool with two enforcement notices to instruct consumers to unplug their machines until they were repaired.

In Parliament, we heard from Whirlpool that around a million of these fire-risk dryers are still in people’s homes.

System failures

The failure of PTS or the Government to respond to this risk and not force Whirlpool to recall these dangerous products has revealed significant issues at the heart of the UK’s product safety system.

The independent challenge necessary in the product safety system was lacking because PTS didn’t properly carry out its role as an enforcer of product safety laws. And Ministers failed to grasp the scale of the issue, leaving people with dangerous products in their homes.

Subsequent concerns about a different fault in one of the same affected tumble dryers was highlighted in the Llanwrst fire inquest, and safety issues related to non-flame retardant backings on fridge freezers, have provided further evidence that the product safety system is broken and needs urgent reform.

These incidents have raised fundamental questions about the ability of the current product safety regime to adequately protect consumers. Our system is failing because the UK enforcement regime is simply not fit-for-purpose.

In the UK we have a highly fragmented system, heavily reliant on local Trading Standards, without the necessary resources of expertise to police the product safety system. These local Trading Standards offices are responsible for ensuring compliance with 260 pieces of legislation.

As a result, there is an over-reliance on companies to self-manage compliance (including for recall) and an emphasis on light touch regulation.

Finally, there is a lack of coordinated intelligence on potential product safety issues. Trading Standards simply aren’t equipped for this type of market surveillance.

Product safety system

Sadly, there is little to suggest the government has grasped the scale of the problems facing our product safety system. In 2015, it commissioned Lynn Faulds Wood to undertake a review following a fatal fire caused by a faulty Beko fridge-freezer, but has ignored the most important recommendations from that review.

These issues must be addressed urgently. Our enforcement regime must be effective now. As we prepare to leave the EU we enter a more complex trading environment and we must be able to ensure the safety of products coming from new markets.

I called on the committee to launch an inquiry. I also repeated our call for a new national body to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers get dangerous products out of people’s homes quickly. All of the panellists who gave evidence to the select committee agreed with our call for a new national body, remarkably this also included Whirlpool and the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances.

Update 1 November: Speaking at a Parliamentary debate on product safety this afternoon, the Consumer Minister Margot James revealed that our calls for a new national body and how to deliver an increased central system were under consideration. The Minister also announced that the government would publish its response to the Working Group on product safety’s recommendations before the end of the year.

Update: 1 December 2017

Whirlpool has stopped replacing its fire-risk tumble dryers, but continues to offer a modification for affected models.

The Telegraph has just revealed it has found that the manufacturer quietly stopped the scheme back in October. This news comes despite the manufacturer admitting, in Parliament on 31 October, that around one million of these dryers are still in people’s homes.

Since the safety alert issues hit the headlines in 2015, we’ve been shocked by what we can only describe as multiple failings on Whirlpool’s part to sort this issue out fully and promptly.

Our Managing Director of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, said:

‘It is completely unacceptable that Whirlpool has shut down its replacement scheme for these dangerous tumble dryers. It is irresponsible that despite one million households potentially still using an affected machine Whirlpool seems unwilling to do everything possible to deal with this issue.

‘The Government must step in and force Whirlpool to fully recall the remaining tumble dryers.’

Over 100 models of Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline, Swan and Creda tumble dryers bought before October 2015 are at risk of catching fire. Those with fire-risk dryers still in their homes are now left with the only option of awaiting a free modification.

Do you want the government review the product safety system? How would you want the system changed?

Comments

I have suggested a number of times that 1) there should be compulsory registration of appropriate products at the time of purchase, by the seller and 2) we should properly fund Trading Standards to protect consumers. 3) We need an independent body to set up the registration and subsequent recall system, and I suggest this is funded by a levy on the purchase and that Trading Standards (for example) are given this role. It would also help fund their revival.

The point I make, whether you agree with these proposals or not, is that constructive and potentially workable proposals need to be put forward for discussion, not just complain about nothing being done. A deficiency of the Faulds Wood review is that it made no specific proposals that could be discussed as to how the scheme could be established and by who (in my view).

@pmoorey Which? has had a number of Convos dealing with this topic. Were any of these suggestions, or any of Which?’s own, put forward in their evidence to the BEIS meeting?

I see Which? as in pole posion to come up with proposals to deal with this. I do hope they are devoting considerable effort to deal with what I see should be a vital consumer protection initiative.

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Yes. I fully support you pursuing this dreadful company.

I’m all for compulsory registration so that owners can be contacted promptly in event of a recall but it’s vital to take into account those who are living in rental accommodation and those who buy secondhand products. If all new products carry a QR code (like a barcode) with details of make/model/serial number then that would make it simple for the retailer to register products along with the purchasers name. A simple phone app would allow owners of secondhand and landlords’ appliances to be added to the database.

