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Government announces new Office for Product Safety and Standards

Which? is calling for an independent national body with powers to protect consumers

Government announces new Office for Product Safety and Standards

The government has today announced the creation of a new Office for Product Safety and Standards.

Today’s announcement comes as part of the government’s response to the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, which brought together experts to build on recommendations made by Lynn Faulds Wood in her independent review into consumer product recalls.

Concerns raised by Which? and a report into product safety published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee also led to the decision.

The newly announced Office is set to provide a national central resource to provide scientific and technical support to local authorities on product safety issues.

The Office will be based in BEIS, and will have a budget of around £12m per year when fully operational.

It will work to identify consumer risks and manage responses to large-scale product recalls and repairs.

Does the announcement go far enough?

Following concerns raised by Which? through our investigations into the Whirlpool-owned brand tumble dryer issues and our report on the failings of the product safety system ‘Strengthening the consumer product safety regime’, the systemic problems with the regime for dealing with unsafe products have become more evident.

Which? home products and services managing director, Alex Neill, said: ‘The government has finally accepted that the UK’s product safety system needs to be fixed, but this action falls short of the full overhaul it so desperately needs.

‘Consumers need an independent national body which has real powers to protect them and get dangerous products out of their homes. Failure to do so continues the risk of further tragic consequences.’

The government has said it will continue to work with stakeholders such as consumer groups, manufacturers and retailers to ensure the Office coordinates the UK’s product safety regime as effectively as possible.

Read our guides for more information on what to do you if you have a faulty product, your rights if you have a fire-risk tumble dryer in your home and if you’re concerned your fridge-freezer might be a fire hazard.

What is Which? calling for?

While we are pleased to see the government starting to fix the broken product safety system, we do not believe the Office announced by the government currently delivers on what is needed. Which? is calling for the introduction of an independent, arms-length body with real powers to protect consumers.

A new national body should be underpinned by the following core principles:

  • Independence of the body from those it regulates
  • A requirement to put consumer interests first
  • Transparency in how it operates
  • A proactive approach to market surveillance
  • A centre of expertise on product safety
  • Ability to identify potential trends, gather intelligence and cooperate with international partners
  • A duty to directly communicate and engage with consumers to ensure they are aware of safety issues.

What will the new Office do?

The Office for Product Safety and Standards will start work immediately, covering general (non-food) consumer product safety with the aim of improving the UK’s product safety system.

It will not cover vehicles, medicines and medical devices, or workplace equipment, which are already covered by other agencies.

In addition to providing support and advice for local authority Trading Standards teams, the Office will coordinate work across local authorities where action is needed on a national scale.

It will also aim to ensure the UK continues to carry out appropriate border checks on imported products once the UK leaves the EU.

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