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Update: it’s time to overhaul the UK’s product safety system

Product safety

We have today released our report on the UK’s product safety system. In it, we call on the Government to urgently overhaul the UK’s broken product safety and recall system.

The UK’s fragmented product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose and, as such, is potentially putting people’s lives at risk through a lack of joined-up national oversight and action.

Whirlpool saga

Take, for example, the long-running saga with Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers where Peterborough Trading Standards initially failed to force Whirlpool to change its advice to consumers. This was despite more than 700 instances of Whirlpool-owned brands of tumble dryers catching fire in people’s homes.

Sadly, it took the threat of a judicial review by Which? back in December 2016 to finally force Peterborough Trading Standards to change its approach.

In January 2017, Peterborough issued two enforcement notices to Whirlpool, forcing the manufacturer to change its safety advice. Owners of affected dryers are advised to switch off the machine and not use it until it has been fixed.

The safety system shouldn’t rely on organisations like us to threaten legal action in order to ensure consumers are adequately protected.

A new safety system

In our view, and as highlighted in our new report, the product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose and its over reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers. The current system has no single source of information on product recalls for consumers and uses an ineffective local solution to tackle what is a national problem.

Problems with the product safety regime are made worse by the lack of resources for local trading standards teams, which have lost more than half of their full-time equivalent staff and expertise since 2009. This, combined with an over reliance on manufacturers to self-check their products’ safety, paints a worrying picture.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union could also place even more pressure on an already stretched system as we could lose important protections from the EU’s enforcement network, as well as access to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products.

We’re concerned that the Government has been slow to respond to serious incidents and subsequent reviews following product related fires. In October 2016 the Government set up a Working Group on Product Recall and Safety. We’re awaiting the conclusions from this working group, but we hope it has firmly grasped the scale of the problems facing the current system.

Read the Which? report

Action on safety

We’re calling on the Government to take urgent action and create a new national body that has all of the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people’s homes.

We also believe a single, reliable and well-publicised website should be created to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.

Update: 20 July 2017

The Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety has published its report and outlined recommendations for improving the UK’s product safety system.

    The Group’s recommendations include:

  • setting up a central scientific and technical resource;
  • working with the British Standards Institute to create a Code of Practice for businesses and regulators to set out best practice for undertaking and evaluating corrective action and recalls of products;
  • improving the way product-related accident and fire data is gathered; and
    establishing effective arrangements between trading standards and electrical goods manufacturers through Primary Authority, to strengthen compliance and recalls.

These recommendations are not the fundamental reform needed to fix the UK’s broken product safety system, which currently poses grave risks to consumers.

The report heavily promotes primary authority partnerships as a part of the solution. We have concerns about the use of primary authority partnerships between businesses and local authorities – which failed consumers in the case of tumble dryers from Whirlpool brands.

We’re calling on the government to take urgent action to put consumers first and to create a new national body to lead on product safety, as well as a genuine ‘one-stop-shop’ to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.

Do you trust the current product safety system? Do you agree that the system needs overhauling? What would you do to improve the safety system to make it better for consumers?

Comments

Peter’s introduction and the associated Policy Report (link at the end) are very encouraging and I hope that Which? will be tackling some of the important issues that affect our safety.

Some of us have been expressing our concerns about the lack of an effective Trading Standards for at least five years. We need Which? campaigning for an adequately resourced TS that is fit for its purpose.

About time springs to mind reading the article and the report.

You will note that what is quite a simple issue is, in the report is made complex by the addition of Brexit and a variety of what-ifs. The problem of TSOs and the lack of oversight could have been a campaign three years ago.

I was speaking to a TSO a fortnight ago and he was lamenting the publicity they get for the good work that they do carry out which if carried more widely would be a warning to many people. A website allows Which? the luxury of writing up the cases for the benefit of readers particularly if it was area relevant.

You may also wonder why Which? has never summarised this information on the various concerned bodies on its web-site to make it easy for members to go to the correct site for their problem with a product. With 700,000 subscribers we could have hosted such a site and also monitored the what happens next stage of any complaint system. But Which? seems to be content to suggest we await Govt timetables and desires and aspires to do nothing itself.

Better late than never? Sort of, but they have included some much extra information that the thrust of the Report is lost.

This phrase in the summary irks:
“There must be an immediate, clear steer from Government to local authorities that they have to take responsibility for product safety and a reiteration of the market surveillance responsibilities under the General Product Safety Regulations.”

Well that solves the problem then! Having just explained how tiny the TS function has become within cash-strapped Councils it offers that advice. Astonishing.

Michael P says:
19 July 2017

Whilst I cannot see the overall picture, I do have personal experience with Trading Standards when distance selling regulations were flouted and I tried to enlist their help. They were hard to contact and ineffective. I got resolution through my bank.