For years the DVSA has notified us of recalls on vehicles thanks to the fact that these are registered. We can now check if our car is taxed and has an MOT: https://vehicleenquiry.service.gov.uk We can even check the MOT record of our car: https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history

I envisage that we could be able to check which products are registered in our name and to be able to delete those products that have been scrapped or otherwise disposed of.

I am delighted that Which? is pursuing our concerns about product safety.

The problem of people not being informed that products are recalled was well illustrated when the recall of dishwashers manufactured by Bosch and sold under the Neff and Siemens brands was so ineffective that a second attempt was made to contact owners: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2013/03/bosch-neff-and-siemens-re-issue-dishwasher-safety-notice-314647/ Only 24% of owners responded to the original recall within two years. It was encouraging that the manufacturer did try hard but it does show the need for a more effective recall system.

Brexit, the needs of big business and the “bonfire of regulations” that will follow, will see more and more unsafe products and the government washing their hands of the whole issue.

Products will still have to meet the international/European safety standards that BSI issue, in my opinion. The problem will still be whether Government properly-funds the policing necessary to ensure traders supply compliant products, and penalise those traders who do not. The major manufacturers (who will have to continue supplying such products in the remains of the EU anyway) will not want to see standards lowered here. Nor will consumers, so this is a job for Which? to pursue relentlessly if there is any whiff of reduced safety.

We have heard no more about the recent Convo “Would you trust a safety system based on Amazon reviews?”. @ldeitz, did you ever get a reply from BEIS about the supposed leaked email suggesting we use Amazon reviews instead of proper safety standards?

Given that local Trading Standards departments already seem to be run on a budget as close to zero as you can get without completely disbanding them, I have severe doubts.

My argument is that they need to be properly funded, Ian, both at local and national levels.

So… these products are OK when the UK is the EU, and there appears to be no comeback. But your contention is things will get worse when the UK becomes independent? A nonsensical point.

This discussion is about making sure that in future the product safety systems are fit for purpose. Throwing comments about politics about is distracting, pointless and distracting.

I propose instant recall of ALL government hand-washing machines!

Until it happens to a MP No one in Parliment will show much interest in any thing that needs urgently doing they have too many unnecessary things to do first

Christopher Pugh says:
4 November 2017

Campaigns seem to focus on the product recall system and product registration. Improvements in these are obviously desirable but much more needs to be done to improve the quality and safety of equipment at the manufacturing stage. With fridge-freezers, for example, standards of construction have been widely criticised for some time. In my opinion, efforts by manufactures to improve the quality and safety of products fall short of what can reasonably be expected.

Dave says:
5 December 2017

Possibly that if when leaving the E.U Britain went back to the “B.E.A.B ” approved electrical safety standard, which I believe was of a higher standard then the present E.U standard there would be less faulty appliances?

I agree with this. Once one could buy an electrical product carrying a kite symbol that showed it had been tested for safety but now how many poor cheap toasters, for instance, are sold that suddenly send out green flames. I took one back to Asda and they knew and refunded my money instantly. so should Hotpoint and all the others selling tumble driers. How many more folk have to die before they accept full responsibility.

Household electrical appliances have to meet the requirements of international safety standard 60335 to be legally sold, whatever approval mark they carry (the Kite Mark is the one owned by BSI, but other countries’ test houses use their own). The seller of a product that does not comply can, and should, be prosecuted if it is done fraudulently. Occasional products from a compliant model will inevitably have a fault, through a rare defect in manufacture for example; nothing is perfect.

Hello everyone, an update for you:

Whirlpool has stopped replacing its fire-risk tumble dryers.

The Telegraph has just revealed it has found that the manufacturer quietly stopped the scheme back in October. This news comes despite the manufacturer admitting, in Parliament on 31 October, that around one million of these dryers are still in people’s homes.

Since the safety alert issues hit the headlines in 2015, we’ve been shocked by what we can only describe as multiple failings on Whirlpool’s part to sort this issue out fully and promptly.

Our Managing Director of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, said:

‘It is completely unacceptable that Whirlpool has shut down its replacement scheme for these dangerous tumble dryers. It is irresponsible that despite one million households potentially still using an affected machine Whirlpool seems unwilling to do everything possible to deal with this issue.

‘The Government must step in and force Whirlpool to fully recall the remaining tumble dryers.’

Over 100 models of Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline, Swan and Creda tumble dryers bought before October 2015 are at risk of catching fire. Those with fire-risk dryers still in their homes are now left with the only option of awaiting a free modification.

@ldeitz. Lauren, if the dryers are less than 6 years old (except Scotland, 5) then because they have been admitted as potentially unsafe by Whirlpool surely redress is required under the legislation provided by the Sale of goods Act and the later Consumer Rights Act?

