/ Home & Energy

Product safety: what more is needed to finally force reform?

London Fire Brigade

Yet another report has been published today to shame the ‘woeful’ response from Whirlpool to its fire-risk dryer saga and the ‘painfully slow’ response from Government too. So what more evidence is needed to finally improve our safety system?

Last October, Pete Moorey wrote here on Which? Convo about flaws in the product safety system after he gave evidence to the BEIS select committee.

Well, that group of influential MPs on the select committee have today joined the growing chorus of support for urgent action from Government and manufacturers to improve the product safety system. And it’s no surprise really…

Whirlpool safety issues

The select committee held its evidence session in response to rising concerns related to a number of product safety issues. Most prominently was the long and sorry episode related to Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers.

For background, in August 2015 Whirlpool informed Peterborough Trading Standards (PTS) that more than 100 Creda, Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline and Swan tumble dryer models (all brands owned by Whirlpool) or up to 5.3 million tumble dryers in the UK were affected by a fault, eventually linked to around 750 fires by 2016.

Since the news broke, we’ve attempted to intervene on a number of times due to what we see as Whirlpool’s failure to act in the best interests of consumers. Yet, Whirlpool continued to resist our calls for a full recall of these potentially dangerous machines, and instead continued with its modification programme.

In October 2017, it admitted to the select committee that one million tumble dryers remain in people’s homes.

Following the evidence session, Whirlpool withdrew its replacement programme, further calling into question its willingness to do all it could to get these dangerous products out of consumers’ homes.

And not forgetting that in September 2017 we also discovered that Whirlpool had been implicated in yet another product safety scandal. An inquest into a fatal fire in Llanwrst found that the fire had been caused by a different fault in one of the 100 affected models of Whirlpool-owned brand tumble-dryer.

Subsequently, the Coroner issued a ‘Section 28: Prevention of Future Deaths’ report that called into question Whirlpool’s approach to risk assessment. It expressed the Coroner’s ‘considerable concern’ that Whirlpool’s reluctance to act on reported fires was an obstacle to preventing fires and saving lives.

At present, Whirlpool has not undertaken any corrective action related to this fault.

Product safety system

These safety issues and failures to effectively remedy them have highlighted serious flaws in the UK’s product safety system.

We’ve called on the Government to urgently set up a new national body to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers get dangerous products out of people’s homes quickly before there is further tragedy or loss of life.

These concerns are not new. In February 2016, the government-commissioned Lynn Faulds-Wood review into product safety shone a spotlight on these issues and made recommendations, including for a national product safety agency. Sadly, these recommendations have largely gathered dust.
BEIS select committee report

It’s fair to say the BEIS select committee has not pulled any punches. In publishing the report, its Chair Rachel Reeves said:

‘Whirlpool’s woeful response to the defect in its tumble dryers has caused huge worry to people with these appliances in their homes. Their delayed and dismissive response to correcting these defects has been inadequate and we call on Whirlpool to resolve issues urgently. Whirlpool must once and for all put an end to the unacceptable situation where a million machines are acting as potential fire hazards in people’s homes.

‘These problems go deeper than just one firm. Whirlpool’s response has highlighted flaws in the UK’s product safety regime which is fragmented and poorly resourced. There is a strong case for a single national product safety agency.’

The Committee’s recommendations include:

  • Whirlpool must explain how it will deal with the remaining defective and potentially dangerous machines with a resolution for all customers within two weeks of contacting the company.
  • Manufacturers should make available risk assessments as soon as any defects are identified.
  • The Government must publish a full response to the 2016 Faulds Wood Review on the UK’s system for the recall of unsafe products by the end of February 2018 at the latest.
  • The Government should actively explore the establishment of a single national product safety agency.
  • Manufacturers of plastic backed fridge freezers should act to use safer materials, based on the number of fires associated with them.

Improving the safety system

We congratulate the select committee on its report and support for meaningful change to the product safety system.