I agree with @wavechange & welcome this with open arms. I was fortunate enough to be a guest writer back in April https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/whirlpool-hotpoint-indesit-tumble-dryer-fire/ & have fought for 2 years on behalf of those who have affected dryers. The system is all wrong, all appliances should be registered at point of sale to stop this or at least reduce the chances of this happening again. I spoke to a paramedic who attended both Shepherds Bush & Grenfell Tower about the situation & it’s just so harrowing. Obviously at this point people are speculating what happened at GT & we have to wait for the report to be issued but SB could have been avoided, in my opinion, if Hotpoint/Whirlpool had ‘done the right thing’ in the first place. It saddens my heart to listen to some of the stories that come through the group.

Hi @sarahjaynelyden-burke – I am strongly in favour in registration of appliances but feel that it is essential to take into account the fact that people move homes and may miss out on recalls. The problem is greater for those who live in rented property and likely to move more often than those who own their own homes. Both are common in London. Another problem is electrical and other goods that have been bought secondhand or passed on by family and friends. That’s no reason for not taking action, but I want to see a system that will help everyone, whether they are rich or poor.

There is little doubt that the Grenfell Tower disaster will lead to positive action, but it is very sad that we have to wait until lives have been lost.

It seems very inappropriate to bring Grenfell Tower into this debate. The disaster was caused, it seems, by using flammable materials and maybe other fire -precaution defects in its construction and refurbishment. The initial fire could have been caused by any ignition source – gas cooker, cigarette, candles,rubbish being lit, ….Nor do we know, as far as I know, any details of the cause of the fridge/freezer fire – whether it was faulty, misused, abused or whatever. I think we should be careful to stick to facts and not use red top techniques to inflame a debate. 🙂

Unless we start somewhere with compulsory registration we will make no progress. Get a system up and running for the vast majority, and then deal with the other matters such as moving house and secondhand goods.

The cause of the fire has been identified as a fridge/freezer and the make and model have been widely publicised. As I have said before, I would like to see appliances designed to be able to contain fire if something goes wrong. The London Fire Brigade would like to see appliances designed using materials that are non-flammable, and I certainly support this proposal: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/shocking-fire-brigade-footage-shows-10676955

The Grenfell Tower disaster was the result of a combination of factors but the one that is relevant to this Conversation is product safety.

The report letter says “the exact reason why the appliance caught fire is still under investigation” and we should not prejudge.

The Grenfell fire developed seemingly because of a defective building. A local fire should have been contained within the single flat. The great fire of London was caused by wooden buildings being too close together. A bakers oven might have been the cause but I think you could hardly blame it for the destruction; any local fire could have been a potential cause at some other time. Our fire regulations might well be the real cause of the disaster and they are what need examining with urgency. Or do we ban gas cookers, smoking, candles, in all multiple-occupancy buildings – particularly the many that seem to have defective cladding?

Fire is an interesting phenomenon. I believe the one that’s that’s certain about randomly started fires is that no one can be utterly certain how far and how badly they will spread. As a pilot (PPL and IFR) I’ve always kept up with accident and disaster causes in aircraft and the one thing that remains constant is the unpredictability of fire and how it spreads. The other, and perhaps more worrying aspect, is that large 747s can be and have been brought down by something as simple as the wrong sized washer.

As a consequence the controls on Aircraft maintenance, reporting, log keeping and supervision have never been tighter. Sadly, this has happened because a lot of people have died.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40632705

Pay attention in class please! 😉

K.

Most major disasters occur when multiple conditions combine to reinforce each other. We need to remove as many of these factors so that any that remain (possibly not realised) will be less significant if triggered.
So, while it does not seem that this is directly relevant to Grenfell Tower, that should be a reminder that we need to address all known safety issues.

This completely misses the point at GT. Any tower with 100-plus flats is going to have fires. The key points are not that or how the fire started, but:
• how – and how fast – it spread
• that there was no sprinkler system in the public areas
• that there was no functioning fire alarm
• that residents had been advised to “stay put”, rather than “get out fast”
• that the Fire Service had no apparatus for reaching the higher floors
and above all:
• that the now-infamous external cladding had been certified by the British Board of Agrement as being fire-resistant and “fit for purpose”

IMHO the BBA should be abolished, and replaced by an independent, publicly-financed testing and certification authority, that is not influenced by commercial suppliers.

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UK law does apply to all companies that trade here, irrespective of who owns the shares – which is fairly irrelevant as the shareholders are generally just investors who don’t run the companies. However, they are looking for good returns on their investments and these usually come from companies that comply with the law. Being subject to our laws and the laws being enforced adequately are two different things, of course, and that is where we rightly have major ongoing concerns.

