The white goods giant Whirlpool this week launched a recall of more than 500,000 washing machines in the UK, sold under the Hotpoint and Indesit brands. What does this mean for consumers?
What is the reason for the recall?
Whirlpool kicked off the recall on Thursday after announcing in an official safety notice in December that up to 519,000 washing machines sold under the Hotpoint and Indesit brands in the UK and Ireland between October 2014 and February 2018 could be affected by a flaw with the door-locking system. This could lead to them overheating and potentially catching fire, the company warned.
To date there have been 79 fires reported, but it is understood that damage was limited to machines and did not result in any serious injuries.
The company said the defect was detected by its own safety team and that the issue relates to a particular combination of components which are no longer used in the production of these models.
I am worried I might have an affected model. What do I do?
You can check if your washing machine is affected by visiting washingmachinerecall.whirlpool.co.uk. This site includes an online model checker tool, as well as a full list of model numbers.
Alternatively, customers can call Whirlpool’s freephone hotline, 0800 316 1442, where an adviser can assist with checking your model and providing further information. However, both suffered from meltdown in December, with anxious customers struggling to get information from a website which promptly crashed and constantly jammed phone lines.
I have one of the affected machines. Is it safe to carry on using it?
Whirlpool reassured us it was working at “full speed” to prepare for the recall, and advised consumers, ideally, to unplug their washing machines in the meantime and not use them. Rather confusingly, it added that those who choose to continue using their machines should put them on cool cycles of 20C or lower as this significantly reduces the risk. This is because the issue is associated with the washing machine’s heating element being activated during wash cycles above 20C.
To be on the safe side, the only way to remove the risk completely is not to use the machine. Worryingly, there have been reports that insurers will not cover damage from a fire that starts in one of the faulty machines. It’s best to go to your insurer and check what is covered.
What happens next?
Whirlpool is now re-contacting all customers who have registered an affected model under the recall. They will be invited to schedule an appointment for a free, like-for-like replacement washing machine, or a repair of their existing appliance. Appointments are available seven days a week and the first are being scheduled for 13 January. Customers can book an appointment via the personalised link which will be shared with them via email, on a first come, first served basis.
Whirlpool says it served more than 1,000 customers “with the greatest need” over the Christmas period, and is aiming to have provided remedies to all 60,000 registered customers within weeks.
In total, it says, more than 1.2 million people have been in touch to check if their appliances are part of the recall since the safety notice was issued in December. It also says it has reassured 95% of these that they do not have an affected appliance and can continue to use their products safely as normal.
However, Whirlpool has been criticised for advising customers to use a premium rate phone line to arrange a replacement. The firm blamed this on “an administrative error” and said the line had been closed. Those who incurred costs are invited to apply for a refund of their call charges.
Why can’t I just get a refund?
Because the issue relates to a specific combination of components which are no longer used in the production of the relevant models, Whirlpool insists that replacing or repairing machines is the most effective solution. This removes the risk from people’s homes and avoids the possibility of faulty machines entering the second-hand market.
However, many people may not want a repair or replacement from a brand they no longer want to have in their homes. Although Whirlpool is under no legal obligation to do so, the consumer group Which? is pressing Whirlpool to offer customers the option of a refund. Similarly, it says Whirlpool should also cover reimbursement of any out-of-pocket expenses caused by the recall, such as launderette bills. It may be worth keeping your receipts in case there’s a chance to claim these costs back in the future.
We’ve been here before with Whirlpool. What happened with the faulty tumble dryer recall?
In 2015 Whirlpool issued a a safety warning after identifying a fault with Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline tumble dryers whereby a build-up of fluff that could travel from the machine’s filter was able to come into contact with the heating element and start a fire. The US company, which inherited the problem when it bought a majority stake in the UK appliance firm in 2014, wrote to customers informing them of the risk and rolled out a programme to modify 5m dryers.
The company was later criticised by consumer protection groups and the government for failing to issue a full-scale recall at the time of identifying the fault and was pressurised by the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee (BEIS) into publicising a list of affected models and offering refunds only last year.
Unlike the issues relating to the washing machine recall there were a number of high-profile fires linked to the recalled tumble dryers which were reported to have caused devastating damage. Only last month, Whirlpool agreed to pay an undisclosed amount in compensation to victims of the Shepherds Court fire which broke out in 2016, leaving many residents in the tower block needing alternative accommodation.
Thirty-seven residents, represented by law firm Leigh Day, brought a civil claims arising out of the fire.