The Government’s response to rising concerns about product safety has been lacklustre. It set up the Working Group on Consumer Product Safety and Recall, whose report published in July 2017 fell a long way short of the fundamental reform needed. And yet we continue to wait for the Government to respond to this report, which was promised to MPs before Christmas.

For too long, Whirlpool has been allowed to do what it appears to believe is just enough. Meanwhile, the Government has failed to comprehend the scale of reform needed or the urgency required to give consumers confidence a robust system is in place to protect them from dangerous products.

Do you think the Government will finally take action to improve the product safety system? Do you think Whirlpool could be doing more to find those remaining one million dryers?

Comments

It is 2 1/2 years since the Whirlpool problem was made public, but affected machines go back to around 2005.No one involved – the government, trading standards and even Which? come out of this debacle with any glory. The intro says “Whirlpool continued to resist our calls for a full recall. How do you recall products when you don’t know who owns them?

What we should be doing is setting up compulsory registration of potentially harmful products by the seller at the point of sale, so when you buy your washing machine the central register knows exactly what you bought and how to contact you if there is a problem. Okay, as has been pointed out elsewhere, we need to deal with these products if they are sold on as secondhand goods but that should not stop the core issue being organised.

Lynn Faulds-Wood’s original report lacked workable solutions and has sat around for 3 years. It has had all that time to explore “a single national product safety agency so why has, apparently, no progress been made. Maybe if we had an active Minister for Consumer Affairs……….?

Trading Standards could be a key to monitoring and taking action on product safety, but it is a shadow of its former self and, as Peterborough showed, seems unable to deal with problems of this type. I’d like it to be properly resourced and directly approachable by consumers to deal with their issues. It might boost its status if it were given responsibility for setting up a National Product Safety Agency (we already have National Trading Standards that is supposed to deal with major consumer issues).

Which? has run a number of Convos,and written articles on product safety. Perhaps it should now take the initiative, assisted by its members, to really protect consumers. Put thought-through proposals together to government on how product safety could be better dealt with. A lot of material has been given to them to help with this.

We have discussed the problem and possible solutions on many occasions and we still have the problem that consumers may be unaware that they have potentially unsafe products in their home.

It was very encouraging to see Pete Moorey representing Which? at the meeting with BEIS in October but what I would like to know is what will be the next move for Which? We can make suggestions here, write to MPs and others who might have some influence, but having done that, there is probably not much more we can do as individuals.

We can, as individuals, work with Which? – it represents us – to get constructive and workable suggestions in front of government – Which? lobby them. It should be clear to Which? what the sentiment is from the Convos that have been run. I hope they are not just places to talk, and that Which? acts on their content.

Maybe Which? could keep us informed as to what it is doing on major issues like this.

Chris Daniels says:
16 January 2018

I bought a new Whirlpool washing machine in the 1990’s with a 1 year guarantee. Month 13 the pump gave up. Whirlpool said hard luck! Never bought any of their products since. Not enough people understand that hoover, creda et al are products of the same company. Distcusting crap company.

Did you raise the matter with WHICHat the time? Even though the guarantee is for a year, you would normally expect such an item to last for several years. The Sale of Goods Act (possibly 1979) offered protection against faulty goods even when the manufacturer’s guarantee had run out. The act said goods must last a reasonable time – and that can be anything up to six years from the date of purchase. If you do not quote the legislation, the company concerned will simply ignore you. Take a look at https://www.theguardian.com/money/2006/mar/25/consumernews.howtocomplain

In another Conversation I outlined how we could approach product registration including secondhand products and those provided in rented property. We cannot ignore these products are often used in flats and tower-blocks, where a fire could have more serious consequences than in other homes.

1. The system is run in a similar way to the way that VOSA handles car recalls. Information about recalls can be collected from the European Rapex database and/or from manufacturers.

2. We all have a web page on the registration database so that we can inspect goods registered in our name and delete products that we no longer own and keep our contact details up to date.

3. Registration is done by the retailer (all new goods) or by entering details for secondhand and rented equipment on the website. Provision needs to be made for telephone/paper-based registration for those who don’t own computers.