It’s a good report, usefully pulling together a lot of things some of us have been saying for several years on this site. The Intro to this Conversation says the report is now being ‘released’, but I would like to think something more positive than that will happen and that Which? will deliver it personally to the appropriate Ministers and their officials and set up a meeting to discuss implementation priorities and timetable, or at least extract the reasons why it won’t be taken forward.

Rolling back the burdens on commerce and industry has gone far enough. It is quite obvious that companies have taken advantage of the vacuum. It is also patently clear that the primary authority arrangement for trading standards enforcement and consumer protection has failed – no local authority with a large international corporation within its boundaries employing directly and indirectly hundreds or thousands of local residents and paying high business rates will wish to take any action that would upset the company. The enforced run-down of trading standards services across the country is a scandal that, for the modest economies realised in the overall scheme of things, is threatening the health and wellbeing, and in some cases the lives, of the population. I think we must keep track of this report and its progress to make sure it is not just so much hot air.

I have long been concerned that we rely on companies to comply with appropriate standards and to recall products when safety problems are identified. I am glad that these issues are mentioned in the Which? Policy Report. I want to see independent testing of products and the recalls to be handled independently. When a major recall could prove expensive for a company, there is obviously going to be reluctance to issue a recall. I believe that there should be an enquiry into the Whirlpool tumble dryer issue.

I am impressed by the report and hope that Which? will keep us informed about how it intends to take forward the recommendations. I am very disappointed that Which? has not managed to stop Amazon and other companies from illegally supplying products fitted with two-pin plugs.

I agree, Patrick. It’s good to hear that National Trading Standards has taken action in this case. I have periodically had nuisance calls about Dyson servicing and I don’t know if this was fraud or a company simply touting for business and ignoring the fact that my number is registered with TPS.

Interesting to read, in the notes to editors, that “National Trading Standards teams are based within local authority trading standards services”. I wonder how that works.

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Brave to state so clearly what one believes must be true.

” It is also patently clear that the primary authority arrangement for trading standards enforcement and consumer protection has failed – no local authority with a large international corporation within its boundaries employing directly and indirectly hundreds or thousands of local residents and paying high business rates will wish to take any action that would upset the company.”

The decline of Trading Standards has been fairly continuous since 2010, I believe, and I do feel Which? was slow to respond to that obvious decline. The real issue is government funding. But that requires a government which puts consumers before the interests of business.

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That’s right Ian. We have Vince Cable and the Coalition to thank for the deliberate rundown of Trading Standards, the bonfire of many useful regulations that protected consumers, the closed doors in front of local authority trading standards/consumer protection departments, and the imposition of a weak and poorly-resourced gatekeeper in the form of Citizens Advice. This is officially described as “changes to the consumer protection landscape” – as if it were a good thing.

In the light of the foregoing, how has National Trading Standards had the cheek to add this at the end of its press release [referenced in Patrick’ comment above]? —
The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.”

We have been proposing compulsory registration of electrical appliances by the seller when they are purchased for some time. This seems the only way to ensure the vast majority can be tracked if their is a problem that needs dealing with, or a full product recall. This requires a national body to operate the database and instigate corrective action. But when will sensible proposals be acted upon? Can no one do anything rapidly any more?

We have extremely well-developed safety standards for many products. Do we have the means to deal with defaulters – deliberate cheats? No, because trading standards have been decimated. As most standards evaders will sell throughout the UK we need a national body to deal with it, as well as local offices that we, the public, can access directly; not through the Citizens Advice extra layer. So we should be pushing to have Trading Standards revitalised; why reinvent a system?

Safety standards are developed internationally; many begin with the ISO and are transposed into local standards, such as Euronorms (EN) which the UK adopts through BSI as BSEN ###. Many products will be independently certified against these standards and given a safety mark showing compliance – for example the BSI’s Kitemark. Which? could include in its reports products that either did, or did not, carry such a safety mark. However, very many products must also show full compliance with the relevant safety standard by displaying the CE mark; necessary for them to be put on sale in Europe. If a distributor in the UK markets products that claim compliance they are legally liable if they fail. Cheating products from dubious sources need to be tested and the law enforced by penalising the distributor. Another job for trading standards. Is enough done? I don’t think so but the mechanism is there, we just need it enforced.

The advantage of internationally agreed standards is that they enable compliant products to be marketed in all those countries we want to trade with. BSI must maintain its cooperation with relevant organisations to allow our future trade – so whether it is to continue to protect UK consumer safety, or to continue to trade, this has to happen.

I do wish that Which? had a proper presence on BSI committees; it tests products, sees problems, engages with consumers, and would make a valuable contribution. In particular, the current concerns about domestic appliances, although instances are isolated (but many in Whirlpool’s case), could be assisted. I think everyone concerned with Whirlpool behaved fairly incompetently – trading standards in allowing a silly repair schedule, the government in not stamping on a dilatory response, and yes – Which? for taking far to long to do far too little. A national recall scheme with teeth is needed to avoid such weakness in future.

