Over the past week we have seen loads of reports in the media about the recent Beko fridge freezer recall for a potential fire risk, the original news report we published in June is available from this link, and we have collated as much news information in this article as we can.
We have also made a permanent page available from this link that will offer advice on the recall and updates as we receive information.
We held off publishing anything on this beyond providing as much updated information as we could waiting on a response from Beko who, despite what anyone may think, are actually doing the best that they can to resolve this issue. Sadly we cannot really add much to what has already been reported other than to collate the information as best as possible.
This really kicked into high gear on Tuesday last week (28th June 2011) when a fire broke out in a flat in Bermondsey, London that was initially thought to have been caused by a lighting strike but the cause was subsequently traced to a Beko fridge freezer that had caught fire in the property. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) then went very public with the fault and an interview was given on the BBC Radio 4's Today morning news program.
Death & Police Investigation
We then found out that in a fire in November 2010, again reported to have been caused by a faulty Beko fridge freezer, had caused the death of 36 year old Santosh Benjamin-Muthiah in Wealdstone, North London.
Over the past few days it has been reported that the London Met have been asked by Barnet Coroner's Office to investigate the death and this may involve charges being brought against Beko.
A spokesman for the coroner said:
This is obviously not good news for Beko and it will probably mean an investigation into the company's responsibilities and whether or not enough was done to try to prevent this unfortunate incident. Beko have expressed their deep regret for issues caused.
More Widespread Than Reported So Far
However, so far, we have only had reports from the LFB within London that lists these models as being responsible for fifteen fires thus far. What we don't know is the number of fires caused by these fridge freezers outside of London that may yet have to be reported. The BBC has received several reports from around the country so far of similar incidents, one such is featured in the following BBC news article.
Difficulties Contacting Beko
Of course these images and the ones above of the London fires has created a widespread panic amongst owners of Beko fridge freezers and Beko has been swamped with calls leading to difficulty getting through to the call centre and irritating owners. Part of the problem being that many owners of a Beko fridge freezer, even with a model not listed as a part of the recall and therefore completely unaffected, are also calling Beko for reassurances on the safety of the model that they own.
Please, if your model is not listed on the recall notice then it is unaffected, does not have the part/s fitted than can cause an issue and is, as far as anyone knows, completely safe to use.
If you do have an affected fridge freezer the number again for Beko's helpline is 0800 009 4837 and lines are open between 7am and 11pm, Monday to Friday.
Latest Statement From Beko
The latest statement from Beko, in full, on this issue is as follows:
"We deeply regret any instance involving any Beko product and we are doing all we can to address these issues. Additionally, we apologise for the frustrations people have experienced trying to reach us.
Since the issue of the fridge freezer became high profile, we have increased our call centre capacity by twenty times and have dedicated additional staff to respond to email enquiries. We will have three call centres operating on Saturday and Sunday. We have also increased our capacity to perform modifications by five times and have plans to increase even further. We have already spoken directly with tens of thousands of consumers.
Additionally, consumers can now check online if they have an affected product and submit their contact information. We will then schedule an appointment. There is no need to contact the call centre again and we ask that consumers please bear with us as we attempt to get back to them. Please visit our website www.beko.co.uk for more details.
Over 500,000 of these products have been sold, and most have been safely in use, some for over ten years. It is important to realise that the risk to consumers is extremely low. You can continue to use your fridge freezer, but as with any electrical product, if you notice anything different please contact us. Our original plan, as discussed and supported by Trading Standards was for a phased approach in order to minimise consumer delay and concern.
The BEKO frost free fridge freezer models affected were manufactured between January 2000 and October 2006. These have a serial number that begins with either 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05 or 06 and this information can be found on a label inside the fridge. Other Beko branded models and all Beko frost free fridge freezers manufactured after this date are unaffected. Some of the initial delays were caused by unaffected consumers calling the call centres. Please check you do have an affected product before calling.
