In an “unprecedented” step, the government plans to order a company to recall hundreds of thousands of tumble dryers over fears they pose a fire safety risk.

The announcement was made by business minister Kelly Tolhurst, four years after a reported design flaw was first identified in Whirlpool-produced machines that allowed fluff to reach heating elements.

Consumer groups claim the problem has been linked to hundreds of fires.

Whirlpool, whose brands include Indesit and Hotpoint, was ordered to fix the problem free of charge but the company has been repeatedly accused of dragging its feet.

A picture of the inside of a tumble dryer. File pic.
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500,000 tumble dryers are set to be recalled

In April, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) estimated 500,000 tumble dryers had still not been fixed.

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The government confirmed they were to be the subject of the recall notice and owners of the dryers affected should heed the advice of the company and OPSS by plugging them out until the free modification had been completed.

There have been allegations that modified models have also sparked fires though the OPSS said it was satisfied that standards had been met.

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Ms Tolhurst told MPs: “Consumer safety is a Government priority.

“I want to assure that we have kept Whirlpool’s actions under review and I can tell the House we have informed Whirlpool of our intention to serve a recall notice as a next step of the regulatory process.

“This is unprecedented action.”

Shadow business minister Gill Furniss accused the OPSS of being “weak” in the handling of its investigation.

She said: “Consumer groups led by Which? were incensed by what they called ‘fundamentally flawed investigation that appears to favour business interests over people’s safety’.”

A Whirlpool Corporation spokeswoman said: “Safety is our number one priority and we remain committed to resolving any affected tumble dryers that have not yet been modified.

“To this end, we are in ongoing discussions with the Office for Product Safety and Standards to agree additional measures we have proposed to reach consumers who have not yet engaged with this safety programme.

“We have co-operated with OPSS throughout its recent review of the programme and welcome its findings that consumers whose tumble dryers have been modified can continue to use them safely.

“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.

“In the meantime, anyone with an affected dryer that has not been modified should unplug it and not use it until the modification has been completed.”