4. All new products should have a QR-code (a form of barcode) that is easily accessible and not hidden at the back of an appliance. This would facilitate entering make/model/serial number for smartphone users. I have noticed QR-codes on some new products, so the process may have started.

Some incentive might be needed to encourage registration of secondhand and rented goods. Insurers could ask for a declaration that information is up to date and landlords could be asked to push for this as part of tenancy agreements. The importance of registration could be reinforced by TV and radio advertising etc.

In rented accommodation where appliances are provided the landlord has responsibility – they would be registered to him/her and notifications of problems would go to them. Just as they have responsibility for looking after gas boilers, for example.

We already have available to us databases about product problems and recalls. They don’t work for most people and, despite the publicity, many Indesit fryers (that was a mi-type, I meant dryers, but it seems appropriate) have not been notified to Whirlpool, it seems. Voluntary action inspired by publicity doesn’t seem to work that well.

Perhaps both our proposals, and those of others, could be looked at by Which? and a start made. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be a full registration system. But we could make a start on the essentials right now.

Giving the responsibility to landlords is certainly an alternative. Traditionally, landlords have not always had a good record of looking after the interests of their tenants, which is why there are now regulations about annual inspection of boilers etc. A compromise might be for both the landlord and tenant to have access to a record of products normally kept in a flat.

I appreciate that there may be problems with non-compliance but for the benefit of those who do take the safety of themselves and their family seriously, I would not want to deny them the same protection that those living in their own home are given.

Another form of notification could be automatic text messages that are repeated daily until the recipient has taken appropriate action.

I do agree that all our proposals should be looked at and I would hope that Which? will provide some feedback about how suggestions might be useful and what is not workable for reasons we might not be aware of.

The idea of making landlords responsible for registering appliances they provide is good in principle – but there’s no compulsory registration of landlords, premises or tenants. That would need to be a first step.

Thanks Kate. I did not know that, but I’m determined that we do our best to protect those in rented property and not just focus on those fortunate enough to own their own homes and able to buy their own appliances etc.

You are not alone in that, wavechange. I think we all want to protect as many as possible. We should all have our gas boilers safety checked once a year, and landlords “must”. But I wonder how many of us do, and how many landlords. Perhaps if we all had to submit a safety certificate with our annual buildings insurance renewal we could ensure most boilers are checked. There will always be those who circumvent any system though.

I’d like to get a core registration system for all new purchases up and running, to test its efficacy and sort out problems. That would then deal with the vast majority of cases. Then we can extend it to cover other areas such as secondhand goods. We’ve prevaricated over doing it for far too long. Let’s not give the Government any excuses to delay any longer.

I don’t want to see the launch of any scheme that ignores those in rental property or fails to accommodate those with secondhand products. These people are not second class citizens.

P.Rawlinson says:
16 January 2018

Surely the manufacturer is responsible for not only the machines safety but also all other damage that is caused to surrounding items (ie) other machines, worktops, & any other items on or around the faulty machine ?? I know that a few years ago when our tumble dryer(less than 12 months old) caught fire the manufacturer replaced not only the machine but items that were also damaged by that (small) fire !! & “WITHOUT” any threats from me !!

The Sale of Goods Act “explained” says:
Consequential loss
If a customer suffers personally because of a problem with an item, they may be able to claim damages (money to make up for it). This is called consequential loss. One example would be if a customer had to pay out more money (perhaps to hire another item) because of a faulty item that you sold them. A more serious example would be if they suffered injury or damage because of a faulty item.
A customer who claimed damages for consequential loss would be expected to have tried to resolve the issue with the retailer first.

Claims for consequential loss do not normally cover distress, inconvenience or disappointment.”

