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How can we fix our broken product recall system?

In the first of a series of blogs examining household appliance safety and the current flaws in the UK recall system, Jill Paterson, partner in Leigh Day’s product safety and consumer law team, discusses the recent call to action by the London Fire Brigade and the need for a new recall register.

Kitchen gutted by fire
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Jill Paterson is a consumer lawyer, partner at Leigh Day and consumer rights champion. She is passionate about product safety, patient & consumer rights. She tweets as @paterson_jill
Just under three years ago I examined Coroner Walker’s recommendations to the Government following the inquest into the death of Santosh Benjamin Muthiah, who died after trying to rescue his family from a fire which started with a fridge freezer. I hoped that the recommendations would kick-start the radical changes needed to the way that household appliances in the UK are sold and regulated. Unfortunately, the London Fire Brigade’s letter of 18 August 2017 to the Prime Minister highlights that few, if any, changes have been made since then.
Following Coroner Walker’s recommendations, the Government asked the Consumer Champion, Lynn Faulds-Wood to chair an independent review of the product recall system in the UK. Ms Faulds-Wood consulted with consumer groups, industry, Trading Standards, the Fire Service etc and came up with a broad set of recommendations to improve the current regime.
“UK consumer product recall – An independent review” was published in February 2016. Ms Faulds-Wood’s recommendations were welcomed as sensible, practical and innovative and their implementation offered the UK the chance to lead the rest of Europe with a bold and robust product recall regime that would not only protect consumers, but be good for business too. A Steering Group and then a Working Group were set up to progress the recommendations, but unfortunately, they seem to have been kicked into the long grass.
Since Santosh Benjamin died, there have been a number of significant fires believed to have involved white goods, including the tower block fire at Shepherd’s Court in August 2016. Following the anniversary of the Shepherd’s Court fire, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) took the unprecedented step of writing to the Government with a letter titled “Thousands of dangerous white goods are still being used in homes across the UK”. The letter had several significant signatories, including the London Fire Commissioner, the Mayor of London and the Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First. It calls upon the Government to act swiftly and in full upon the recommendations of the Working Group Report.
The LFB’s letter highlights the Brigade’s “Total Recalls” campaign, which re-iterates what needs to be done to change our broken recall system. Having seen first-hand through my clients the devastation and destruction that house fires can cause, I feel passionately that it is high time that something is done. We support the LFB’s campaign and I set out in this series of blogs some of the changes that the LFB are calling for and why.
  1. A single, publicly accessible register of product recalls
This type of register is desperately needed to allow consumers to be aware of products in our home which could be putting us at risk. It’s important that people can find in one place all the information that they need and that the information is independent, full, clear and transparent. 
The USA’s Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Recall List is a good example of how it can be done. It goes as far back as 1973 and allows consumers to report unsafe products themselves. Similarly, Australia’s Product Safety website goes back to 1986 and summarises product safety laws for the benefit of consumers.
The UK desperately needs an equivalent “One Stop Shop” for recalls and safety notices where consumers can check their products, report incidents and seek information and advice.
The UK Government finally launched a website this year that it claims to be such a “One Stop Shop”. Unfortunately, the website is lacking in that it is difficult to navigate and does not contain all product recall information in one place. The site also introduces confusion by directing consumers to other sites where “recalls” are listed, none of which are comprehensive. 
A new recall register is first on the LFB’s list of actions needed from the government. In future blogs in this series members of Leigh Day’s product safety and consumer law team will discuss the other actions called for in the LFB’s letter to government, including why recalls need to be publicised better to reduce confusion and why we need greater regulation of second hand appliances.

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