As for a “full recall” the problem I see with this is that as products were not all registered, we won’t know who to recall them from, will we?

I think the Indesit/Whirlpool problem has been badly handled by all concerned right from the beginning. The repair plan was totally unrealistic, Trading Standards were incompetent in not enforcing a proper plan once the flaws became apparent, the Government did nothing of any worth other than write to the CEO a couple of times, and I think Which? let consumers down by not getting involved in any effective way.

I would like to see Which? support a compulsory registration scheme at time of purchase for all appropriate electrical appliances (initially), and make positive proposals as to who might be entrusted with setting up and operating the scheme, as well as handling reports that could lead to recall action. I’d suggest a properly resourced trading Standards would have this capability. Which? may have an alternative?

According to BBC news, the Commons business committee says one million of the defective machines remain in UK homes.: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42208560

I would like to see Whirlpool lose its licence to trade in the UK until it has taken all reasonable steps to deal with the problem.

What licence to trade? https://www.gov.uk/export-control-licence As far as I can see none is required, unless you wish to export sensitive equipment to particular states.

Once products are purchased by unknown people I see no way to track them down other than by adverts – and many will not bother to respond. So a “full recall” is fantasy. We need to use Whirlpool as an example on which to build a proper system that protects the public, in future, when products are found to be seriously defective. Constructive proposals are needed.

Anyone setting up a business has to obtain a licence and I assume that there is legislation to protect us against large companies that have handled potentially dangerous goods.

As I’ve mentioned before, claims could be made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987: https://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/product-safety/unsafe-goods-liability I wonder if anyone who has lost their home in a fire caused by a faulty appliance has taken this approach.

I was not aware that there was a requirement to licence a business in order to trade. I am sure the millions of sole traders do not so and the requirement to register business names was dropped decades ago. However, in terms of limited companies, and big corporations like Whirlpool, there are plenty of requirements to register with Companies House and provide specific details, Articles of Association, accounts, etc, but provided these are complied with the company is free to trade; its products and services must comply with the law, of course, but it seems that only defalcations by the directors and criminal acts lead to a company being compulsorily wound up and struck off. Companies listed on a stock exchange must also fulfill certain requirements but that does not include product performance or compliance; the share price would normally be expected take care of those, but it is interesting that there is no approval process whatsoever. Perhaps that’s why the UK is so wide open for business.

Where is the requirement to have a licence? I haven’t looked hard enough. The problem with Whirlpool was that the authority responsible for policing them – Peterborough Trading Standards – approved their actions. Perhaps they are liable? (foubt it 🙂 ) But when the system that is supposed to protect us is applied in an inept or incompetent way, it is time we addressed the system or those administering it.

The Consumer Protection Act says “When goods are sold to consumers, the goods must be safe. If the goods are not safe, and they cause death, injury or damage to property, then the manufacturer, the retailer and/or anyone else in the supply chain may have to meet a claim for compensation.

Legislation specifies who is liable for damage caused and includes the producer, any person putting their name or brand on the product, importers from countries outside the European Union (EU), and anyone else in the supply chain who cannot identify where the product has come from.

Just as the Sale of Goods Act says that the retailer is responsible for dealing with claims when an appliance is defective, unsafe for example.

Which? are experts in consumer legislation and I have asked before why they have not advised consumers to take their claim direct to the retailer, with whom their contract exists in law, instead of relying on a wishy-washy sticking plaster endorsed by Trading Standards.

I fully agree with wavechange over this issue. Unless why should any company treat their customers in such an uncaring way with no apparent support from government or any representative from trade organisations

I am simply appalled, at the way in which this country’s fire safety standards on electrical appliances have slipped. When you take into account, the tragic consequences culminating out of this state of affairs. The UK use to be top of it’s league, in high level of consumer appliance safety standards, However, in recent times this has become a serious cause for concern, especially among the millions of householders throughout the country, Who simply & urgently need reassurance from our government’s regulatory enforcers.

It is not the Safety Standards (by which I mean those issued by BSI) that have slipped; these generally become more stringent on response to experience. It is the response of those who police products that is lacking – a role once dealt with proactively by Trading Standards for example. The ineffective handling of Whirlpool / indesit dryers is a prime example.

Selwyn – The white goods industry has made increasing use of plastics instead of steel in the cases of appliances in recent years. If a fire starts inside – which can happen for a variety of reasons – the plastic can burn or melt allowing the fire to spread. There is currently no requirement for appliance cases to be able to contain fire. In contrast, plastic consumer units (fuseboxes) are now recognised as a fire risk and new/replacement ones must be of a fireproof material such as metal. We might not be able to make many appliances in the UK but there’s no reason why we should not be taking a lead in pushing for improved safety standards.

Whirlpool adds insult to injury by withdrawing the machine replacement scheme.

