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Watchdog slams local product recall systems as ‘not fit for purpose’

The UK has a “fragmented” product safety and recall system that is putting people’s lives in danger, a major consumer watchdog has this week warned.

Findings from Which? stated that major changes are needed to improve the system, including the establishment of a national body to deal with product recalls.

However, councils have responded by saying that a system overhaul was unnecessary, although they did concede that it needed “realigning” to best serve trading standards teams operating in local communities.

The watchdog’s report also said that the system was overly localised and confusing for customers, as there was no single source of information on product recalls for consumers to use.

Which? added that a lack of resources in local trading standards teams, who have lost more than half of their full-time staff since 2009, meant they were struggling to provide a safe service for residents.

Along with a standardised national body, Which? suggested that a website should be set up and publicised to place all information consumers needed on product recalls in a single “one stop shop”.

“The product safety system simply isn’t fit-for-purpose and its over reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers,” said Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?

“The government must now take urgent action and create a new national body that has all of the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people’s homes.”

However, the chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, Cllr Simon Blackburn, explained that council trading standard teams played a crucial role in removing unsafe products from sale, and that despite significant budget cuts and resource pressure, staff were still doing a good job on the front line.

“It would be unwise to think that their role could simply be picked up by a new national body,” he argued.

“We mustn't forget that it is manufacturers who are wholly responsible for the safety of their products - especially when faults are entirely outside the control of the consumer – and for alerting them to any relevant safety information, including product recalls.

“With firefighters dealing with three tumble dryer fires a day and electrical products being recalled at a rate of more than one a week in the UK, consumers need all the help they can get in finding out about the safety of their electrical products quickly and easily.”

Cllr Blackburn added that a new national database of product recalls should be supported by a major publicity campaign to help flag it up to consumers as a trusted one-stop site to check all electrical goods.

“Rather than a comprehensive overhaul, which is unnecessary, the product recall system needs realigning to best serve trading standards teams operating in local communities,” he concluded.

“Any change to the system should therefore consider how existing national regulatory resources, which are already working with local government, can better support trading standards team locally across the country.”

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