Need to know: product recalls

Bought an item that has been subject to recall? Discover what to do and your consumer rights if the manufacturer fails to deliver a solution

A product can be recalled by the manufacturer for many reasons, from minor faults that can be easily repaired at home, to more serious issues that need attention from a specialist team. While you won’t necessarily be entitled to a refund should an item you’ve bought be recalled, you should be offered a suitable solution in the form of a replacement or timely repair.

‘If feasible, the manufacturer will send out a fixing kit, if the problem is relatively trivial. For example, if there is a sharp edge that needs covering,’ Robert Chantry-Price, lead officer for product safety at The Chartered Trading Standards Institute, explains.

There are two types of recall:

1. Compulsory – This is the most serious type of recall and happens when Trading Standards instructs a manufacturer to recall a product due to a pressing concern. The manufacturer must take sufficient steps to recall the product to satisfy Trading Standards that enough has been done to rectify the problem.

The success of this depends on the level of uptake from the public and how many people take the steps as advised. For a national recall, where the manufacturer supplies products around the country, a widely broadcast television advert or story in the national press would have to be placed to reach as many people as possible.

2. Voluntary – This is where the manufacturer admits there have been complaints about a product and that problems have been occurring. So, as a precautionary measure, they’ll recall the product by informing customers of the batch number, product code and model. In most cases, products will either have to be taken back to the shop for repair, or the manufacturer will organise for the repair to be done at your home.

How do I know if my appliance has been recalled?

You should always register your appliance with the manufacturer once you’ve bought it to ensure you’ll be kept up to date with repair notifications or issues with safety.

Does a product recall mean my product is faulty?

‘Not necessarily,’ says Robert Chantry price from Trading Standards, ‘The manufacturer is more likely to say there is a safety concern with the product. It also depends on the nature of the fault. For example, if an oven’s switch needs replacing, this won’t be seen as a safety risk, but if an oven door gets too hot and could cause burning, this may be more likely to raise the risk and a full recall will be done.

The admission of fault also depends on when the fault occurred and whether the manufacturer could have foreseen it. If they couldn’t have foreseen it, they may not admit liability and put it down to wear and tear. However, if they could have foreseen it and didn’t, a complete recall is likely. On the other hand, if the product has been badly designed right from the word go and the fault shows up soon after it goes on the market – this would constitute a fault at the time of purchase and you can claim a refund or replacement under the Consumer Rights Act.’

Can I claim a repair if I find out about a recall months later?

If you miss the recall and get in touch within a reasonable time, the recall will be honoured. However, if you try and claim years later, this will most likely be refused as too much time will have passed.

What should I do if the manufacturer has recalled a product, but is reluctant to offer a timely solution?

Approach Trading Standards and report the problem to them. They’ll then investigate the matter and work with the manufacturer to reach a suitable solution.

‘In most cases, the manufacturer wouldn’t expect to receive 100 per cent of the products back from consumers and often, they’ll be lucky to get 20 per cent returned, which could still be a large proportion if the product has been sold nationally.’ – Robert Chantry-Price

I’ve followed the recall instructions set out by the manufacturer, but I am still waiting for them to take action. What should I do?

When you buy a product, the contract of sale is always with the retailer, so the retailer should be your first port of call. The retailer will then make an assessment to see if there is a genuine problem present and offer to either supply a replacement or a refund at their discretion.

‘The retailer shouldn’t refer you back to the manufacturer, as this will be a breach of the contract of sale taken out when you bought the goods. If this happens, you should report the issue to Trading Standards,’ Robert Chantry-Price explains. ‘In the event that you’re still not getting anywhere with either the retailer or manufacturer, you could take the issue to small claims court.

‘Remember, as your contract is with the retailer, it will be the retailer you take to court, not the manufacturer, even if the manufacturer issued the recall. The retailer would have to take the manufacturer to court to claim back any losses if relevant. Lately, more cases are going through to an arbitration stage, which is preferable and minimises the cost of small claims court, which can be high.’

How can I make a good case if the issue goes to small claims court?

In the unlikely event that you take a case to court, having exhausted all other opportunities to have a recalled product with a safety risk repaired or replaced, you would have to satisfy the judge that there is a genuine hazard. There must be sufficient ground beyond reasonable doubt that there is a problem, so do lots of research to convince the judge, as the retailer will argue against you.

‘You may find the retailer is awkward about where they want the case to be heard. They have the right, as the defendant, to have the case heard where they want, so it may be where their headquarters is located,’ Robert Chantry-Price explains.

‘If you win, you’ve then got to get the money out of the retailer, which can take time, plus they might take the case to appeal. You’ll need sufficient resource to be able to prove the case again at appeal and money to fund it. It is always best to weigh up how much you paid for the appliance and how much it will cost to battle with the retailer – in some cases it may not be worth the expense.’

Is there anything that can be done to encourage the retailer to settle before it reaches small claims court?

Always set everything out in writing, list the dates of when you visited the store, be exact about which store it was and outline what has happened, which dates you’ve heard from the manufacturer and what was said. Create a timeline of events leading up to the point where you’re considering arbitration or small claims court.

State that you’re placing the retailer on formal notice and that you’d like them to fix the problem within 14 days. If not, state that you’ll escalate the matter to court, asking for a reply within a set timeframe. It’s vital to have a paper trail that you can present in court.