Don’t buy supposedly ‘cheap’ mattresses from the back of a van - at worst they could be fire hazards, and at best uncomfortable and dirty, warns the National Bed Federation (NBF) today as it officially launches a new mark of approval designed to protect consumers from a scam that is "sweeping the nation".
The NBF believes hundreds, possibly thousands, of so-called ‘bargain mattresses’ are being sold across the country each week. The sales are often straight from the back of vans by rogue traders touring neighbourhoods and looking for opportunist sales. But, says the NBF, they are not bargains at all - often they are simply discarded old mattresses that have been recovered by unscrupulous dealers who then sell them on ‘as new’.
"We’ve taken numerous calls in the past couple of weeks 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"
Says Jessica Alexander, executive director of the NBF: “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.”
Some of the more brazen traders are even using the logos of well-known manufacturers and retailers on their vans to further fool consumers into believing they are ‘bagging a bargain’.
Says Jessica: “We’ve taken numerous calls in the past couple of weeks 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.”
David Lodge, head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, comments: “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 sub-standard.
"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 sub-standard"
“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.”
According to Mike MacGregor, community protection manager for Hertfordshire County Council, virtually every region of the country is affected. He says: “Nationally, in the past six months, we have had 21 complaint contacts via The Citizens Advice Consumer Service (CACS) relating to sales of mattresses from the back of white vans. But we have additional intelligence, submitted via our intelligence hub, of a similar number of incidents.
“We would urge the public to come forward and report cases to us, via CACS on 08454 040506, as without their help we are unable to know the true extent of this problem.”
News of the van scam follows revelations about the alarming number of unsafe and illegal mattresses being sold that do not meet British flammability regulations – and carry fake FR certified labels - on the BBC's Fake Britain programme, aired in January.
And it is not just the safety of the mattresses that is questionable - discarded mattresses are often filthy and unhygienic. Referring to the complex ‘eco-system’ found in old mattresses, Ian Burgess of Insect Research and Development Ltd says: “People could be sleeping with all sorts of creatures. Quite a zoo and botany could be living there - in the middle will be moisture from human sweat and possibly even urine. Combine these moist conditions with warm temperatures and you are likely to find some moulds – and around the edge where there will be welted seams you might find the eggs of bed bugs.”
"Anyone who buys a mattress carrying this label can be confident they are buying a reputable product"
In a bid to reassure consumers that the mattress they are buying is safe, clean and exactly what it says it is, the NBF has introduced an NBF Approved logo scheme. 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.
Says Jessica: “Our members were really put through the hoops to comply with our new Code of Practice and earn the right to display the NBF Approved big tick logo. Anyone who buys a mattress carrying this label can be confident they are buying a reputable product.”
The matter has even been raised in Parliament. Speaking at the Second Reading of Consumer Rights Bill in the House of Commons on January 28th, MP Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab) said: “Often, the poorest families shop away from the main street. Something that has long concerned me is that furniture dealers in white vans are selling products that are lethal because they do not meet British fire-retardant foam standards. If a fire starts, it can literally kill a family before they get out of the room. 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?”
Adds Jessica: “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.”
The NBF has also released a filmed news item highlighting the ‘Back of a Van Scam’, viewable here.