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The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988 (amended 1989 & 1993)

(Consumer Protection Act 1987)

Commencement:

The regulations came into force on 1st March 1993 for new lettings.

Scope:

The regulations set new levels of fire resistance for domestic upholstered furniture, furnishings and other products containing upholstery, acting as secondary legislation under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. Many domestic fires start with soft furnishings catching fire and many deaths are attributed to the highly poisonous fumes that are given off by the man-made foams and coverings. The regulations include sensible measures to improve the fire safety of materials used in their construction.

Landlords and letting agents are also included under the scope of the Regulations. The Amendment Regulations introduced in 1993 draw specific attention to the responsibilities of letting agents and those engaged in the ‘letting of accommodation’. The Regulations refer to the ‘supply’ of furniture and furnishings and it has been established that in many cases, a letting agent or commercial landlord is deemed to be ‘supplying in the course of business’ when these types of items are included within a property.

The bulk of the regulations deal with the duties of manufacturers (and importers if manufactured abroad) in producing and supplying domestic furniture and furnishings to the required new standards for fire resistance. These standards include two tests; the match test and the cigarette test. For new furniture, the net effect of the regulations is that any such products which have been manufactured after 1st March 1989 or sold by a retailer after 1st March 1990 must be to the new standards and labelled accordingly (see section entitled ‘Identification’).

However, in the case of letting agents or landlord letting in the course of business, the furniture ‘supplied’ will invariably be second-hand and often this furniture may have been manufactured and purchased prior to 1989. However, since 1st March 1993 landlords letting residential property have been expected to ensure that any soft furniture complies with the regulations.

The main provisions are:

  • upholstered articles (i.e. beds, sofas, armchairs etc.) must have fire resistant filling material
  • upholstered articles must have passed a match resistance test or, if of certain kinds (such as cotton or silk) be used with a fire resistant interliner.
  • the combination of the cover fabric and the filling material must have passed a cigarette resistance test.

Articles Covered:

The regulations apply to:

  • Beds, headboards of beds and mattresses
  • Sofa-beds, futons and other convertibles
  • Nursery furniture
  • Garden furniture which is suitable for use in dwelling
  • Scatter cushions and seat pads
  • Pillows
  • Loose and stretch covers for furniture
  • Extra or replacement furniture purchased for rented accommodation

The regulations do not apply to:

  • Antique furniture or any furniture made before 1950
  • Bed-clothes (including duvets)
  • Loose covers for mattresses
  • Pillowcases
  • Curtains
  • Carpets
  • Sleeping bags

1. NEW LETTINGS:

– Inspect property for non-compliant items before letting

– Insist that any non-compliant furniture be removed or replaced prior to letting

2. LETTINGS IN EXISTENCE PRIOR TO 1/3/93

– Ensure that any replacement furniture complies with Regulations and keep all receipts and attached labels. Do not buy any furniture on behalf of clients which does not comply.

– Discuss a replacement plan such that all existing non-compliant items are replaced before the property is first relet to new tenants after 31st December 1996.

3. ALL LETTINGS:

– Produce a leaflet to inform all landlords of the new Regulations

– Check that you have an adequate indemnity clause within the agency agreement. Your terms and conditions should also include a new clause whereby the landlord warrants that all furniture and furnishings comply with the new regulations (although this alone would not constitute sufficient defence against taking on any furniture found later to be non-compliant)

4. DUTY OF CARE:

The agent has a duty of care to the client to give proper advice about the Regulations.

ALSO NOTE:

A. FIRE-RETARDANT SPRAY TREATMENT: Some firms are now offering to spray furniture with a fire-retardant spray to make it fire-proof. The DTI have stated that they believe that this treatment is normally ineffective (as the spray treatment largely serves to treat the covering fabric but not the foam filling).

B. SIGNING THE LETTING AGREEMENT. Some advice regarding the regulations has suggested that asking the landlord to sign the tenancy agreement (instead of the agent) will indemnify the agent against liability. An expert opinion taken from a Q.C. submitted this was largely ineffective. The lack of reference to the agent in the letting agreement could be a helpful defence although a court may look on this as a mere contrivance to mask the fact that the agent was still the ‘supplier’.

Exclusions and Indemnity:

  1. PRIVATE LANDLORDS. It is the view of the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) that a private landlord or owner in some situations (e.g. letting a single dwelling) who lets his property on a one-off short-term basis (whilst, for example, he is temporarily working away from home) is not a commercial landlord and therefore not a ‘supplier in the course of business’. However an Agent when acting for such an owner is subject to the Regulations, even if the landlord is not; this is one of the seemingly unfair distinctions that arise in the Regulations.
  2. PRE-1950 FURNITURE. Furniture produced prior to 1950 is exempt from the regulations.
  3. DUE DILIGENCE. Section 39 of the Act provides a defence of ‘due diligence’. That section provides that it shall be a defence to show that a person took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence. Merely asking the landlord to sign a statement that there is non-compliant furniture is not considered to be sufficient in this respect. Counsel’s opinion has been taken. Asking for proof of the date of purchase (i.e. receipts) would be good verification. Alternatively the agent could ask the manufacturer (or ask the landlord to do so) whether the furniture in question complies or not and if still unclear, the landlord should be advised to get technical advice.
  4. FIND TENANT ONLY: The Department of the Environment has suggested that an agent acting only in the capacity of introducing suitable tenants to a landlord (and taking no part in the preparation of an inventory or day-to-day management) is exempted from the Regulations.

Enforcement:

The officials of the local trading standards office will be responsible for ensuring compliance and initiating any proceedings. At this stage, it is unlikely that pro-active enforcement will be carried out – their general policy is only to investigate following a complaint or serious incident (e.g. a fire in a rented property).

Penalty:

The penalty for non-compliance with the regulations is a substantial fine set at Level 5 of the standard scale or even imprisonment in serious cases.

Previous Regulations:

The regulations revoked the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations 1980 and the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1983.

Sources for Further Information:

Identification:

When buying new or second-hand furniture for a rental property, you should always check to see that there is an appropriate label. Furniture or furnishings purchased after March 1st 1990 from a reputable supplier should all have attached labels. There are two types of labels:

DISPLAY LABELS: – all furniture will carry the appropriate display label at point of sale.

PERMANENT LABELS: – all new furniture (except mattresses and bed-bases) and covers for furniture must carry a permanent and non detachable label.

DISPLAY LABEL

Example Label

CARELESSNESS

CAUSES FIRE

A N Other AB! 2XY

Batch No. AB 1234

1st March 1990

This article contains CM Foam which passes the specified test.

All upholstery is cigarette resistant.

Cover fabric is cotton and is match resistant.

This article does not include a

Schedule 3 interliner

EXAMPLE PERMANENT LABEL

This summary is intended to assist landlords and letting agents to understand the effect of the Regulations. It is not an authoritative interpretation – this is a matter for the courts. For more detail, you should refer to the text of the Regulations themselves.