Malfunctioning household appliances like washing machines, dishwashers and cookers have been responsible for an incredible 12,000 house fires in the last three years. An investigation has revealed that faulty appliances have led to massive destruction, injuries and even deaths. It means that it's essential to check whether your appliances are safe.
Which? discovered the scale of the problem in a Freedom of Information request about fires between 2011 and 2014. It found 12,000 fires had been caused by appliances that were either faulty, incorrectly installed or improperly maintained.
Washing machines were the most likely to cause a fire - in 14% of cases. They were followed by tumble dryers at 12% and dishwashers at 11%. This is particularly alarming as so many are left on when the household goes to bed so they are unaware of a fire starting.
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It highlights how important it is to have appliances installed by someone who knows what they are doing, and not ignoring warning signs from appliances that start to show maintenance issues. However, the consumer association also pointed out that in many cases the appliances were actually known to be faulty, and had been recalled by the manufacturer. The problem is that the recall system doesn't work.
Manufacturers ask people to register their new appliance when they buy it, so they have a record of where all their appliances are. That way, if there's a dangerous fault, they can get in touch with all the owners and let them know.
Unfortunately just one in three customers bother to do this - partly because they think it will open them up to a deluge of marketing - so manufacturers have no way of getting in touch. They issue recall notices in shops and newspapers, but if you don't happen to see them, you could be unaware that your white goods are potential death traps. As we reported at the end of last year, this means that 90% of recalled items are never taken back to the manufacturer.
Emma Apter from Electrical Safety First adds: "We're working with manufacturers to improve the recall system but in the meantime we urge everyone to do anything they can to look after themselves, whether that's registering a product when you buy it or keeping an eye out for recall notices. We'd also encourage everyone to use our free online checker, to see if you have any recalled items in your home today."
Could your washing machine or dishwasher set your house on fire?
The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.
This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.
Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".
Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.
If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.
If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.
After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.
The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).
Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.
Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.
Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.
You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.
The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.
If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.
The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.
Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.
They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.
What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.
You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.
Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.
They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.
In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.
Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.
You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.
You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.
We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.
In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.
Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.