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Product safety lawyer welcomes Government letter to Whirlpool

Product safety law expert Jill Paterson welcomes the actions of the BIS Committee chairman but urges the Government to do more on faulty household appliances

Posted on 14 September 2016

Product safety law expert Jill Paterson has welcomed the actions of the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee chairman but urges the Government to do more on the issue of faulty household appliances.

Committee chairman, Iain Wright, has written to Whirlpool – parent company of Hotpoint, Indesit and Creda - to demand an explanation of the customer advice on affected tumble dryers. The letter follows a fire in Shepherd’s Bush in August which is thought to have originated with an Indesit dryer.

Following the fire the London Fire Brigade (LFB)  urged people to stop using the affected dryers, however, Whirlpool maintained that they could be used as long as they were supervised.

Mr Wright has asked Whirlpool UK managing director Maurizio Pettorino if the company intended to change its advice in light of the London Fire Brigade warning, and "if not, please explain why not".

He added: "I would welcome an update on: a. What progress has been made in reducing waiting times for customers to get replacements. b. Whether it still takes 10 weeks to schedule a repair date and, if so, why this delay. c. How many customers are still awaiting repairs, and what is the time frame for completing these."

The news of the letter follows a House of Commons debate on tumble dryer fires and the product recall system which was raised by Andy Slaughter MP on 13 September.

The debate provoked calls from a number MPs for the total recall of faulty domestic appliances. They also urged the government to implement the recommendations from the Consumer Product Recall Review by Lynn Faulds Wood published in February this year. Alberto Costa MP called for Mr Pettorino to resign.

Mr Slaughter said in Parliament: “The Government are not short of advice. Two years ago the inquest into the death of Santosh Benjamin, caused by a defective Beko fridge-freezer, called for a new system of product recall, as did the independent review into product recall under consumer champion Lynn Faulds Wood, which reported in February this year. The LFB’s “Total Recalls” campaign, the Consumers Association and “Expect it’s safe”—a campaign set up by solicitors Leigh Day, who represent many of the victims of white goods fires—have made similar demands.”

Business Minister Margot James MP said during the debate that there was an effective system of product recalls and that a steering group has been set up to consider the recommendations in the report by Lynn Faulds Wood. She said she has received assurances from Whirlpool that they are engaging with customers about the dryers and argued a total recall would be unlikely to reach more than one in four customers. She also said: "I accept that we do need to get on top of this issue rapidly and I will meet with the relevant people... and convey the concerns of MPs.”

Mr Slaughter called for Whirlpool to publish their risk assessment of the tumble dryers. When talking about Whirlpool’s actions in relation to the Shepherd’s Bush fire he added: “There have been no admissions, no offers of assistance, no compensation or payment and no expressions of real regret by Whirlpool…I regard this matter as totally unacceptable. It is corporate malpractice on a grand scale.”

A Whirlpool spokesman said: "The scale of this modification programme is considerable and we're continually looking into alternative options which will allow us to progress the programme at a faster pace and are working hard to improve our response times. To this end, we continue to recruit extra engineers. The safety of consumers is our number one priority and we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that the tumble dryer modification programme is carried out in a safe and timely manner."

Jill Paterson, Partner in the product safety team at Leigh Day, said: “I am pleased that the Government is taking steps to demand answers from Whirlpool over their customer safety advice, but more needs to be done.

“I strongly agree with Mr Slaughter that the Government should implement the recommendations from Lynn Faulds Woods’ report as soon as possible. The Government should make sure that companies are held responsible and are required to recall products when they present a dangerous fire risk. Companies should not be left to regulate themselves.”