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One problem with following the Peterborough Trading Standards plan – allowing Whirlpool to take their time (over two years now) to repair unsafe machines is that this has caused many owners’ defective machines to become more than 6 years old and may now be outside the legal redress given under the Sale of Goods Act. Had customers affected been advised to contact their retailer in the first instance, to obtain a remedy this would not have happened. I think consumers have been badly advised by all concerned.

Whirlpool said anyone with an affected dryer was still eligible for a free repair, and should contact them immediately to arrange it.
It said in a statement: “After two years of extensive measures to raise awareness, the number of consumers coming forward has fallen sharply.
“This suggests that few affected appliances remain in service.”

The last statement is nonsense. Whirlpool will know how many appliances have been sold that have not yet been remedied. Many people may not have responded to the (extensive measures) through lack of awareness, ignorance or apathy. Even if we blame the customer for this, that still leaves potentially dangerous machines out their that might affect other innocent parties – should they cause a fire in a block of flats for example.

The real problem is a lack of compulsory registration. Calls for a “full recall” is just another demonstration of the lack of reality used in trying to deal with this problem. A “recall” means what -removing them from their owners? If you don’t know who owns these faulty machines, how can you recall them?

It is deeds that are required, not words. We cannot turn the clock back, but we can make a start to prevent such chaos happening again. “Something must be done”; so get on and do it now – propose who sets up a compulsory registration scheme, and administers it. These Convos have made enough suggestions for ways this might be tackled; is anyone “doing something”?

June bradley says:
5 December 2017

It’s all about money!! & profit!!!

It is very sad to see a previously respected manufacturer shirking their responsibility towards customers. Having followed this story for more than a year, and it is now blindingly obvious that formal legislation is required not only for the protection of customers, but also, to ensure manufacturers take their responsibilities seriously.

It was unbelievable that a company should decide that products are at risk of causing a fire yet say that owners could carry on using them under supervision. Which? has made tumble dryers and washing machines sold by Whirlpool (Hotpoint, Indesit etc) Don’t Buys and provides the following advice:

“At Which? we’re committed to giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice about the products you buy and this includes telling you about how companies handle safety issues with their products. We have identified that this product comes from a group of companies that we believe has previously handled a product safety issue poorly (though the issue affected tumble dryers only).”

There is formal legislation – in the Sale of Goods Act and the subsequent Consumer Rights Act (2015). It simply needs to be implemented in cases like this. The legislation as a remedy appears to have been ignored by those advising consumers, and an agreement with Whirlpool ineptly entered into by Peterborough Trading Standards – the authority charged with protecting consumer rights appears to have protected a local business instead.

It is a shame Which? did not take decisive action at the outset. After 18 months it got a court order to tell Whirlpool that appliances should be unplugged, and made certain products “Don’t buys”. Hardly an effective response on behalf of consumers. Perhaps they were also putting faith in Whirlpool’s remedial plans, sanctioned by Peterborough Trading Standards, and ignoring the legal protection consumers had from SoGA.

Many commenters at the outset pointed to the logistical problems that Whirlpool’s plan had – unrealistic in some people’s view. That proved to be the case. Consumers deserve better protection, most particularly when safety is an issue. Let us hope “Lessons will be learned” (until the next debacle).

Can I point out as someone who was in rented accommodation with an affected tumble dryer that the discounted replacement machines had almost universally received ‘do not buy’ or similar poor performance ratings from Which. Little wonder that there was not much uptake by consumers faced with buying another lousy product from the company that has made this mess in the first place. I will certainly never touch another Whirlpool/Hotpoint and derivatives again.

Jackie says:
5 December 2017

Whirlpool have stopped the £50 new machines, NOT the repair!!!!!!!

They shold be made to refund the price of the machine that was paid out for.

We have just received a replacement drier,, initially they offered one that had dreadful reviews. But we agreed to have a better rated appliance in grey.
This maybe because we are on an island and no engineers in this area.
I understand 15 other people on the island have also had free replacements.

We had a faulty Hotpoint Tumble Dryer which after many phone calls was replaced. On checking the website found that this to was a faulty machine. Had to wait 9 months for an engineer who said it had already been corrected. To days later had a phone offering dates they could come an repair the machine. Never met a company like this, nobody seems to know what’s going on.

Brexit will give us a golden opportunity to make our own legislation on this and other important issues, without all the horrendous miles and miles of unnessasery Euro red tape. (This is as long as we get Brexit !!)

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duncan, I got a thumbs down for pointing out the lack of effective action by those who should be looking after consumers’ interests. Maybe that was indicative of the attitude we have. I condemn Whirlpool for their more-than-poor response to the problem (of Indesit’s making, unfortunately inherited). I also criticise those who we fund to act on our behalf.