Next month will be the second anniversary of when we first exposed failings by Whirlpool’s modification programme, leaving consumer with fire risk tumble dryers at risk. And now new problems are coming to light.
On Wednesday night, we and BBC Watchdog revealed frightening new findings from experts, and our lab testing. The modification that Whirlpool has been carrying out to the fire-risk tumble dryers may leave them at continued risk of fire.
Last month, we obtained a dryer that had been through the repair programme and subsequently caught fire in a consumer’s home. We sent it to one of our labs for testing and and found that, after two minutes and with no clothes in the machine, flames were seen at the back of the drum.
The filter was in good condition but an excessive amount of dust had bypassed the filter and had been deposited around the machine, including on the heating element. Frightening.
Whirlpool told us: “we have total confidence in the modification. Extensive testing and analysis of the modification both before and since its implementation has shown it provides an effective resolution for the issue.
“We can confirm that, to the best of our knowledge, there have been no reported incidents where the modification has shown to be ineffective. We thoroughly investigate all incidents as soon as they are reported to us.”
Next we investigated the advice that consumers who are yet to have their dryer modified by Whirlpool are receiving. We made 72 calls to six of the UK’s leading retailers of Whirlpool-owned brands that had sold the fire-risk dryers. And the results were shocking.
Our undercover investigation revealed that customer service operatives from retailers AO.com, Argos, Co-op Electricals, Currys PC World, John Lewis and Very/Littlewoods are failing to give the full and appropriate safety advice when contacted about fire-risk tumble dryer models.
The advice given was inadequate, inconsistent and potentially dangerous at times. Not a single call resulted in what we would deem to be an acceptable response to a serious safety issue.
It smells of smoke
In nine out of ten calls the customer service adviser failed to give the correct advice that the customer should unplug the machine, which they had been told smelled of smoke.
In six out of ten of the calls they failed to tell the customer not to use the dryer until it had been repaired or replaced.
This was the key advice on the safety notice issued by Trading Standards last year, yet it wasn’t being made clear when we called and indicated that we had one of the affected dryers and gave an indication that it could be a fire risk.
We’ve engaged with all the retailers involved, and will be sharing more detail on the calls with them and will be discussing what improvements can be made.
Our investigation doesn’t stop there though. Some of our calls we directed through to customer services for Whirlpool-owned brands. The company has two years under its belt of advising consumers who have these fire-risk dryer. So you would expect them to doing it right at this point.
We were alarmed when we went through the result. In only one of the five calls to Whirlpool was the correct safety advice given. How is this even possible? How could they get it so wrong on something so serious?
But it gets worse. In three of the five calls put through to them, the customer service operatives incorrectly implied or explicitly state that there would be a charge for repairing the machine.
This is meant to be a free modification, and is subject to a legal product safety notice.
Disregard for product safety law
These are clear breaches of their legal obligations under the safety notice and in our view Whirlpool is breaking product safety law.
A spokesperson for Whirlpool said to us: “Whirlpool has no evidence of any such calls and is therefore unable to verify them.” Adding:
“The instructions Which? claims were provided in these calls bears no resemblance to our advice on this product safety campaign, or the high standards we expect of our call centre staff.
“We take our responsibilities on product safety matters extremely seriously and all members of our customer care team are thoroughly trained to ensure they provide consumers with the correct advice. We have a team of more than 300 professionals dedicated to taking over 3 million calls annually – all of whom take great pride and care in providing advice and assistance to our valued customers.
“Our advice in all our communications is very clear: anyone still in possession of an unmodified dryer affected by this product safety campaign should unplug it and not use it until one of our engineers has carried out the modification.
Which? is sharing relevant details from the calls to help the retailers and Whirlpool improve their safety advice. AO.com, Currys/PC World, Argos, Currys and John Lewis expressed surprise at the results and are investigating further. Co-op Electrical said it had reminded staff of the correct procedures. Argos and Very/Littlewoods declined to comment.
We demand action
We are calling on the Office for Product Safety and Standards to take immediate action against Whirlpool and is demanding a full product recall of the affected tumble dryers, both modified and unmodified.
We are not alone on this, Rachel Reeves MP, the Chair of the highly influential Parliamentary Select Committee for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:
“Whirlpool’s response throughout this saga has been appalling. They have serious questions to answer about the safety advice they are providing to their customers and the steps taken to ensure these fire-risk tumble dryers are properly made safe.
The Government’s new Office for Product Safety needs to rise to the challenge and ensure consumers can rely on the advice they receive from companies and retailers and have confidence in the safety of the products they buy.”
The former Consumer Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who initiated the review into the product safety system backed our calls to: “This is a worrying report. It is now time for decisive action to put this right.”