Changing systems again and again isn’t the answer. We need proper funding of many things including Trading Standards. Politicians should be ashamed of the bonfire of regulations and reminded that decisions have consequences. Reducing the “nanny-state” to make bigger profits for manufacturers and investors while jeopardising the safety of the poor is unacceptable.

There is still a big problem with the social care system where many elderly stay in their own homes with carers who come in and fill their washing machines and dryers – very often without proper co-ordination so that nobody takes responsibility for cleaning out the fluff filter on the dryer… and they are often not very accessible. There are also fridge freezers which should be ventilated (quite clearly stated in their literature) but are built in with skirting board covering the ventilation grilles at the bottom when that is where the cool air should enter to travel up behind the appliance while the hot air leaves the top of the back of the appliance. A fitted kitchen nightmare.

Lessismore – I have suggested that tumble dryers should be fitted with some sort of interlock that prevents a tumble dryer being started unless the filter has been cleaned. I don’t know of any manufacturer that offers this safety feature, even though some instruction booklets warn of fire risk if filters are not serviced. It will cost a little more to include safety features, but what price human life?

I agree about the importance of correct installation about appliances to provide adequate ventilation. The necessary details should be available at the point of sale in shops and highlighted on websites.

That is a great idea about filters. With the installation of the fridge freezer – it was fine to start off with. Then some refurbishment work was done on the kitchen and the skirting was changed to plain with no allowance for ventilation. I got it changed and then it was ripped out again when there was a water leak – and replaced again without any ventilation. Builders etc need to have this pointed out to them as one of the things that goes wrong with fridge freezers is that the compressor overheats. Instead of taking care when taking out skirting board it is obviously cheaper to rip it out and replace with new – and presumably the full size skirting is easier to find.

There are plenty of examples of safety interlocks. Many hedge-trimmers require the tool to be held by both hands to operate, cars can require the clutch to be depressed before the engine can be started and covers must be in place before food processors etc. can be operated.

I have seen examples of appliances that have been incorrectly installed by kitchen fitters.

Yet, amazingly, I’ve still managed to cut the lead on both machines several times. If they only required a single button to be pressed I’d imagine that by now the garden would be liberally adorned with corpses.

A problem that seems common to “reports” like this one, and the Lynn Faulds Wood review, is that they all seem to say “what we want done” but pay little, if any, attention to the “how we should do it”. The latter is where the hard work of making practical proposals needs to be done so concrete discussion can then take place. For example, compulsory product registration at the point of sale, but who do we get to take this data and collate it? And who takes information from manufacturers, the public and others to prompt investigations into problems and instigate recalls? Why not put this all under National Trading Standards and provide the funding from a levy on all products that are registered? We need real proposals that can be developed, not a vague wish list.

Maybe Which? could produce an addendum to this report with a working proposal? Maybe Which? members and the Convo could help them?

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Citizens Advice Bureau acts much like the triage system used by accident & emergency departments in hospitals. We may turn up with a broken toe but investigating a head injury may be more important. Many of our regulars on Which? Convo will know when they have a problem that should be reported to Trading Standards, but not everyone does, so going through CAB saves the limited resources of TS for handling cases that it can deal with.

As a Trading Standards Officer I can offer you some insight by way of these ramblings.

Most TS do not deal with the public directly in terms of taking the initial call because we simply do not have the staff to man the phones. About 8 years ago my dept (quite a large one in comparison to others, it has to be said) had around 7 or 8 people whose job it was to offer advice (something we were not legally required to do) – now we have 0.

We do not even have a receptionist anymore and nor are we open to the public (not that anyone ever came).

In the last 8 years we have lost all but one person who knows a bit about safety.

We do NO proactive checking AT ALL of any retail shops or warehouses for product safety. Every now and again we will do some testing on particular areas that are of concern (hover boards a few years ago is an example).

Likewise our inspections of food premises is all but gone (we do food standards – Environmental Health do hygiene).

Our work is now almost totally reactive and due to lack of staff we only deal with the most serious stuff.

Citizens Advice is paid by the Government to run the call centre for people to contact TS – they are not a charity for that aspect of their work. The standard of the advice they give seems to be in rapid decline and they seem to often have big delays in responding.

The standards of TS officers is going down the pan due to losing our skilled staff, almost no training and poor salary not really attracting really bright people.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute is a body that represents TS staff – they do not do any enforcement responsibility.

The National Trading Standards is an organisation that individual TS depts can go to for funding when they have a very big case that they need assistance with. It is hard to get a case taken up by them and it must be noted the TS dept is still responsible for prosecuting the case so the help you get is limited in the grand scheme as the legal costs can easily exceed the investigation costs.

National Trading Standards also fund particular types of work like Illegal Money Lending etc.