The explanation of the Consumer Rights Act includes:
Alternatives to statutory remedies
It is also open to the consumer to claim common law8 remedies for breach of contract, which could include damages. The consumer can opt to seek damages instead of the statutory remedies if they wish to do so, or they can do so alongside statutory remedies but they cannot claim compensation twice for the same issue (known as double-recovery).
“Damages” is a legal term referring to the common law remedy of financial compensation paid by one party to the other, generally for loss incurred. In relation to a breach of the consumer’s rights regarding goods, damages may cover loss or damage caused by the breach, for example, where a faulty washing machine damages clothing while in use. There are legal tests to be satisfied for a consumer to recover damages: a person cannot recover damages for loss which was not caused by the breach (of the term required by the Act) or which was not sufficiently foreseeable; nor can the consumer recover for loss which they could reasonably have acted to limit or mitigate.

I am not sure it is necessary for all landlords, tenants and premises to be registered before we set up a compulsory appliance registration scheme. Registration of each appliance installed would surely be the responsibility of the seller in the case of a new purchase and the registered owner would be the landlord where the appliance is provided as part of the fixtures and fittings. There would however need to be a duty on the part of the landlord to provide details of the address at which the item was installed and, where the landlord uses a managing agent to deal with all tenancy matters, to ensure that the managing agent was included in the process. There would need to be a further duty on the landlord and/or managing agent to ensure that the tenant received any recall notices, safety warnings, or other relevant instructions. Such obligations are notoriously difficult to enforce but we must make a start somewhere. I think engaging with the estate agency trade at an early stage would be a good idea, even though unfortunately there are some bad agents around.

Because the hazards of defective appliances are compounded in premises containing numerous households, and tumble dryers are more prevalent in accommodation without outdoor space or of smaller areas, I think ensuring tenants are protected is a priority.

Fires can start for numerous other reasons and the whole question of fire safety, protection and escape in multi-dwelling buildings needs to progress urgently as well – a registration system will not in itself remove all risks.

John Blaber says:
16 January 2018

Isn’t it time for someone (Which??) to take out a Class Action against Whirlpool? The government appears to be toothless in these matters.

Mike says:
16 January 2018

Hi, John I could not agree more, things that matter to us they do not want to take the trouble
to sort it, I think Which is doing as much as they can.

In the short term, and given Whirlpools’ admittance that its’ dryers are a risk, would a class action force them to replace existing faulty goods? With respect to people registering electrical goods and responding to recalls and the attendant publicity, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…..

I think the problem with this debacle was that Peterborough Trading Standards endorsed the plan Whirlpool put forward to remedy dryers and took no further action when it was clear the plan was not working. Government wrote two letters to Whirlpool. Which?, after 18 months or so, thought telling customers to unplug their appliances was a good idea, and were supported in a judicial review. Meanwhile it is reported a million customers still have possibly faulty driers.

Customers with appliances up to 6 years old (5 in Scotland) could have used the Sale of Goods Act and its successor the Consumer Rights Act to claim redress off their retailer, as the appliances were admitted to be unsafe (a requirement of SoGA and CRA is that goods fail to meet the contract if they are unsafe). . But no one suggested they did this. That could have got a lot of people with a remedy, because they would have had the choice of a repair or a refund (that may have been partial if usage were taken into account).

Franco says:
16 January 2018

Years ago I bought a Beko gas cooker from Argos, I after discovered that it was part of a foulty gas cooker batch, for over one year I compleined and ask for a replacement from Argos or Beko with no success. I still live with a foulty gas cooker.

Michael Dobson says:
16 January 2018

I live very close to the flight path of Elmdon airport, gateway to the world. if the FAA were as functionally useless as the moderrn trading standards operation, or the reformed housing standards set up iñ the wake of the 1666 Great Fire of London, and now seemingly scrapped by much cleverer people than Sir Christopher Wren ……..I might expect a plane in my living room once a year. Fivetunately, this has not happened these past 50 years. We need to get a grip.

Terry McArdle says:
16 January 2018

I think ALL the directors should be prosecuted for the way they have abused their clients.
Pay full compensation for any damage and stress caused by these problems.
ANY whirlpool product under any recall should be refunded in full for replacement machine or replace original defective machine(s) within 1 calendar month.

dave Pennington says:
16 January 2018

We waited so long for an engineer check. We had to accept the offer to purchase a new dryer from them for£99 reluctantly.The old one was in good condition but we were scared to use it

William Halley says:
16 January 2018

I agree that a class action or some similar action should be instigated. As usual the authorities are dragging their feet while many peoples’ lives are still at risk, for example the slow government response in taking action after Grenfell. Unfortunately we live in a country where passing the buck now seems a way of life, so dragging companies through the courts (or threat of court action) might be the only way of getting some positive result.

