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Re-call of whirlpool washing machines

What is the new problem?

About 20% of the Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines sold since 2014 are affected by the fault. Up to 519,000 washing machines sold in the UK are involved.

Seventy-nine fires are thought to have been caused by the fault which develops over time, according to Whirlpool, which owns the brands.

"When the heating element in the washing machine is activated, in very rare cases a component in the door lock system can overheat, which, depending on product features, can pose a risk of fire," Whirlpool said.

The extra current that runs through the machine when the heating element is on can cause the door locking system to overheat.

The company said the issue had been identified by its safety team, but had led to fires, although none had been significant enough to cause more than minor damage or cause any serious injuries.

Engineer Colin O'Neill, who runs CJM Washer Services, said he was not surprised at the recall because he had seen failings connected to the door lock "for quite some time now".

He said: "When we go out, we remove the door lock and quite often find it has either failed or quite often we find that there's actually signs of burning to the door lock wiring harness.

"Sometimes I've even seen burn marks up the inside of the cabinet of the washing machine, so it looks like there has been a little mini fire there, but the customer hasn't known anything about it."

Steve Smithson from Romford, Essex was forced to call in an engineer when he had noticed a smell of burning and smoke coming out of his Hotpoint washing machine.

He said: "I immediately jumped up and turned the plug off, took the washing out - it really smelled - and checked the code. It said faulty door lock code."

What should I do if I think I own one?

Whirlpool has set up a model checker online, Owners of Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines bought since October 2014 will need to enter the model and serial number of their appliance - found inside the door or on the back - to see if it is one of those affected.

There is also a free helpline, open every day, available on 0800 316 1442.

If owners find their machine is affected, to eliminate any risk, the appliance should be unplugged and not used until it is repaired in their home by a trained engineer, Whirlpool said. As an alternative, those affected will also be offered a replacement with a safe model.

Owners can check and register for a repair or replacement now. Vulnerable customers will be prioritised, but for others it may be organised on a first come, first served basis.

When will affected machines be fixed or replaced?

The process will not begin until early January, at the earliest.

It could be months, not just during Christmas, that owners will have to cope without their washing machine. The company is refusing to offer refunds for affected machines to allow people to buy another appliance straight away, leaving it open to further criticism.

Instead, Whirlpool suggested owners could still use the machine but with a vastly reduced risk, by only using the cold wash cycle at 20C or less. This means the heating element would not be activated, avoiding the problem that had been identified.

Jeff Noel, vice president of Whirlpool, said: "We know this will cause some concern. We especially understand that the washing machine is so important to family life, and in Christmas holiday season it will be even more of an important matter and, for that, we apologise."

He added that the firm's customer service department was being built up, engineers hired, and delivery and collection capability stepped up for the January start.

The recall only affects UK and Ireland homes at the moment.