Do NOT be fooled into thinking National Trading Standards are some sort of national enforcement authority that deal with big cases for little TS depts – they are not. They just help local TS with bigger cases that are cross border.

I have mixed feelings on Primary Authority – it has its advantages but it have serious flaws (refer to the case of Newcastle v Hull regarding Greggs). I agree that regulating someone that is paying you is hard. Especially as many TS are RELIANT on their income from PA. That said, if there was no income then even less compliance work would be done because there would be no staff to do it.

Any time a major problem is raised about TS the Govt simply say it is a local authority function and it is a local authority issue. I think you can dream on if you expect them to magic up a well resourced national body on product safety when they won’t even ensure TS are properly resourced ‘on the ground’. The best they will do is a bodge job like a website with a few people behind it updating data gathered by others.

To give you some perspective, the recent prosecution of Zenith by Surrey TS had legal costs of AT LEAST 250,000 – we know this because it is public info. Some TS depts do not even have a yearly budget of 250,000.

Some TS depts which cover over 150,000 members of the public have less than 2 members of staff (responsible for enforcing HUNDREDS of laws).

My dept has to make a further 20% of savings by 2019. We are now at least half the size we were 8 years ago but that is only half the story – we have filled some posts but as I say, these are not of the same quality as we had before so we are much worse than we were.

Even if TS were to be given 200m tomorrow it would take many years to get to anywhere near as good as we were back in 2009 – but it should be remembered that even in 2009 we were considered rubbish by many. Training and infrastructure takes time to develop.

TS is dying – no one cares – there have been many reports that state this. The Govt even commissioned a report which has never been published. What does it say you think?

There is also a massive culture problem with regulation. We are seen as the bad guys – a burden on business – no one wants us interfering with businesses now do they? The law was even changed recently to make us tell businesses we are coming to do a check in some cases (rarely used anyway as we don’t really do inspections).

When we are proactive and say do a job that involves surveillance then suddenly we are abusing terrorism powers to do so (a lot of nonsense by the way)! What do you think happens when we now have a job that involves any sort of undercover work?

On a somewhat related point about national regulators – although the Office of Fair Trading was a bit slow and rubbish it was a big loss to lose it for fair trading matters. The National Trading Standards is NOT in any way meant to be a replacement – but the Govt will keep harking on about how it deals with national issues that TS cannot deal with.

The lack of TS resourcing is costing people money. I literally see it every day.

On the plus side, we still do a lot of work that people don’t really have any idea is happening and it does benefit people.

Thanks for the post TSO. Many regulars here have been deploring the situation for years and been very disappointed that Which? itself has not been more vigorous in highlighting the problem.

Which? has also been a shadow of what it was under McKechnie around 2000 and is not punching its weight in consumer matters. It is an embarrassment that it deos not call out more businesses for shoddy work or practices. And of course assist TS by recording and publicising the cases and work carried out.

The decision not to follow the example of Choice [Australia] and award Shonkies[ English – Shoddies] really does illustrate a limp attitude in dealing with rogue comapnies, traders, products. But then with a Board of businesspeople perhaps the more active approach is seen as unnecessary distraction as thye endeavour to make Which? itself a financial business rather than a printer of a magazine for the consumer charity that owns it.

Thank you, TSO, for your comments – some of the most useful ‘ramblings’ [as you call them] on this site for some time. I was particularly intrigued to learn that companies pay the trading standards service for their ‘primary authority partnership’. That is a revelation and explains a lot. It has been kept well concealed. I think we ought to be able to see how much is paid by whom to which authorities. Perhaps Which? should pursue a FoI request to back up its product safety campaign.

Thanks TSO. It is always useful to have input from those who have current practical experience. Maybe I am lucky having had no difficulty in speaking to someone in Trading Standards but to the best of my knowledge, no action has ever been taken over matters I have reported.

I sincerely hope that Which? will take on government as a matter of urgency because consumer protection has been eroded by running down Trading Standards.

Edit: Here are brief details of the Greggs case mentioned by TSO: http://www.ehn-online.com/news/article.aspx?id=15587

Excellent post, TS: it answers questions that have been asked many times since 2008. And thanks for putting your head above the parapet. That tales courage.

Interesting that you picked up the concealed report, too; as the Government is so keenly in favour of transparency (this is where we need a certain type of Emoji) perhaps they should be pressed to publish that report and faced with the embarrassing information reveal;ed in your post.

A very insightful post.

What you say also reinforces what I’ve been trying to get across for some time, there’s not any money in the pot to create a mandatory registration scheme, it simply is not there. TS clearly cannot even maintain the level of service or fund legal battles as things stand now let alone take on more.

You’re absolutely on the money (no pun intended) when you say that all you’d get is a website to register, perhaps a bit of publicity, maybe even a bit of work from a PR company and a few people to monitor it but, that’s about all you can hope for. I sincerely doubt that would be effective or give the solution that people might wish for.

