Whirlpool has admitted there may still be as many as 800,000 faulty tumble-dryers still in need of modification.
This is substantially higher than previous estimates from the company that the total was around 500,000.
The revelation came yesterday as representatives from Whirlpool gave evidence to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee as part of a follow-up session for its inquiry into the safety of electrical goods. The meeting focused on the effectiveness of Whirlpool’s response to safety concerns over its tumble-dryers.
The chairman of the committee, Rachel Reeves MP, kicked off proceedings by saying that the committee was meeting again “because of the failure of Whirlpool and the Government” to deal with the issues identified in the previous inquiry on the safety of its [Creda, Hotpoint, Indesit, Proline and Swan] tumble-dryers.
Addressing the committee, Jeff Noel (pictured), corporate vice-president for communications and public affairs at Whirlpool Corporation, began by apologising for “any distress caused by the situation”.
Reeves started by asking Noel how many tumble-dryers had been modified since the committee’s last meeting in 2017 and how many were still left in the market?
Noel said: “We have had 45,000 that we have resolved since the last time we were here, which brings the number to 1.7 million. We are prepared to dramatically increase our programme to reach those consumers and we are hopeful that we will do significantly more advertising. We believe there are approximately 500,000 unmodified units that remain in the market. The more we can get model checking done and registration numbers increased, the more accurate we can be, but we do believe that is a very solid estimate of the number of units that remain in the market.”
Reeves pressed the issue by pointing out that when Ian Moverley, reputation and public affairs director at Whirlpool UK, gave evidence in 2017, he said there were one million unmodified machines in people’s homes. She asked Noel: “You have said you have modified 45,000 [leaving 955,000]. You now say there are 500,000 unmodified machines in people’s homes, what has happened to the other 455,000?”
Noel responded: “The average life of a tumble-dryer is deemed to be eight years. We know how many of these products have been made since the beginning of 2004, so as these products continue to age, there is a factor by which replacement will take place. We have data that shows there has been a spike in purchases of tumble-dryers over the period, beyond what is normally experienced in the market, which further shows that many consumers have chosen to go and find a new tumble-dryer. That accounts for the reduction.”
When pressed again for the actual figures, Noel added: “Some estimates have been as low as 250,000 and some as high as 800,000. But if you take all of the data available, we believe 500,000 is an appropriate figure.”
In the morning session prior to that with the two Whirlpool representatives, Sue Davies, strategic policy adviser at consumer champion Which? raised the point that there are concerns that modified machines have subsequently caught fire.
This issue was raised in the afternoon session by the chairman, who asked Noel how many of the 54 cases in the past five years, where faulty machines had caused a fire [“due to fluff incidents”], involved modified machines.
Noel said that of the 35 cases referred to by Which? they had only provided Whirlpool with information on three.
Noel maintained that, so far as Whirlpool is concerned, the modifications they have carried out were effective and that “two different regulatory bodies have confirmed with experts that the modifications were effective”.
The committee also asked what preparations Whirlpool was making for a recall. Noel answered: “We have committed that we are prepared to dramatically expand what we believe for all practical purposes has been a recall campaign, to do the following: replacement of products and offering enhanced discount opportunities for consumer if they wish to upgrade to newer machines. We have offered to enhance the in-home modification to make sure that the times at which they would wish to do that are far more flexible.”
He also said they would pursue an “ongoing campaign to broaden our reach to organisations that we can partner with to convey to consumers that these options are available”.
And on the question of how it will set about locating the owners of machines still to be modified, Noel added: “We have expanded our call centre staff and will have the call-takers there on flexible hours. We will also be spending at least an additional £1 million in advertising to reach those consumers because we want to work together to get the message out.
“The single most important thing that can be done is to make the message simple, straightforward and make the opportunity as easy as possible for the consumer. We will do direct and indirect advertorials, social media, we’ve ramped up call-taker staff, we’ve ramped up service engineers, we’ve ramped up our supply chain so we can enhance production of replacement machines. And we will work with retailers to make sure all the information is provided to them.”
In a statement issued following the proceedings Whirlpool Corporation said:
“We were pleased to have the opportunity to update the committee on our tumble dryer campaign.
“The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) recently concluded a comprehensive year-long review of the dryer programme which confirmed that the modification is effective in resolving the issue.
“Safety is always our number one priority and we remain committed to resolving all unmodified dryers affected by this issue. As we updated the committee, we are expanding our recall campaign to include further options to encourage remaining consumers to come forward and remedy their unmodified appliances.
“The crucial message to anyone who still owns an affected dryer and has not already had it modified by Whirlpool is to contact us immediately on 0800 151 0905, or visit https://safety.hotpoint.eu/, https://safety.indesit.eu/ or https://safety-swan.eu.
“As advised by OPSS, consumers whose tumble dryers have been modified can continue to use them safely and there is no need to contact Whirlpool at this time.”