CONSUMERS in West Yorkshire are urged to beware of a growing scam which sees supposedly new “bargain” mattresses – which could actually be dangerous, and might just have been flytipped by previous owners – being sold from the back of vans.
A rise in incidents has led to a new awareness campaign, after concerns people could be buying highly flammable mattresses that could also be crawling with germs and bed bugs.
The warning comes from the National Bed Federation (NBF), alongside West Yorkshire Trading Standards, as it officially launches a new mark of approval designed to protect consumers from the scam.
It follows months of vigorous independent auditing of the association’s members to ensure they follow the procedures that comply with flammability, health and hygiene and trade descriptions regulations.
The NBF believes hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called ‘bargain’ mattresses are being sold each week, with unscrupulous traders taking advantage of people who can’t afford to buy from legitimate sources.
The mattresses are often being sold straight from the back of vans by rogue traders touring neighbourhoods and looking for opportunist sales.
However they are not bargains at all, simply discarded mattresses that have been recovered by unscrupulous dealers who then sell them on as ‘new’.
Investigations have revealed that an alarming number of unsafe and illegal mattresses are being sold that don’t meet British flammability regulations – and even carry fake FR certified labels.
David Lodge, divisional manager at West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “In West Yorkshire we have had a number of complaints, both from consumers themselves and also from a number of retailers who are being contacted by people who have been duped into buying mattresses from the back of vans purporting to belong to the retailer.
“As a result, we are in the process of gathering intelligence to establish the full scale of this practice.
“It is something that concerns us on two fronts: firstly there are potential product safety issues with some of these mattresses and secondly members of the public are being conned into buying something which is substandard.
“In the meantime we would encourage members of the public to come forward if they feel that they have bought something which is not up to standard.
“In our experience, products such as mattresses that are sold off the back of a van in this way should be treated with extreme caution. Consumers will not necessarily know who they are buying from and will find it extremely difficult to obtain any recompense.”
Jessica Alexander, executive director of the NBF, said: “What we have uncovered is an illegal and dangerous practice. Some of the mattresses being sold won’t meet UK flammability regulations – others are just plain filthy and worn out.
“Unfortunately a lot of consumers are being fooled into thinking they are buying a new mattress as the old ones have been recovered and, on first inspection, appear to be new. What they are actually buying is a mattress that had been discarded, intercepted on its way to disposal and simply put in to a cheap new cover.
“We’ve taken numerous calls from retailers who have been contacted by members of the public saying they’ve been approached by people selling cheap mattresses from vans – often with a copy of their logo on it,” she added. “These rogue traders must be stopped. We aim to help the authorities to do this by making people aware of the practice and offering people a scheme that enables them to buy with confidence.”
Research by Insect Research and Development Ltd has found a complex ‘eco-system’ in old mattresses, made up of bed-bugs and moisture from the human body.
Combining these moist conditions with warm temperatures is likely to result in mould – and in a build up of bed-bug eggs around the edge of the mattress in the welted seams.
The issue of potentially dangerous fake-bargain mattresses has been raised in Parliament. Speaking at a reading of the Consumer Rights Bill, MP Madeleine Moon said: “Furniture dealers in white vans are selling products that are lethal because they do not meet British fire-retardant foam standards. How can we tackle that problem and ensure that poor families are protected by consumer protection legislation, not just those who can afford to shop on the main street?”