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MPs demand action on electrical white goods safety

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent
The fire in Shepherd’s Bush last August caused by a faulty tumble dryer.
The fire in Shepherd’s Bush last August caused by a faulty tumble dryer. Photograph: @liam_twomey/PA

The government has been criticised by MPs for being slow to overhaul a “flawed and poorly resourced” safety regime for electrical white goods that has allowed 1m potentially dangerous tumble dryers to be in use in homes across the UK.

The business, energy and industrial strategy select committee is also urging manufacturer Whirlpool to repair faulty machines within two weeks of being contacted by owners, or explain what action it plans to take to deal with the problem.

MPs on the committee say it is unacceptable that there are still 1m defective Whirlpool tumble dryers in homes more than two years after the discovery of a fault that has resulted in at least 750 domestic fires in the UK since 2004. The company is still mired in controversy over its decision not to recall items that are at risk of bursting into flames.

The committee says Whirlpool’s “inadequate response” to the defect highlights the flaws in the UK’s safety regime, adding that serious consideration must now be given by the government to establishing a single national product safety agency. It urges ministers to respond by the end of February to the recommendations of the independent review carried out by the consumer champion Lynn Faulds Wood nearly two years ago.

Whirlpool has been replacing or repairing an estimated 3.8m dryers across the UK after identifying the fault in November 2015, caused when fluff touched the heating element. The risk applies to some older dryers sold under the Hotpoint, Creda, Indesit, ProLine and Swan brands.

Whirlpool did not issue a product recall, telling customers they could continue to use their dryer while waiting for modification, provided it was not left on and unattended. Whirlpool finally changed its advice last February when it warned customers they should unplug and stop using the machines.

In October, the company told MPs that an estimated 1m machines at risk of bursting into flames were still in UK homes and a senior manager attempted to justify the company’s decision not to change its advice to consumers until six months after an Indesit model caused a serious fire in Shepherd’s Bush, west London.

“Whirlpool’s woeful response to the defect in its tumble dryers has caused huge worry to people with these appliances in their homes” said Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the committee. “Their delayed and dismissive response to correcting these defects has been inadequate and we call on Whirlpool to resolve issues urgently. Whirlpool must once and for all put an end to the unacceptable situation where a million machines are acting as potential fire hazards in people’s homes.”

She said Whirlpool’s response highlighted flaws in the UK’s product safety regime “which is fragmented and poorly resourced”, adding: “There is a strong case for a single national product safety agency. The government must implement the recommendations of an independent review on product safety, which they have been sitting on for nearly two years.”

Manufacturers of highly flammable plastic-backed fridge freezers are also urged to use safer materials. The Grenfell Tower fire was sparked by a fridge freezer from Whirlpool’s Hotpoint range.

Whirlpool said: “After two years of extensive measures to raise awareness to this campaign, the number of consumers coming forward has fallen sharply. We can assure consumers that they if they contact us now, they can receive a resolution within one week.”

Jill Paterson, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, which represents many alleged victims of fires caused by household appliances, welcomed the MPs’ recommendations. “We share the ‘deep unease’ of the committee over the approach of Whirlpool and other manufacturers of appliances to the risks serious defects in their appliances pose to the British public,” she said.