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Urgent overhaul of UK’s broken product safety system needed

Lack of joined-up national oversight poses grave risks to consumers

The UK’s fragmented product safety and recall system is not fit for purpose, and is potentially putting lives at risk through a lack of joined-up national oversight and action.

A report released today by Which? is calling for urgent changes to the regime, including the establishment of a national body that can take control of dangerous situations as they arise, and get products out of people’s homes quickly.

The new body must also create a ‘one-stop shop’ for information on product recalls before there is further tragedy or loss of life.

Which? is concerned that the government has been slow to respond to serious incidents and subsequent reviews following product-related fires.

We are currently waiting to hear from the Working Group on Product Recall and Safety, set up in October 2016.

Product safety system unfit for purpose

Chief executive of Which? Peter Vicary-Smith said: ‘The product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose, and its over-reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers.

‘The government must now take urgent action and create a new national body that has all the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people’s homes.’

Which? product safety report

Today we have published our own report, highlighting a number of serious problems created by an overly localised and confusing system. The current system has no single source of information on product recalls for consumers, and uses an ineffective local solution to tackle what is a national problem.

The issues raised in the report were highlighted in practice when Peterborough Trading Standards initially failed to force Whirlpool to change its advice to consumers, despite more than 700 instances of Whirlpool tumble dryers catching fire.

The local authority changed its position only once Which? had threatened legal action. This highlights the lack of a proportionate and effective way to appeal or review trading standards teams’ product-safety decisions.

Problems in the regime are made worse by the lack resources for local trading standards teams, which have lost more than half of their full-time equivalent staff and expertise since 2009.

Combined with an over-reliance on manufacturers to self-check their products’ safety, this paints a worrying picture.

Product safety one-stop shop

Which? is now calling on the government to urgently set up a new national body to take responsibility for product safety and recalls, which has the resources and expertise to identify dangerous goods and to make sure they are removed from people’s homes.

A single, reliable and well-publicised website – acting as a one-stop shop – should also be created to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.

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