Unsafe and defective products can cause serious harm to consumers and can result in significant damages to personal property.
From smartphones, vehicles, and white goods through to food stuffs and housewares, consumers can find themselves in possession of potentially dangerous products that they assumed would be safe.
With the likes of Samsung, Ford, Dell, and Cadbury's all involved in expensive recalls in recent years, even the most recognised household brands can release a product that, soon after release, is revealed to be unsafe or defective.
To try and stop these defects from causing any damage, manufacturers may issue a product recall, which requests that any consumers that are in possession of the defective product return the item, usually so that the fault can be fixed and the item returned to the customer.
If you receive a product recall notice, you may have a number of questions regarding the recall process.
Some of the common questions received by our liability specialists regarding product recalls include:
What Are Product Recalls?
Product recalls are the process of retrieving defective goods from consumers and providing a fix to the fault, or a replacement product that does not feature the same fault.
Recalls can be made for any type of defective product and can affect food stuffs, toys, vehicles, electronics, household appliances, white goods, and any other product type that could develop a fault.
Vehicles are particularly susceptible to recalls, as parts can become defective and cause potential safety issues to drivers. One of the largest product recalls in recent history was linked to defective Takata airbags, which affect multiple manufacturers and caused the largest vehicle recall in history.
Food stuffs are also commonly recalled, with manufacturers realising, after products have been circulated, that the product has been contaminated during production or an ingredient is causing an adverse reaction amongst some customers.
Under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, consumers have a right to claim compensation for any damage caused by a defective product.
This means that if you have received a defective product that causes an injury or damage to property before it is recalled, you can claim compensation to mitigate the effects of the faulty item.
What Types Of Safety Notices Are Passed For Recalls?
In the UK there is no single enforcement body that monitors and recalls potentially harmful products.
Under the current system, particular product types have their own enforcement agencies, for example Trading Standards investigates companies that sell unsafe or dangerous items and the Food Standards Agency monitors food stuffs to ensure that contaminated food is removed from circulation.
With the lack of a central enforcement body to monitor product safety and recalls, it can be extremely difficult for consumers to easily access recall information and have an understanding as to what to do in the event that they have unwittingly purchased a potentially dangerous product.
Enforcement bodies can issue a number of safety notices to manufacturers (and distributors) depending on the potential level of perceived harm.
These impose different obligations on the responsible party and are as follows:
- A Suspension Notice – the manufacturer or retailer must not sell the goods until steps are taken to control the potential harm
- A Requirement to Warn – the manufacturer must issue a warning about the product to past and future consumers, so that they are aware of the defect
- A Withdrawal Notice – the manufacturer must withdraw the dangerous product from the market and, in some circumstances, warn past customers about potential hazards
- A recall notice – this is the most significant action, as the manufacturer must recall all products from distributors, retailers, and past customers – they must either fix the fault and re-distribute the item, or offer an alternative product or other form of compensation
The type of safety notice issued to manufacturers and distributors will depend on the likelihood, and amount, of potential harm that can be caused by a defective product.
How Are Recalls Made And Issued?
Recalls are not solely issued by a specific enforcement body, as companies can often become aware of a fault before it becomes public knowledge and opt for a voluntary recall, allowing them to manage any associated fallout linked to a product recall.
An example of a manufacturer proactively issuing a refund without a safety notice from an enforcement body is Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 launch, which saw the technology giant recall, and eventually remove from circulation altogether, a flagship smartphone after reports emerged that the handset was liable to explode or catch fire while charging.
If a manufacturer does not issue their own recall, they could be forced to recall a product in one of two ways:
- Manufacturer and the relevant enforcement body, usually Trading Standards, agree together a course of action to deal with the unsafe product
- If the manufacturer and the enforcement body cannot agree on a course of action, the enforcement body can step in and issue a formal safety notice in the interest of consumer protection
What Should I Do If Something I Own Is Recalled?
How you become aware of a recall depends entirely on the type of product, and the information a manufacturer holds on you.
In instances of vehicle recalls, it is likely that you will receive a letter directly, as the manufacturer should be able to source your address. On the other hand, food products and other perishables that you purchase over-the-counter could issue a recall notice in stores where items are sold.
There are online resources that can keep you up-to-date with any recalls, for example register my appliance is a website that allows consumers to register their appliances and contact details, so that they can be alerted immediately to any required safety repairs or recalls.
Similarly, the Trading Standards product recall list provides a full list of safety notices issued from a variety of manufacturers, retailers, and products. If you are concerned about the safety of something in your home, you can refer to this list to see if it has been recalled.
When you do become aware of a recall, you should follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer or enforcement agency, which should outline the process involved in that particular recall. If you do not receive any instructions, it is recommended that you stop using the product until you are made aware of the next steps to take.
The manufacturer ought to contact you to tell you what to do, they may arrange for the product to be collected or they may send an engineer to carry out a repair, either is usually agreed to be an acceptable course of action for fixing a defect. The manufacturer should tell you how long the process will take and keep you informed as matters progress.
Can I Be Charged For Any Work Completed During A Recall?
You should not be charged for any repair work needed to make safe the product, if you are this may have been charged in error and you may be able to claim back any fiscal loss via a compensation claim.
The only instances where a product recall could result in a charge is if a manufacturer does not issue a recall in order to repair a product, as they may instead decide to replace the item for free, or at a greatly reduced amount. In these instances, you need to decide what works best for you. If the item is old and the offered reduction is significant, you may decide that this represents better value than having the used item repaired, despite the fact you may be forced to pay a small fee for the newer item.
I Don’t Want The Item Repaired Or Replaced, Can I Request A Refund Instead?
Your right to a refund depends if the product was bought before or after the 1st October 2015. If it is before the Sale of Goods and Services Act 1979 applies, if after the Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies.
These Acts have different rules on a consumer's right to a refund or a free replacement:
Consumer Rights Act (items bought after the 1st October 2015)
You have 30 days from the date of purchase to get a refund if the goods are not of satisfactory quality, not fit for purpose, or not as described to you (this does not apply to digital content).
After 30 days you are not entitled to a refund but you can ask for the product to be repaired or replaced.
After 6 months the onus is on you to prove that the fault was present at the time of purchase and did not appear through misuse after sale.
The Sales of Goods and Service Act (items bought before 1st October 2015)
You have a right to a refund or replacement for free.
The retailer can normally choose the cheapest remedy. If they refuse to do anything, you have the right to a full refund up to 6 months after you have purchased the item, or you can keep the product but claim a reduction back on the price.
If the manufacturer (or distributor or retailer) refuses to do anything you can contact Trading Standards and/or the Consumer Ombudsman.
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