Whirlpool ‘should’ offer fire risk washing machine refunds
CONSUMER GROUP Which? stated that the company should ‘do the right thing’ for UK consumers who have been caught up in the latest fire related product recall.
Whirlpool announced in December that ‘more than half a million’ machines need to be recalled ‘because of the risk of them catching fire’, after having already recalled thousands of dryers. Approximately 519,000 affected machines make up ‘about 20% of the total number sold’, with certain Hotpoint and Indesit models sold between 2014 and 2018 affected. A spokesperson said that ‘when the heating element’ is activated, ‘in very rare cases a component in the door lock system can overheat, which, depending on product features, can pose a risk of fire’.
In response, the Office for Product Safety and Standards’ (OPSS’) chief executive Graham Russell commented: ‘Whirlpool is recalling models of washing machines due to consumer safety concerns. They have advised consumers with affected models to unplug their machine until it is replaced. The Office for Product Safety and Standards will closely monitor Whirlpool to ensure the recall is carried out successfully.’
The Guardian has now reported on calls from Which? for Whirlpool to refund buyers as an option alongside repair or replacement, with the recall launching today. Despite Whirlpool’s offers of repairs or replacement, Which? warned that this ‘could leave a large number of customers’ with ‘dangerous’ appliances, and it cited its research into the company’s ‘chaotic’ repair or replacement programme for fire risk dryers begun in 2015.
That had found that 26% of affected customers were told ‘they would have to wait longer than six months’ for a repair, with Which? also contacted by concerned customers ‘struggling without the use of their washing machine’, who fear they might be ‘left in limbo for months’ waiting for repairs or replacements. Some have purchased new machines or have ‘racked up considerable expenses in trips to the launderette’.
Another concern was ‘conflicting advice’ from both Whirlpool and the OPSS, specifically about ‘whether or not customers can continue to use the machines at all’ while waiting for repairs or replacement units.
Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, stated: ‘It would clearly be unacceptable if customers were left for many months without adequate washing facilities in their homes, particularly when there is also no offer to cover consequential costs such as trips to the laundrette. The company should do the right thing and offer customers a refund, so people can get fire-risk machines out of their homes and quickly find a suitable replacement.’
A Whirlpool spokesperson responded: ‘We want to apologise for any inconvenience caused by this recall. The issue relates to a particular combination of components which are no longer used in the production of certain models of Indesit and Hotpoint washing machines. Replacing or repairing affected units completely removes the risk of this issue and avoids any possibility of the machines entering the second-hand market. Therefore this is the most effective means of removing this risk from people’s homes.’
The company admitted in July 2019 ‘there could be as many as’ 800,000 fire risk dryers in UK homes, after being ordered last June to recall up to half a million ‘four years’ after concerns were first raised. Since 2004, over 750 domestic fires ‘are thought to have been started’ by affected dryers under the Hotpoint, Creda, Indesit, ProLine and Swan brands, with ‘fluff in contact with the heating element’ or lint building up around the rear drum seal, falling onto the heater.
Whirlpool has replaced or repaired around 3.8m dryers after identifying the fault in November 2015, but did not issue a recall, notifying customers that ‘they could continue to use their dryer while waiting for modification’. This was provided dryers were ‘not left unattended’, but advice changed in February 2017 when it told consumers to ‘unplug and stop using the machines’, though even ‘upgraded’ versions have caught fire, ‘prompting the new demand for a formal recall’.
In May 2018, BBC Watchdog Live ‘uncovered cases’ where dryers caught fire ‘after being fixed’, Whirlpool having faced criticism for failing to recall up to 1m dryers, and its appliances caused ‘three times more’ London fires than any other manufacturer, according to London Fire Brigade. In 2017 a Welsh coroner said the company’s ‘reluctance to digest inquest lessons’ was an ‘obstacle to preventing further deaths’, after two men died in a flat fire in Llanrwst, North Wales in 2014.
The government’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee was scathing of the revelation that 1m faulty dryers are still being used in the UK, and told the government Whirlpool ‘should be made to’ recall fire risk tumble dryers. It had been angered by the decision to close a replacement scheme, and in February 2019 Which? called for ‘clarity’ after 30 people reported fixed dryers had caught fire, produced smoke or a burning smell.
The OPSS began an investigation in May 2018 into the ‘effectiveness’ of Whirlpool’s approach and ‘handling’ of the modification programme, but when its report was released in April last year, Which? criticised it as ‘fundamentally flawed’, stating that it ‘appears to favour Whirlpool’s interest over people’s safety’. Most recently, it had recalled 65,000 units.