Consumers affected by the Whirlpool recall of as many as 519,000 washing machines should be offered the option of a refund alongside a repair or replacement, a watchdog has urged.

Whirlpool is beginning the recall on Thursday after announcing in December that hundreds of thousands of washing machines sold under the Hotpoint and Indesit brands in the UK between October 2014 and February 2018 could be affected by a flaw with the door-locking system which could lead to them overheating and potentially catching fire.

Currently the company has offered to repair or replace the unsafe machines, but consumer group Which? said it had “serious concerns” that this could leave significant numbers of customers with the dangerous appliances in their homes for many months to come.

The watchdog said its concerns followed its findings that 26% of customers caught up in Whirlpool’s previous repair or replacement programme for fire-risk tumble dryers, which began in 2015, were told they would have to wait longer than six months for repairs.

Which? said it has been contacted by “numerous” concerned Whirlpool customers who were struggling without the use of their washing machine and feared they could be left waiting for months for a repair or replacement.

Others had already bought a new machine out of desperation because they felt they could not wait.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said: “It would clearly be unacceptable if customers were left for many months without adequate washing facilities in their homes, particularly when there is also no offer to cover consequential costs such as trips to the laundrette.

“The company should do the right thing and offer customers a refund, so people can get fire-risk machines out of their homes and quickly find a suitable replacement.”

Whirlpool previously said it was working at “full speed” to prepare for the recall, and advised consumers to unplug their washing machines in the meantime and not use them.

Those who chose to continue using their machines should only use cold water cycles of 20C or lower as this significantly reduces the risk, Whirlpool said.

This is because the issue is associated with the washing machine’s heating element being activated during wash cycles above 20C.

Under the recall, all affected customers will have the choice of either a free-of-charge like-for-like replacement washing machine, or a free-of-charge in-home repair of their existing appliance.

Whirlpool vice president Jeffrey Noel said: “In line with the commitment we made to our customers in December, we have been working tirelessly to ensure that we can now formally reach out to all affected customers who have registered with us to arrange to replace and repair their washing machines.

“We have already reassured 95% of the 1.2 million customers who came forward to register that their appliance is not affected. We have also served over a thousand customers with the greatest need over the Christmas period. We are aiming to provide remedies to all 60,000 customers currently registered with us within a matter of weeks.

“Our priority continues to be the safety of our customers, which is why we want to encourage anyone who may be affected but has not yet registered their appliance with us to do so immediately by contacting our customer service team on 0800 316 1442 or visiting our dedicated recall website https://washingmachinerecall.whirlpool.co.uk so that we can provide a solution to them as quickly as possible.”