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Updated: 18 Feb 2020

Defective tumble dryers: MPs criticise Whirlpool's approach to customer safety

Whirlpool has failed to live up to the duties it owes to its customers, report published today says
The fire warning symbol inside a washing machine

MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have declared it 'astonishing' that four years on from Whirlpool revealing defects in its tumble dryers, as many as 800,000 defective machines could still be present in people's homes.

The defective tumble dryers were sold under brand names including Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline.

The BEIS Committee's report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK, published today, criticises Whirlpool for its slow response in modifying or replacing faulty machines. The report slams the company's use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and criticises Whirlpool's efforts to deflect the concerns of safety organisations and customers rather than focusing on practical steps to address the safety problems.

The report welcomes the recall of Whirlpool's defective machines, announced in July, but regrets that it took 'far too long' for the Government to force this decision.

Doubts over safety of modified dryers

The report also expresses concerns, shared by safety organisations, about the safety of Whirlpool's modification. It calls on the Government to press ahead with a new review of the safety of Whirlpool's modification and to investigate other possible sources of fires in Whirlpool's tumble dryers.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee said: 'Whirlpool's response to fixing safety flaws in its tumble dryers has too often owed more to PR management than to taking the practical steps to make its machines safe for customers.

'The Whirlpool tumble-dryer saga has dragged on for far too long, leaving customers, now four years on, still fearing they may have potentially unsafe tumble dryers in their homes.

Disgraceful tactics

'Whirlpool has failed to live up to the duties it owes to its customers. Whirlpool's prime obligation was to fix the safety issues with its tumble dryers rather than engage in disgraceful tactics such as using NDAs to silence customers who have been the victim of fires involving its products.

'The major product safety issues raised by Whirlpool have also highlighted the need for a tough and independent national safety body with the teeth to stand up for consumers.

'The Government's Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) is not fit for purpose and should be scrapped. It should be replaced by a truly independent body, equipped with the full array of powers necessary to ensure that people have confidence in the safety of electrical goods in their homes.'

The report calls for the establishment of an independent arms-length body, like the Food Standards Agency, equipped with a wide range of civil and criminal sanctions.

A national scandal

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: 'Whirlpool's handling of its fire-risk tumble dryers is a national scandal that has gone on for far too long. Despite consumers, safety campaigners and now the BEIS committee all expressing serious concerns about the 'fix' for these machines, there is still no end in sight to the crisis.

'It is unforgivable that because of our broken product safety system it took four years to force Whirlpool into a recall, so we need to see swift changes to stop corporations getting away with putting their reputations ahead of public safety.

'The government must also urgently establish whether the modification programme for the affected machines is safe.

'The UK needs a new independent product safety regulator that is properly equipped to hold companies to account over dangerous products and ensure people's lives are not put at risk. The next government must act.'

'Safety top priority', says Whirlpool boss

Whirlpool vice president Jeff Noel said: 'People's safety is our top priority, which is why Whirlpool welcomes the report by the BEIS Select Committee to raise awareness of ongoing safety improvements in the UK.

'Through our ongoing campaign we have resolved this potential safety issue - which concerns tumble dryers produced by the previous owner of the company - for more than 1.75 million people. This is up to five times the average success rate for a product recall in the UK.

'We applaud any efforts that create uniform standards that are applied across all industries. We pledge to continue to work with the OPSS and members of the BEIS Select Committee and Government to help advance product safety in the UK.