Hundreds of thousands of owners of Whirlpool tumble dryers have been told by the government to unplug them immediately as they pose a fire risk.

The government’s safety standards watchdog is to order an “unprecedented” recall of the machines after sustained pressure from consumer group Which?.

More than 5 million tumble dryers under Whirlpool’s Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline brands were identified as needing a fix to make them safe to operate.

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A fault in the dryers was blamed for at least 750 fires over an 11-year period.

Whirlpool has since fixed the majority of affected tumble dryers but about 500,000 are thought to be unmodified, meaning they still pose a fire risk.

The company urged anyone with an unmodified machine to contact it immediately on 0800 151 0905.

Which? said even tumble dryers that had supposedly been fixed should be recalled as there had been cases where these machines had caught fire.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEIS), welcomed the move but condemned the government for taking too long to act.

Ms Reeves said: “Finally, over a year since we called for a recall of defective machines and 18 months since the BEIS Committee reported on Whirlpool’s inadequate response to safety flaws, the government is at last showing some teeth and taking long overdue action on Whirlpool.

“The company’s modification of defective machines has proceeded at snail’s pace, leaving up to half a million unmodified and potentially unsafe tumble dryers still in people’s homes.”

She called on Whirlpool to issue a “full explanation” when the company appears before MPs in July.

A spokesperson for the firm said: “Safety is our number one priority and we remain committed to resolving any affected tumble dryers that have not yet been modified.”

The company is in discussions with the Office for Product Safety and Standards “to agree additional measures we have proposed to reach consumers who have not yet engaged with this safety programme”.

However, Kelly Tolhurst, the business minister, told MPs on Tuesday that after reviewing the company’s actions “we have informed Whirlpool of our intention to serve a recall notice as a next step of the regulatory process”.

“This is unprecedented action,” she told the Commons.

Whirlpool warned of a fire risk as far back as 2015 after it found a fault in its Hotpoint, Creda and Indesit tumble dryers.

Which? said the recall move was a “hugely significant step”. The consumer group’s head of campaigns, David Chaplin, said: “There will be serious questions if this recall only addresses the 500,000 unmodified machines that Whirlpool has already struggled to locate.

“The government must urgently explain what it is going to do about the millions of modified machines still in people’s homes, following serious concerns that have been raised by people who have experienced fires, smoke and burning despite the so-called fix.”

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