With government under pressure to fund the NHS, schools, police, defence, job creation and all else that are probably widely regarded as more important than this, the chances of a meaningful solution or even part ways to one is probably little more than a pipe dream.

Frankly, government is not interested in my opinion as this is not viewed as a priority at all and, in context when you consider what’s on their plate I can kind of appreciate that. Couple that with the general lack of funds, the looming of Brexit and the great unknown that lies beyond and I don’ think anything will be done on this for many, many years… if ever.

Bluntly, government has bigger fish to fry and there’s nothing left to cook this one.

Unless anyone wants to say that this is of greater import than all the other stuff?

The only way to fund it, in my opinion, would be to force it through legislation requiring all companies selling goods to contribute a percentage of sales to a centralised fund to run an effective solution. However it has to be accepted that business will merely, as they did with WEEE and all other schemes of a similar ilk, simply add that cost to the products and therefore the public will pay for it, one way or another whether through a commercial route or taxation as the money has to come from somewhere.

The like of TS could be funded a similar way.

I doubt it’d happen though.

I would point out that I don’t have any issue with TS and I’ve helped them on a few occasions and I can back up what’s said here, they are hugely underfunded, understaffed and nobody cares. People only care about TS when they have to call on their services.

The arbitration services were set up to take some of the load I think or perhaps to more or less get business to fund some sort of effective alternative but how well that’s working in reality I’m really not sure. So far as I am aware these are fully commercial operations though, just another business but set up to deal with consumer issues.

Whether there are real answers and solutions to these problems I honestly don’t know.

K.

Obviously the consumer will have to meet the costs of adequate funding of Trading Standards, whether this is achieved by taxation or indirectly via charges levied on companies.

Last year I quizzed some members of public about the role of Trading Standards and most were unaware of its role, though some thought that petrol pumps and the weighing scales in shops were regularly tested for accuracy.

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Good point here.
So we can take it from your comment funding cuts,
Done by Tory Govt to your services personnel ,
Will put us “ALL” in danger as proper checks cannot be done now.
So when we leave the E.U. this problem could escalate ,
into a “Time BomB” of doggy white goods or anything coming into,
The U.K. and Sold to us public uncheck by safty officers ,
Or H.M. Customs Officers yes or no?

Just a Question here for you?
T.S.Officer
would you NOT vote for Tory party to put stop the all cuts,
If a new G.E. was called for in NOV 2017 YES OR NO?

The particular flavour of party that happens to be “in power” really doesn’t alter the monetary position nor the civil servants that administer such schemes. All it does is present some party or another to take credit to the fall depending how the wind blows.

Or the next one to come along to be able to blame the last one.

In short, it’s largely of little to no consequence who’s in power from my perspective. It’s just another blame game.

Government cuts et all don’t affect service per say, that’s affected more by commercial decisions made by owners than much anything else.

The less people repair stuff, less repairers there are, the less repairers there are, the less is repaired, the less that’s repaired the more is thrown away, the more that’s thrown away the less value there is, the lower the bar goes to get down to the price to feed all that… it’s pretty simple really.

As a result it leads to less checking of products, less people have stuff checked and/or maintained, the greater the risk of their early demise and arguably a risk of more danger.

The more that cycle a paragraph back spins around the greater the risk could potentially become.

The less competition you have as big companies swallow little ones that can’t compete on volumes to get to the “acceptable” market pricing, the greater the volume of shared platforms (you’ve all seen it with cars, the appliance industry is far beyond them in that regard) the greater the numbers at risk.

Trouble is, in terms of maintenance and policing much of anything, nobody wants to pay for any of it and, given that there really is no magic money tree to pay people’s wages to do it all, it won’t be done as try as we might, we just can’t get anyone to get out of bed and go to work every morning for nothing.

And that money to pay for anything has to be found from somewhere.

In an environment where commercial pressures are on lowering the costs not increasing them.

For any government the priorities lie elsewhere, as I mentioned previously. They are legion and they are of far greater importance to many than this will be especially as, statistically, the risk is staggeringly low.

As Malcolm more or less nailed it in another post here, people won’t pay for example £50 a year to have a £200 washing machine, dryer, fridge or whatever maintained and checked, it’s out of kilter with the cost. And, as pointed out, many won’t even pay for maintenance on a boiler that costs several times that and if it blew up would destroy their home.

This constant drive to lower prices is why many small localised brands have been gobbled up by huge multi-nationals as, they can’t compete with low prices.

That is the net result of a price war. Like most wars, in the end, nobody wins. It’s a zero sum game.

Even the traditional multi-national producers are under immense pressures from Asian manufacturers who have a low labour cost base, “relaxed” legislation on safety and plenty more or other areas, such as Turkey. Some might even be getting huge subsidies to generate jobs and expand although I couldn’t possibly comment or confirm that such a practice may be commonplace.

