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Furniture and furnishings

This content applies to England & Wales

Fire safety regulations for furniture and furnishings.

The fire safety requirements for furniture and furnishings are covered by the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.[1] All upholstered furniture made after 1950 must be fire resistant. From 1 September 1990, manufacturers, retailers and other suppliers of upholstered furniture and furnishing fabrics should have ensured that their products pass the appropriate cigarette and match combustion tests contained in the schedules to the regulations. New furniture must carry appropriate labels giving information about the item and its ability to pass fire safety tests. Permanent labels must be attached to a hidden part of the item. A trader selling unlabelled new furniture is committing an offence.

Furniture in furnished rented accommodation

Any furniture provided by a landlord in a letting that began on or after 1 March 1993 must meet fire safety requirements set out in the regulations.[2] Where the letting began before 1 March 1993 and the same tenant is still in occupation, furniture supplied before 1 March 1993 does not have to be fire resistant. However, all furniture supplied in the letting after this date must meet fire safety requirements.

The furniture and furnishings regulations apply to both new and second-hand upholstered furniture made after 1950 and intended for use in residential furnished accommodation that has been let 'in the course of business' (on a commercial basis). This includes houses, flats, bedsits and holiday homes including new caravans. The regulations apply to all upholstered furniture except mattresses, bed-bases, pillows and cushions.

It is a mandatory condition of licences for houses in multiple occupation that the licence holder should provide to the local authority on demand a declaration as to the safety of furniture, and that such furniture must be in a safe condition.[3]

Lettings by estate agents, letting agents or accommodation agents

Estate agents and letting agents acting for private landlords may become liable under the regulations if a fire occurs and non-fire resistant furniture is a factor. As agents who 'hire' out furniture they could be defined as suppliers under the regulations when they assume responsibility for letting/managing a property. In one case where the managing agents had supplied furniture that failed to meet safety standards the agents were successfully prosecuted by trading standards officers.[4] However, simply being employed by a landlord to find a suitable tenant and then managing the agreement between the tenant and the landlord, for example, should not result in the agent being defined as a supplier. The important factor is likely to be whether the agent is acting as the landlord or merely acting as a point of contact/rent collector.

Non-commercial lettings

Because the regulations only apply to accommodation let 'in the course of business', the position of owner-occupiers who let accommodation in their own home to family or friends is unclear. This issue has not been tested in the courts, but it seems unlikely that private individuals renting out a room in their own home will be regarded as carrying on a business activity.

Action by tenants

A tenant who has a complaint about a potential fire hazard in furniture in rented accommodation should contact the trading standards department of the local authority, if the landlord is not willing to remove the hazard. Trading standards officers have wide powers and can bring criminal prosecutions. Alternatively, if the hazard is in a licensed house in multiple occupation or other licensed house, the tenant should contact the licensing department of the local authority, usually the environmental health department.

[1] Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 SI 1988 No.1324, as amended by Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 SI 1993/207.

[2] Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 SI 1993/207.

[3] Sch.4 Housing Act 2004.

[4] Oxford CC v Shallow [1998] 3 April, Oxford Magistrates' Court.

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