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House of Commons Hansard
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White Goods (Registration)
08 September 2020
Volume 679

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require retailers to register white goods at the point of sale to facilitate product recall; and for connected purposes.

My Bill has a simple aim: to make the registration of white goods compulsory at the point of sale. Registration is essential because without a data bank of contact details manufacturers are unable to get in touch with buyers when things go wrong and a recall is necessary for repair or replacement, and, as we all know, things do go wrong.

According to the estimates by the charity Electrical Safety First, which firmly supports my Bill, faulty electrical products are responsible for over 7,000 domestic fires a year. In England alone over the last five years, 33 house fires a day were caused by white goods. The dangers of non-registration are real, and they were made stark in the recent Whirlpool recall scandal, where a potentially dangerous fault was discovered in certain Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines. As so few of the appliances were registered, the manufacturer, Whirlpool, was only able to make contact with 40% of customers for a recall, and then only after many months of a big, expensive campaign. The recall response rates are normally about 10% to 20%. Thankfully, nobody died or was maimed, but about 80 fires were directly attributable to that electric fault alone, many of which would have been preventable had the manufacturer been able to get in touch with the consumer easily.

The fact is that very few customers register their appliance under the current voluntary system, and that includes many of us in this place. I did a simple straw poll among colleagues last week, and found that not one single person could say, hand on heart, that they had registered every appliance that they had ever bought with the manufacturer. Hon. Members know the scenario; we take the registration card home with every intention of filling it out and sending it off, but we never do. Compulsory registration would deal with lethargy at a stroke. It would also deal with the fact that some people are put off from registering their goods because they worry about their privacy. People have bitter experiences of handing over contact details and then being bombarded with telephone sales pitches or requests to take part in umpteen bogus household surveys. My Bill deals with that by making it a requirement that the details contained in the registration documents can be used only for recall purposes, meaning no marketing and no customer loyalty information and nothing would be given to the manufacturer unless there was a recall.

We do give our details to retailers already, however, because we usually need to arrange the delivery of bulky goods. In the case of online purchases, we always give our details to a manufacturer, so all that really needs to happen is for information to be collected systematically and provided to a manufacturer if there is a recall. We need a body to hold the information centrally, of course, and to provide oversight, and I am open to discussions around who that could be. Currently, electrical goods recalls are the responsibility of a local authority, and they are not dealt with by a centralised body, because no such body—something like the Food Standards Agency—exists in the UK. However, it could be a role for the new Office for Product Safety and Standards, which is set up to deliver consumer protection. But that can be discussed.

My Bill would cover white goods, so we are talking about washing machines, tumble dryers, fridges and freezers, cookers and dishwashers, but I would add microwaves because, although not strictly white goods, they are not wired into a domestic property’s electrics and are not considered to be that portable. All such appliances exhibit an increased risk of fire when compared with small appliances such as hair dryers or irons.

I fully admit the Bill would not cover every eventuality. For example, it does not deal with white goods bought second hand, including through online marketplaces, and that is a problem area. The Government will hopefully publish their online harms Bill, which aims to make the internet a safer place for our citizens, and there could be scope within that legislation to protect consumers in the second-hand electrical market. However, I want to find a way of capturing all white goods sold and resold, perhaps through the use of a product passport to track goods throughout their life. It would be good to talk to Ministers about that, but for now the Bill needs to be simple and to the point.

The compulsory registration of white goods has widespread support from both consumer groups and the industry, and we can capture that data at the point of sale. I stress that the only data captured would be the delivery address, not who pays for it, because I am sure we have all paid for others. For example, I pay for my mother’s goods because she does not understand “that internet” as she used to tell me. The appliance is delivered to a property, so holding that information would make sense, and retailers will already have that information because they deliver the goods.

The fact is that this a common-sense Bill. It takes the onus to register white goods off the consumer and puts it on to the retailer and manufacturer, where it belongs. We would undoubtedly see fewer electrical fires in homes, fewer injuries, less damage and less need to chase people and remind them of model numbers. Who knows the model number of their washing machine? Who knows where to look for the model number of the washing machine? Before the Whirlpool recall, who knew that Indesit appliances were made by Whirlpool?

There are lots of barriers for people to overcome when there is a recall, and my Bill would be good not only for the consumer, but for the reputation of the retailer and the manufacturer. That is why I hope that this matter can be looked at seriously in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Yvonne Fovargue, Sir David Amess, Carolyn Harris, Patricia Gibson, Julie Elliott, Lilian Greenwood, Gill Furniss, Andy Slaughter, Rosie Cooper and Judith Cummins present theusb Bill.

Yvonne Fovargue accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 175).