What is a safety warning or product recall?
A product recall will usually be a safety alert or request from a manufacturer to return or repair a product following the discovery of a safety concern.
They're issued in one of two ways:
- After the manufacturer has agreed a course of action with the relevant enforcement body - usually Trading Standards - to deal with the potentially unsafe product.
- If a course of action can't be agreed between the manufacturer and the enforcement body, the enforcement body issues a formal safety notice.
A recall notice is the most severe level of safety notice.
Depending on what kind of safety notice is issued, there are differing levels of obligations on manufacturers and distributors.
- Suspension notice The manufacturer, distributor and retailers must not sell the goods while safety evaluations, checks and controls are performed.
- Requirement to warn The manufacturer or distributor must issue a warning about a dangerous product to past and future consumers. This is often publicised as a 'safety notice'.
- Withdrawal notice The manufacturer or distributor must withdraw a dangerous product from the market and possibly, warn past customers.
- Recall notice The manufacturer or distributor must recall a dangerous product from all retailers and past customers.
When we talk about a product recall throughout this article, we mean any communication from a manufacturer about the safety of a product.
Product safety top tips:
- Registering your product means manufacturers can get in touch with you if a product you’ve bought is recalled. You can register directly with the manufacturers, or use the government backed Register My Appliance service.
- The recall process can differ from product to product. You should follow manufacturer instructions if a recall is announced. If you're concerned, stop using the product immediately.
- You should not be charged for any recall work - such as a repair, replacement or collection of the recalled item.
- The manufacturer should give you an idea of how long the process will take.
- Find all of our Which? tools, tips and advice on to protect you and your home from unsafe products. You can view the latest safety alerts, sign our petition demanding action on dangerous products and read our latest product safety news coverage.
Has your product been recalled?
A manufacturer can use a variety of methods to ensure that people are notified of a product recall:
- If they have your details as a result of the purchase of the product, they can contact you directly.
- If not, then the enforcement agency may require the manufacturer to publicise the recall in newspapers or TV news programmes.
You can also check for recalled products yourself:
- You can check a list of food alerts on the Food standards Agency's website.
- You can check the list of recalled products on the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website.
- You can check if your car has been recalled on the gov.uk website.
- You can check for a specific vehicle to find whether it has any outstanding safety recall work on The Motor Ombudsman's website.
- You can check Electrical Safety First's list of electrical product recalls.
- You can check a list of recalled drugs and medical devices.
- You can check a list of household appliances recalled due to fire risk on the gov.uk website.
- You can check a list of products recalled since 2000 due to fire risk provided by the UK Association for Fire Investigators.
- You can search for EU-wide product safety warnings on the EU Commission’s rapid alert system website (RAPEX).
- You can search for products recalled since 2012 by governments in a number of other countries. Information provided by OECD.
If you become aware that a product you own has been recalled or has any safety noticed issued against it, make sure you follow any instructions given to you by the manufacturer.
If you don't receive instructions, check the manufacturer's website, or if you're concerned, stop using the product immediately.
Will the product recall process change after Brexit?
In the event of a no-deal Brexit the UK would immediately fall out of all the EU agencies and regulatory bodies that are responsible for conducting safety assessments, meaning that UK bodies would have to take on these functions to ensure consumer safety.
But UK consumers will still be able to access the Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX) website to see what EU product recalls have been issued.
The RAPEX system is the EU rapid alert system for unsafe consumer products and consumer protection - the alerts contain information about dangerous products, the risks of these products and the steps being taken at national level to prevent or restrict marketing of the product.
The difficulty consumers will face in a no-deal situation is if they have a faulty good purchased from an EU retailer. The process of getting a refund or replacement could become a lot more complex if you buy faulty goods from an EU retailer and you might find it more difficult to return goods purchased from the EU.
When you shop online, read the terms and conditions to see what governing law applies, as you may not be protected in the same way as if you bought from a UK retailer. If you're buying from a marketplace, be aware that sellers can be from all over the EU.
After the UK leaves the EU, Trading Standards won't be able to take enforcement action against the retailer if they're based in the EU.
If the withdrawal agreement is approved by the EU and UK, it's been agreed that consumer rights will remain unchanged until the terms of the future relationship between the UK and the EU are decided. This transition period will last from the day the UK leaves the EU to 31 December 2020.
Read our guide on how Brexit could impact consumer rights for more information on shopping outside the UK after Brexit.
You can also sign up for Brexit advice updates - Which? cuts through the noise to find the facts. Our practical and impartial consumer advice, rigorously researched and regularly delivered by email, can help you prepare for the UK leaving the EU.