But the net effect is that many EU and US especially businesses, including the aforementioned multi-nationals have no choice but to adopt the exact same principles in order to compete or, they’d die too.

If that happened (or happens) we’ll all be left with a handful of huge conglomerations slugging it out with one another and, pretty much no competition and likely not a lot of market innovation.

then as you see the like of TS being underfunded and allowed to wither on the vine along with many EU counterparts, nobody to check much of anything and, even if the do and find something amiss, not the funding or resource to do anything about it.

And so, it’s the Wild West.

To me it’s all about trying to make people understand the choices they make have a huge bearing and, if required, preventing flooding the market with ever cheaper and cheaper product.

So long as people vote in droves with their wallets and buy this junk, the above will prevail. Overriding any ballot box vote.

But I’ve said this before, find me a politician that will stand up and tell people that they will reduce the GDP through reigning in consumer spending that that consumers will simply have to accept that they will not be allowed to rampantly buy new “Stuff” at every turn.

Or, if you were really smart, you could simply get as many people as possible wound up about the quality or potential dangers of cheap goods and hope the market reflects that and people buy better and make it last longer, double win as you get the environmental angle covered to boot. But that won’t work other than on a minority I expect or, a short term burst.

Want proof, just look at the WEEE Directive. Which was completely party politics free.

It’s reduced waste as intended by… what exactly? We consume more.

Improved product quality?

Improved the environment?

Given us environmental product innovation?

All of which leads me at any rate to the blindly obvious conclusion that whatever political flavour or rhetoric is currently in vogue has little to no bearing. To my eyes, it matters not one jot.

And, whatever box you tick on that ballot paper will probably have zero effect on these issues.

Until you alter the fundamental market and address the core issues, nothing will change. But, that’s not easy, not pleasant for anyone and extremely unappealing to most everyone.

Fluffing about on the fringes, rearranging the pillows as it were and even the colour of the political ones, will accomplish little to nothing.

K.

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I don’t believe so Duncan, not really as it’s a cross border/continent thing, it’s not a UK exclusive phenomenon at all by any means, at least in my estimation.

You could take any element of that and transplant it to any nation and you’d end up in the same place I expect.

As sad as that might be.

All you need do is walk into most any hypermarket in the EU, superstore in the US and so on and see the glaring similarities and yet with all that poverty going on for half the nation’s homes (UK), over 12 million apparently, can still afford Sky TV. And almost 2.7 million new cars. 24 million mobile phones.

I don’t honestly think we can say the UK is poor by any stretch.

Perhaps the priorities are wrong.

K.

There are some fairly substantial logical errors in your argument, Kenneth, (and a fair bit of supposition). To take a couple:

“That is the net result of a price war. Like most wars, in the end, nobody wins. It’s a zero sum game.

That specifically referred to the assimilation of smaller businesses by larger and larger multi-nationals. But Capitalism itself is based on the notion that quality will win out over quantity. Now, I’m not saying that’s what happens every time but I can think of cases where it certainly has: the rise of Apple, the demise of Tesco, the current market dominance of Amazon. I suspect that what those three instances tell us is that no matter how big a company becomes if they stop providing what the customer wants when they want it then the smaller and hungrier commercial predators will sense blood.

What I’m saying is that there really is no ‘net result’ of a price war. Commerce exists as a dynamic entity and the only thing of which we can be certain is that we can’t be certain of the outcome.

Another point you made as when you talked about “the WEEE Directive. Which was completely party politics free.“.

That’s not strictly true. It was realised in the late ’90s, albeit belatedly, that we (being the West) were witnessing some interesting social changes. One was that disposable income was rising, another was that the cost of electronics was falling. I won’t go into the numerous socio-economic reasons behind the latter but the consequence was simply that people found it cheaper to replace than to repair. However, as with almost all legislation, the governments of the West realised that a lot of stuff was being chucked away and, legislation lacking, it was simply being shoved into landfill.

The realisation that 1) contaminants were entering the ground and thence the water table and 2) that there was a lot of recyclable stuff being lost prompted parties to take a position on the issues, which they did – almost unanimously. The consequence was the WEEE directive, signed off by all the member states.

I would agree that there may not be many easy answers but I suspect that’s not an adequate reason to consider what they might be – if any. We need to consider what could be done, and not always assume it can’t.

Th point I was attempting to make, possibly poorly I will admit as it is somewhat more complex in my opinion, is that where appliances are concerned at least the various price wars over the years have produced a few real outcomes that are pretty solid and well documented facts now. Much discussed on here.

We have less true consumer choice than ever as there are less true producers.

We have lower relative prices.

We have no new entrants to market as, the cost of entry is too high, margin too low.

We have a greater burden of legislation.

We have poorer aftercare support.

