There are an estimated 1 million faulty tumble dryers in British homes that could be at risk of catching fire, MPs heard during a committee inquiry on Tuesday.
The business, energy, and industrial strategy committee heard from Whirlpool's head of communications, Ian Moverley, that the business – which as well as its own named brand also owns the Hotpoint, Indesit, and Creda brands – estimated there were 1 million faulty appliances in the UK with a fault linked to fires. Whirlpool-branded tumble dryers, however, are not affected by the notice.
The tumble dryers were manufactured between 2014 and 2015, the committee heard. In move agreed with Trading Standards in 2015, years later, it issued a repair notice rather than a recall of the products.
The repair programme is specific only to faults related to a build-up of lint in the machine, which can catch fire, and does not extend to other issues linked to fires, including faulty mechanisms, Moverley said.
Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach challenged: "Whirlpool's evidence was there were over 40 incidents where the faulty mechanism could not be excluded as causing the fire and 20 where it was identified... So 20 deaths, or 20 fires, is acceptable to you?"
Whirlpool was facing questions from MPs alongside three experts questioned as part of the inquiry from the National Fire Chiefs Council, Which?, and Electrical Safety First – all of whom said they believed a recall should have been made.
Whirlpool's decision not to issue a recall has been a matter of controversy following a number of fires and deaths linked to different issues related to the machines. The consumer group Which? has long campaigned for a recall.
In August 2016 a fire in a block of flats in Shepherd's Bush, west London, was started by a faulty tumble dryer. Fifty people were evacuated and the fire affected five floors of the 18-storey block.
In a separate case in September, a coroner found that a different electrical failure in a dryer had been the most probable cause of a fire that killed two men in Wales in 2014.
Committee chair Rachel Reeves, a Labour MP, asked Moverley: "How many more fires do we need to have a product recall of the tumble dryers, as has been suggested by experts who don't have a vested interest in this?
"We have seen a number of fires and indeed deaths, and yet in many of our homes we still have appliances that are posing a risk?"
Frustrated by what she said was Moverley's failure to answer specific questions, including about how many deaths and incidents there had been, Reeves berated Whirlpool for failing to send its managing director to the committee, who she said had declined the invitation to give evidence and could have provided answers.
"I would like to indicate in the strongest possible terms that when a select committee asks for somebody to give evidence, we expect somebody to give evidence who can answer the questions. Is that clear to you and Whirlpool, Mr Moverley?"
The Labour MP Peter Kyle called it "quite a disturbing evidence session" and quoted evidence given to him that 750 products had been implicated in fires.
"Seven hundred and fifty of your products catch fire, you issue guidance they can still be used, a house burns down, and you still think the advice you gave was the right one.
"I'm of the impression you think our emergency services exist so you don't have to go through the hassle of recalling your products."
BuzzFeed News contacted Whirlpool and asked how many deaths had been connected to all of its faulty products. A spokesman said: "I don’t have that sort of historical information to hand."
In a statement, the company added: "We were pleased to be able to assist the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Select Committee by participating in today’s evidence session and sharing our experiences from our tumble dryer campaign. Consumer safety is always our number one priority.
“We are committed to helping the Government as it continues to review Britain’s product safety system.”