Product recall procedure
The process for a product recall can differ from product to product, but here's what you can broadly expect:
- The manufacturer of the product should communicate with you about the recall and state how it will work
- The manufacturer should also give you an idea of how long the process will take
- The manufacturer will usually ask for proof of purchase - a bank statement or till receipt, for example
- The manufacturer might arrange for the product to be collected or they could send out engineers to make repairs
Contact the manufacturer in the first instance to find out how the recall will work, if you would like clarity and haven't yet been contacted.
Proof of purchase
When there is a product recall, you will usually be asked to provide proof of purchase.
If you weren't the purchaser (for example, you received the faulty product as a gift), the easiest route to getting your money back will be to get proof of purchase from the person who bought your gift, if this is possible. This is to make it easier for the retailer to process your claim from an administrative perspective.
If you’re not able to get proof of purchase and the person who paid by cash, you should go directly to the manufacturer.
The manufacturer should not require any proof of purchase. If you have the item your possession, that should be enough, and the manufacturer should arrange to retrieve, replace or fix the product.
Product recall enforcement
According to the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, manufacturers and distributors are obliged to notify the relevant enforcement agency as soon as they become aware that they have put an unsafe product on the market.
In the UK, there is no single body or institution with the responsibility of ensuring safety requirements in relation to all products.
Instead, the particular type of product may have its own enforcement agency – such as the Food Standards Agency or Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
For most home electrical products, Trading Standards is the enforcement agency.
Product recall problems
You should not be charged for any recall work - such as a repair.
Sometimes the manufacturer may offer you a deal where instead of a repair, it offers you a replacement at a greatly discounted rate.
You'll need to weigh up the age of your product and how much the manufacturer is charging to see if this represents good value to you.
The manufacturer may also take an unreasonably long time to repair or replace your product in which case you may need to weigh up whether an alternative course of action could resolve the issue any quicker.
Should I pay?
Sometimes the manufacturer may offer you the chance to pay a fee to have the faulty product replaced rather than have it repaired.
Depending on how long you've owned the product and how much you paid for it, this could represent better value for money than having an older machine repaired or pursuing a claim against the retailer or your credit card provider.
For example, five years ago you paid £200 for a tumble dryer and it's now recalled. The manufacturer offers to replace it with a new and updated model for £99. This will probably be better value than the partial refund you could be entitled to if you claim against the retailer or your credit card company.
Use our guides to find out more about your rights when returning faulty goods.
Can I claim against the retailer?
In some cases you could be able to get a repair or replacement without any further cost to you by taking your claim to the retailer who sold you the recalled product in the first place.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that products must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose, which includes that they be safe and durable.
If a product has had a safety notice issued against it or if it has been voluntarily recalled, then it will have failed to meet these standards and you could claim a repair or replacement from the retailer or - in some circumstances - a refund.
If you purchased the product after 1 October 2015, you can use our faulty goods tool to start your claim against the retailer.
Where there has been a recall, this can complicate your faulty goods claim and Which? doesn't believe the emphasis should be on consumers to take this action.
If you purchased the product before 1 October 2015, you have rights against the retailer to a repair or replacement under the Sale of Goods Act or the Supply of Goods and Services Act.
Can I claim against my credit card provider?
If you’ve spent more than £100 and less than £30,000 on your credit card, or if the retailer arranged credit for you, you can claim against your credit provider if something has gone wrong.
Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, your credit card company is jointly liable for any breach of contract.
This means your credit provider shares equal responsibility with the retailer or trader for the goods or service supplied, allowing you to put your claim to the credit provider.
You don't have to reach a stalemate with the retailer or manufacturer before you can contact your credit provider - you can make simultaneous claims or just pursue your credit provider.
Section 75 is particularly useful if the retailer or manufacturer has gone bust or you're getting no response to your letters or phone calls.
If death, damage or injury is caused
According to the Consumer Protection Act 1987, anyone who’s harmed by an unsafe product can sue the manufacturer - even if you didn’t buy the product yourself.
You can sue for compensation for death or injury. You can also sue for damage or loss of private property caused by faulty goods if the damage amounts to at least £275.
The amount that can be claimed will depend on the harm suffered and there is no upper limit to compensation.
There are also certain criminal sanctions that apply to the general safety of products. For example, a lack of safety information can lead to up to 12 months’ imprisonment and a large fine.
Consumer Protection Act
The first claim under the Consumer Protection Act was not brought to court until 2000. That’s 12 years after the Act came into force.
Since then there have been very few court cases as it seems most claims are settled out of court.