/ Home & Energy

Update: it’s unacceptable that Whirlpool is still failing consumers

burnt tumble dryer

Our investigation shows that, one year on from announcing that some of its tumble dryers were at risk of catching fire, Whirlpool is still failing millions of affected UK customers.

Slow and poor service

In April this year, we investigated the Whirlpool tumble dryer safety issue, surveying 820 affected customers and conducting 30 mystery calls to the Whirlpool call centre posing as customers with affected machines. At that time, we found multiple failings in how Whirlpool was handling its customers.

In November, we carried out a second investigation. We contacted those surveyed in April again, as well as nearly 500 additional affected customers who had not previously been polled.

We found those with fire-risk dryers are still being forced to wait far too long, with one in five (22%) customers surveyed in April still waiting for their machine to be repaired or replaced.

A third (33%) of those who had since had their dryer repaired or replaced said they were dissatisfied with how the manufacturer had handled the situation.

One quarter (26%) of affected customers were told they would have to wait longer than six months for their tumble dryer to be repaired.

Marlon says: ‘I was contacted by email last winter informing me that it would be done in March. March came and went then another email with June as the modification month. No contact in June. Another email in August asking if I would like another tumble dryer, at a reduced price, instead of waiting for the modification to take place. After looking at the reviews of the models offered on Which, I decided I would not take up the new machine offer. So now I wait, a year on.’

One in five (22%) were told that the wait would be between three and six months.

We found widespread concern among customers, with six in ten (62%) of those we surveyed for the first time in November 2016 worried about using their tumble dryer, despite Whirlpool’s advice to continue to do so.

Potentially dangerous advice

In addition to being forced to wait far too long, we found Whirlpool giving a customer incorrect and potentially dangerous advice.

Last month, our mystery shoppers made another 30 calls to the Whirlpool call centre.

One of those callers was told that their machine was not affected. This was incorrect as we gave the call centre a model number of a dryer we knew was on the list. They even told us to throw any letters received about the safety notice ‘in the rubbish’.

On three occasions, mystery shoppers were told to contact the shop they bought the machine from for a replacement.

We also found long waits for a customer ID number that needs to be issued before anything can happen in the repair or replacement process.

Despite Whirlpool committing to reducing the waiting time for a customer ID number to 10 days, Which? found some call handlers quoting 6-12 weeks to mystery shoppers.

Which? says

Alex Neill, Managing Director of Home & Legal Services at Which?, said: ‘It is absolutely unacceptable that, one year on, Whirlpool customers are still seeing slow, poor service and potentially receiving incorrect and dangerous advice. Whirlpool’s modification programme is clearly not progressing as fast as it should.

‘Following the devastating fire caused by a tumble dryer in Shepherds Bush earlier this year, Whirlpool cannot be allowed to continue letting consumers down. It must clean up its act and sort out this mess urgently.’

Update: 12 January 2017

Today, we’ve launched a campaign to challenge Whirlpool to sort this mess out quickly. It’s now been a lengthy 14 months since the news broke that certain Whirlpool-owned tumble dryers could pose a fire-risk.

Some 750 fires have been reportedly linked to Whirlpool’s faulty dryers. Whirlpool’s repair programme is moving too slowly, so their unmodified fire-risk dryers continue to pose a potential threat to people’s homes.


In August 2016, Sharna’s home was destroyed by a Whirlpool dryer:

Last month, we took the decision to file for a judicial review of Peterborough Trading Standards’ handling of the Whirlpool dryer safety issue. As Whirlpool’s UK headquarters are in Peterborough, it’s Peterborough City Council’s Trading Standards department that’s been dealing with this matter.

This issue shouldn’t be allowed to drag on any longer and we need your help to make Whirlpool do more to prevent dryer fires.

Do you support our campaign? Have you been affected by the Whirlpool tumble dryer safety issue? What more would you like done to resolve this safety issue?

Comments
Owen Rigby says:
3 February 2017

I would like to contrast this response with that of Bosch, they not only changed my dishwasher
program controller on a very ancient machine following a possible defect.. The new component
had an improved eco program.. Excellent customer care which has resulted in me purchasing other
Bosch appliances (Guided by “Which” of course!)

I have just noticed fluff in the condensation container of my Siemens condenser drier.

On closer inspection, the first double filter doesn’t seem to fit as well as it should. The filter is made of plastic, and I assume has warped slightly with the heat from the drier. So although the filters are cleaned every cycle, lint seems to be getting where it shouldn’t.

As my drier is only 3 years old, I would say the filters are hardly fit for purpose and will be replacing them.

Some users don’t maintain their driers properly, but could badly fitting filters be partly to blame?

Now that to me is a very good engineering point as well as a reason for minimising plastic in hot situations . Are you sure you don’t have an “engineering brain” Alfa ? , this will sound sexist , but its a compliment, maybe , for a female, you should have taken up engineering ? You are spot on , in engineering PRACTICE there are several different kinds of fits , like a push on fit and a interference fit , the latter being used to hold something FIRMLY in place . Most of this applies to METAL as it takes a great heat for mild steel to warp but with modern “commercial design ” practice all this goes down the drain as plastic is used , a very “save money ” exercise . Fibres used to make up lint are extremely fine and can easily slip through the narrowest space . Wavechange are you reading this ?? it backs up your point and I am right behind you on this USE METAL ! Well detected Alfa !