We have shortened product lifespans.

Honestly, the only win I can see it you wish to call it that is, the products have become ever more affordable even what were once hugely high ticket items such as range cookers and American style side by sides with all the bells and whistles are commonplace these days.

From my perspective and in my opinion, that has been the outcome of repeated price wars and takeovers.

And you are absolutely correct and I completely agree, that’s unchecked capitalism for you.

And of course you are absolutely correct in that people will desert the big companies if they muck it up too badly or, at least that has been the general accepted wisdom. I don’t know how true that really is though.

As an example, look at Samsung, fires, corruption, scandals, recalls on a monumental scale and cost that beggars belief and yet, still there they are.

Or a certain German car maker that has a recall that utterly dwarfs Whirlpool’s, involves deceit and law breaking and yet, they’re still there.

Both businesses bimbling along nicely thank you very much.

So, is it really true that customers will abandon ship and go elsewhere? Do they even care? And, in some instances where else are they gong to go?

After all, when there’s so few all doing much the same thing, does it even matter?

The accepted dynamics of the free market economy begin to look a bit flaky in that sort of position and all the more so in stagnant markets free of true innovation and often competition.

I do completely accept that this may well not apply in every instance but, from my little corner of the world, it pretty much does.

With WEEE, I watch it a fair bit and it ain’t all sweetness and light and it has, in my opinion, not produced anything like it was intended to and given rise to a number of unintended effects many of which are highly undesirable.

My point was trying to make there and I was using that as an example I’m familiar with, that legislation does not guarantee the desired outcome.

K.

In my view, the only way to tackle the wasteful society we seem to be is by legislation. If we want people to buy durable products we need to provide the right framework; for example ensure by regulation they do last (e.g. require longer guarantees), that they can be economically repaired (availability of sensibly-priced spares, ease of repair).

But this will cost more, and we will no doubt plead that this disadvantages the poor. However, a repairable durable appliance would then make sense to buy secondhand or refurbished. The myth is that a £250 washing machine offers a cheap solution. Well, if it fails after 2 or 3 years, costing £80 a year, then it is poorer value than a £400 machine that lasts 6 years. We can’t have it all ways. We would be removing consumer choice to some degree, which I am against in principle. However much legislation – electrical safety standards, car systems for example- adds cost that we have to cough up for without choice. For our benefit.

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to have a discussion with two Environmental Health Officers, one working for a council department that I have contacted over concerns about food hygiene in commercial premises. I expressed concern about the fact that our supermarkets are selling chicken that can be heavily contaminated by campylobacter and that in my view the Food Standards Agency is no longer doing enough to independently monitor and address the problem. He agreed with me and warned me that the intention is to allow business more opportunity to self-police and advised me to look up ‘Regulating Our Future’ on the Food Standards Agency website. There is indeed a lot to be concerned about and I believe that it is important that regulation should be independent of companies.

And to add to the fun. I do not wish to detract from the main thrust of the thread but simply to illustrate that putting up fancy laws and even instituting quangos is not mush sue if the enforcement arm is in plaster.

We see to have a great ability for a lot of chat and committees but little in terms of effective leadership.

ehn-online.com/news/article.aspx?id=15087
” There are 4.4 million households were renting in the private rented sector, more than in the social rented sector. In 2015 the Building Research Establishment reported that 8.4 million homes in England have a ‘significant’ hazard.
The annual cost to the NHS of these hazards was assessed at £2.0bn in England and £2.5bn for the UK. These figures compare with estimated costs to the NHS of £2.3bn to £3.3bn from smoking, and 0.9bn to £1.0bn from physical inactivity.”

To update you all (new update added above too), the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety has published its report and outlined recommendations for improving the UK’s product safety system.

The Group’s recommendations include:
– setting up a central scientific and technical resource;
– working with the British Standards Institute to create a Code of Practice for businesses and regulators to set out best practice for undertaking and evaluating corrective action and recalls of products;
– improving the way product-related accident and fire data is gathered; and
establishing effective arrangements between trading standards and electrical goods manufacturers through –
– Primary Authority, to strengthen compliance and recalls.

We’re disappointed not to see any mention of a new national independent body to deal with product safety. Also missing, in our view, is the single ‘one-stop-shop’ website to host all information and advice when dangerous products are identified.

Hi Lauren – Do you have a link to a document produced by the Working Group?

These are some interesting proposals. I understand the concern about the proposal for a national independent body to deal with product safety, but perhaps if the government would provide Trading Standards with adequate funding, this could be a role they could take on.

All very interesting, and I look forward to product safety featuring in the September magazine.

Thanks Lauren. I did write to Margot James months ago and learned about the support for registration by Amdea and other matters covered in the report. I am very keen that we have mandatory registration at the point of sale for all products and not the Amdea system – which is optional and only covers white goods.