Beko is making a free of charge modification to all affected models. This modification takes approximately 30mins and can be booked by calling 0800 009 4837 or by visiting www.beko.co.uk.
The safety of all our products is our highest priority. Every one of our products is manufactured in compliance with all current EU safety standards and they are independently tested.
Again, we do apologise for the concern and the inconvenience this has caused."
Was Action Taken Soon Enough & Potential Delays?
Of course it was expected that, since the LFB warned Beko of this issue in June of 2010, with the unfortunate death coming some five months later, that there have been calls from some quarters that not enough was done quickly enough and that this incident, along with others, may have been prevented had action by Beko been taken swifter.
Which? is currently looking into this with magazine editor Martyn Hocking says: 'Beko has taken some steps to contact customers who have the affected models but we don't think it acted swiftly enough and more could have been done sooner to ensure all customers are protected; not just those it had contact details for.'
In a statement however Beko stated that, "We took all the steps necessary to ensure we had replacement parts in stock, a call centre in place, and a repair network ready to modify products.
"Our plan was for a phased approach, to minimise consumer delay."
The latter delay that Beko were trying to avoid would appear to be exactly what has in fact happened given the many reports of great difficulty in getting through to Beko for some owners and, most probably now, delays in being able to book appointments fast enough to satisfy customer demands. We would imagine that British Gas, who appear to be carrying out this modification for Beko, are liable to be overwhelmed with requests for visits to rectify the problem. To our knowledge no outside help has been requested by Beko from either it's normal service network or independent repairers with some Beko agents concerned that all Beko service may now switch to British Gas.
Removal Of Recall Notice
It has been alleged that Beko forced a website to pull a warning about its products. RecallUK posted the caution in April that certain Beko models may be at risk.
But Beko are said to have ordered it to be dropped, saying it was not recalling the product, it was only modifying a defrost timer thought to be responsible.
Beko said, “We’re contacting customers to make the modification so there is no need to recall the product.”
After consultation with the LFB, Beko said it planned to correct the fault on site rather than recalling the products which meant it did not class the issue as a recall. RecallUK said that, 'This issue was previously listed on our site but we were asked by Beko to remove it as they did not consider it to be a recall,'
'Their point was that because they were checking/repairing the product at the customer's site the product was not being recalled.
'In light of recent events we have put this product safety issue back on our site in order to help customers find the information as quickly and easily as possible.'
Overall Assessment Of The Situation
In short we would say that Beko have most probably been caught a little off guard here with all the attention that has suddenly been focussed on the issue and that they have been been ill prepared to deal with the sudden increase in media attention and demands from their customers to resolve the issue. This is not entirely surprising as the call volume that Beko will be having to cope with will be massively over their normal levels and it is not possible to get trained personal in place fast enough so we can sympathise a little with Beko on that front.
We would also expect almost inevitable delays on getting close to half a million fridge freezers modified. This will take many weeks if not many months to clear completely.
Contacting customers is extremely difficult for Beko and many other manufacturers as many, many customers do not register their warranties. This makes tracking down where the machines were sold and who to a Herculean task for the company as they will often have no clue who owns what were or, in a great many cases, where the machines were even sold especially if they entered the normal trade distribution channels.
From what we know however Beko are doing everything that they possibly can to reach owners.
What wil be very interesting is what happens next in respect to the police investigation and calls that a general recall was not instigated fast enough.
We would imagine that other manufacturers will be a little less inclined to hold off from issuing recall notices for products that may suffer from similar risks and that there will be lessons learned from this by others as well as Beko. We say this as there may be more appliances out there that suffer inherent problems, just maybe.
Open To Question
The questions that remain are technical and, we suspect will be avoided, is that if this fire risk is caused by water ingress because there's a hole in the cover for the defrost timer then why not just use a simple plug to seal the hole? Or, why not just change the casing?
Surely if there was no problem with the defrost timer you wouldn't incur the cost of changing it?