Of course I am reading it, Duncan. 🙂 Someone else made a similar point about distorted filters and and someone else has criticised the design of filters on this page. One of our other ‘regulars’ has professed to having little knowledge or interest in technical matters but has made some useful input into technical discussions. Here is an anecdote. I took my turn to join our safety officer on the regular safety walks round our labs and offices, looking for potential safety issues. I wondered why they asked a secretary to wander round labs but when she picked up problems that the supposed experts had missed the reason became obvious.

In a condenser dryer the moist air is cooled and dried before being meeting up with a heater operating at high enough temperature to start a fire. I presume that there must be more than one filter in the system to guard against this happening if fluff gets past the first one.

I used to have a tumble dryer but only used it a few times a year. The plastic support for the filter had started to disintegrate, so I scrapped the machine. I remember thinking that a metal support might have been more durable.

Our plastic filter in the dryer fits perfectly. not a feature necessarily of the material. It’s about competent design, as is the rest of an appliance.

I am still waiting to hear exactly what causes the problem with Indesit et al dryers and how the modification(s) is (are) intended to work and banish the problem. I do wish someone like Which? would put the facts down (have I missed them?)

Hello, I would like to know if these dangerous machines meet EU safety legislation. Did I read that they did and that is why Whirlpool dont think it is such a big deal? Why is EU safety legislation so poor then? it s obviously not protecting us? can anyone confirm they have met EU regs?

Can anyone advise if these dryers met EU safety regs? presumably they did or they wouldnt have been allowed to be made. If so, these regs need changing!

Frances, a question that I have asked and that has never been answered. Right at the start i asked Which if they would see “defective” machines were tested to the European safety standard (published in the UK as BS EN 60335-2-11) to see if they complied, and also to see what the actual safety problem was. I have repeated the request several times but with no reply.

I doubt that the affected machines would have been sold unless it had been thought that they fully met all the applicable safety requirements.

I suspect that subsequent operating experience then showed that these particular machines did not actually do a good enough job of meeting those requirements.

It also sounds as though Whirlpool are now arguing that the actual gap or safety shortfall is relatively minor, so that the use of unmodified machines is tolerably safe, as long as appropriate user cautions are followed, e.g. regular filter cleaning and no unattended operation. Hence, Whirlpool seem to have justified their “roundtuit” approach to rolling out the upgrades (at least to their own standards of proof).

Ultimately however, it is down to householders to take responsibility for fire safety in their homes. Thence, given the uncertainty surrounding this issue, some might well choose to err on the side of caution by replacing any affected dryers with replacement ones, of a known safe pattern.

Derek P, safety standards must be passed by representative products before they can be certified for release onto the European market. The standards give tests with specific criteria for pass or fail to give a clear answer. So the Indesit machines should not “show a gap in a safety shortfall”. Ir they did they would (should) not have been placed on the market until they fully met the standard.

I am assuming they met the standard but their has to be doubt, however small. That can be easily resolved by taking a defective dryer and submitting it to the safety standard tests that might be applicable to a potential fire incident. One would be to check whether any non-metallic materials in the stated vicinity of the heating element pass the required burning test.

Malcolm, most of us will be familiar with the MoT test for cars. That sets out a safety standard that cars must meet for at least one day each year.

I don’t imagine that appliance certification is much different. Any sort of full compliance tests can only be carried out on a small sample of machines. Then the reality of retailed machines, as actually built, and after a few years of use, including wear and tear, may differ.

I assume that the current tests are carried out on new machines. The problem is that tumble dryers can accumulate lint, particularly if the filter has not been clean regularly. The flammable material in the vicinity of the heater is lint. The Whirlpool brands are, I believe, more prone to accumulating lint than other dryers and the purpose of the modification is to correct this problem.

If the dryers had an all-metal casing the fire would be contained. But we use plastic parts, which can burn or melt before the fire goes out due to lack of oxygen.

Certainly initial sample machines are required for certification tests, and the licensing authority can make spot checks on later production to ensure the products are still compliant. However, to have licensed production also means the manufacturer complies with the ISO 9001 quality standards, against which they are regularly audited to ensure there is consistency in business practice and manufacture. Should products be found in the market that are then unsafe it is the job of a national authority – in the UK’s case Trading Standards still, I believe – to investigate and report. Other bodies like Which?, or individuals, can also raise problems. I am not sure how much more, in principle, we can expect to do. One weak link may be in our case with Trading Standards who do not seem to have the resources. However for products sold throughout Europe each country is doing the same job, hopefully better. So we have a network of potential protection.

I am disappointed that Which? seem to have set themselves apart from the standards process.

John says:
21 July 2017

I believe that any manufacturer of an appliance which is proven to be dangerous and likely to cause a fire has a duty of care to trace all of those who bought that appliance & advise them to unplug it & not to use it again until an engineer has either visited and made it safe or condemned it as unsafe and removed it from the property. These measures are vital if we are to avoid another horrible tragedy where lives are lost. Whirlpool’s behaviour in this instance was unacceptable & should never be repeated.

Mr. J.E.Pike says:
17 January 2018

Our faulty tumble drier was replaced with a new faulty drier in 2015. Whirlpool has ignored our many e-mails and telephone calls.
What more can we do?