FraserH

Wayne Algate says:
16 January 2018

I still have mine. I received an email from them saying they are not doing anything more for me and have taken me off the list of faulty machines. Its all to common now how these big companies are allowed to grow so big that no body can touch them. Who cares if somebody dies, they weigh up profits against loss whether that be death or otherwise. As long as they make millions then that’s ok and to hell with who gets hurt in the process.

Robert says:
16 January 2018

I agree with all the comments made so far and wish to add that I have been very concerned that we have little or no idea where the products in our homes are made. The products have a name which means nothing in where the product was made, assembled with brochures and labels that are misleading to the consumer and purchaser .
Manufacturers are not interested in quality and safety they are only interested in profit and greed.
Why can we not buy British anymore !

I agree. With brand names being sold and a plethora of own brands, I’d like to know the originating manufacturer of an electrical appliance. Their quality could be scrutinised so when we buy, say, a John Lewis washing machine or dishwasher we know its source. While it will not guarantee a full product review before the JL item has been tested, it will give some useful clues as to its likely quality.

We have heard a great deal about the Consumer Rights Act, but I wonder if anyone has made a claim for damage or injury under the Consumer Protection Act: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-protection-act-1987

@ldeitz Lauren – Can Which? offer any advice on whether or not this might be a useful approach?

Hi Wavechange – yes, the Consumer Protection Act could be a means to obtain compensation – but it’s only applicable if a faulty property has caused damage, death or personal injury. So not an appropriate if the product has not caught fire and damaged the person’s property / caused injury. The Act imposes strict liability on the producer of the item. It wouldn’t be applicable to everyone.

Thanks Lauren. I see your point that it is not relevant to those who were denied a prompt repair/replacement of an affected dryer, but a claim could be made under the Act in the event of a fire.

The Which? document states: “In practice, this means that anyone who suffers damage as a result of the defect is entitled to claim and not just whoever bought the product.” This could be another member of the family, another occupant in a shared house or someone in an adjacent flat that sustained damage. It would be interesting to hear if anyone has claimed under the CPA.

It is dangerous to extract bits from legal documents, so best to look at the original. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1987/43
However, to live dangerously, bits said are:
Liability for defective products.
(1)Subject to the following provisions of this Part, where any damage is caused wholly or partly by a defect in a product, every person to whom subsection (2) below applies shall be liable for the damage.
(2)This subsection applies to—
(a)the producer of the product;
……………………….

and
3 Meaning of “defect”.
(1)Subject to the following provisions of this section, there is a defect in a product for the purposes of this Part if the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect; and for those purposes “safety”, in relation to a product, shall include safety with respect to products comprised in that product and safety in the context of risks of damage to property, as well as in the context of risks of death or personal injury.
and
4 Defences.
(1)In any civil proceedings by virtue of this Part against any person (“the person proceeded against”) in respect of a defect in a product it shall be a defence for him to show—
………
(d)that the defect did not exist in the product at the relevant time; or
(e)that the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the relevant time was not such that a producer of products of the same description as the product in question might be expected to have discovered the defect if it had existed in his products while they were under his control; or………”

So perhaps in the case of dryers as a defence Indesit may not have been expected to discover the defect at the time of marketing the product.

A question would then be, when was the defect discovered, and if were the suppliers then liable for any subsequent damages?

I remain perplexed as to why no one looking after consumer’s interests sought to apply the existing legal provisions to resolve this problem far more expeditiously.

Companies may be aware of problems with their products before they issue recalls or safety notices. Given the number of fires associated with the affected dryers it seems likely that Whirlpool would have been aware of the problem before it issued the safety notice for these dryers. I wonder how many dryers were sold after the problem was recognised.

