A watchdog has accused appliance firm Whirlpool of “multiple failings” in dealing with customers caught up in a safety alert concerning tumble dryer fires.
Which? has called on the US company to “clean up its act and treat customers fairly” as the result of an undercover investigation into its handling of the modification of millions of dryers.
Manufacturers Hotpoint, Indesit, and Creda are in the process of fixing dryers across the UK after parent company Whirlpool notified customers of a widespread safety defect last October.
Faulty tumble dryers, in which excess fluff can catch the heating element and cause a fire, have been linked to a number of blazes in British homes.
Customers in Ireland are also affected.
Which? said it discovered delays, confusion, and the withholding of information following undercover calls to Whirlpool, a survey of 800 affected customers and analysis of 40 case studies.
Which? said Whirlpool staff consistently claimed it would take eight to 12 weeks to obtain a customer ID before anything could happen — something the consumer group believed could be achieved at the push of a button — while 32% of those who opted for a repair were told they would have to wait six months or more.
Mystery shoppers posing with a nine-month-old dryer were repeatedly told to take up a claim for a replacement with the retailer, however many of Which’s case studies tried this route and were told to go back to Whirlpool.
Which? has published the details of affected models on its website, something Whirlpool had “still not done” in favour of asking consumers to use a model checker on its own website.
A survey by the consumer group found 62% of affected customers were concerned about using the dryer while waiting for a repair, but “numerous” call handlers said there was “nothing to worry about” as long as safety instructions were followed.
One in five customers (20%) said they felt they had no choice but to pay for a new machine and 33% said that, given the option, they would rather pay for a replacement than wait so long for a repair.
More than half (54%) of those surveyed felt dissatisfied with the way Whirlpool had handled this situation, increasing to 80% of those who had to wait six months or more for a repair.
Which? is calling on Whirlpool to clearly list all 127 affected model numbers on the front page of its website with details of how customers can get help, speed up the customer ID number process, and stop staff directing customers back to retailers.
Which? director of policy and campaigns Alex Neill said: “Whirlpool customers rightly feel dissatisfied with how they’ve been treated, being faced with delays, confusion, and a lack of information.
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