None of us are legal experts and in some of our discussions it would be very helpful to have some advice from the Which? legal team.

Bernie says:
16 January 2018

Love the negative comments about landlords. Does it not occur to you landlords don’t want their properties burning down? Yes I am a landlord.

This is what I did when they offered me dates nearly a year in the future. I bought a new one (not a Whirlpool product) from ao.com for £250 and sent them the invoice for the new machine and disposal costs of the old one. They phoned up and said they wouldn’t pay for a new machine, I said I had another two to replace and if they didn’t pay I’d take them to court as I cannot expect tenants to have a tumble dryer that doesn’t work in the flat for 12 months. Guess what? They managed to arrange an engineer visit within 7 days for both and sent me a cheque for the one I had bought.

I appreciate people on low incomes may not be confident to follow this route. I know the entire government is busy with Brexit but this really needs sorting out, remember the Grenfell fire was started by a faulty appliance (a fridge). It would be the easiest thing for the Attorney General to say, in his opinion, everyone with an affected machine should buy a new one, send Whirlpool the bill, and he would expect the courts to find in their favour if Whirlpool refused to pay. They have had long enough to sort this out or send everyone a new machine. (Asking for £99 for a new machine was insulting.)

Forgive me Bernie, I know there are good landlords and I did deliberately refer to the past. I have no idea of whether landlords would reliably inform tenants about recalls. To be more positive, landlords might be able to help push tenants to take action in event of a recall.

Good for you Bernie. Maybe we rely too much on others taking action for us instead of standing on our own feet – those who can, anyway.

Suttonite says:
16 January 2018

I accepted the Companies offer to buy a new machine at reduced cost. It is an inferior model.
I am appalled that so many dangerous machines remain in use. Government action is well overdue.

I am keen on safer products and assume that a heat-pump tumble dryer is safer than a condenser or vented dryer, both of which have an electric heater operating at a high enough temperature to set light to any lint or fluff that comes in contact with it.

I dry my clothes outside, or in the airing cupboard and a bathroom in the winter, but it’s more difficult for people living in flats, especially if they have families.

What is happening in other parts of Europe? I imagine most of these machines are also available there.
I know my brother had a tumbler drier that needed correction and it took nearly a year to get it sorted with an engineer who was less than friendly as if it was my brothers fault for buying the machine.
Our Government is useless in these matters. Just look at the poor standard of housebuilding in this country to see how toothless the legislation is. Politicians! Most are a waste of taxpayers money.

Rita Wathen says:
16 January 2018

I think that surely the companies should be held both criminally and financially responsible for damage to property and also any injuries or loss of life caused by their faulty unsafe goods especially as they are fully aware of the problem. If this were the case then they would have an incentive to sort the situation out far more quickly.

John Shepherd says:
16 January 2018

This situation is an absolute disgrace and a total shambles when it comes to getting the highly suspect products out of the retail consumer market.
I am one of the lucky ones that had my drier modified by a mobile engineer after nearly 30 months of waiting and several phone calls to a dedicated number and E’mails on the companies own site for reporting a product that was identified by a serial number.
This is taking far to long to clear the suspect machines out of customers homes and to add insult to injury they are being offered replacement machines at a paltry discount and expected to store the faulty machine until they can/are collected.
The government should unequivocally step in here and rule that Whirlpool & Co initiate immediate arrangements to collect and store the affected machines and refund the original price back to the customers without delay so that they can have freedom of choice as to which make/model that they put their trust into.

How do they know who the owners are? It seems to me this is the core problem and why a proper registration system needs to be set up, sooner not later, to help if this sort of situation arises in the future.

Alan Dolton says:
16 January 2018

I see good words from the government. I hope I see good actions to ensure whirlpool are made to end this saga of dumping shoddy dangerous goods on a trusting public
I am sure “Which”will pursue them until this is end is resolved

The defective products were made by Indesit, whom whirlpool took over in 2015 (I think)) when the problem was uncovered. Indesit were responsible for the product, Whirlpool for the solution.