Household goods, furniture and furnishings: international trade regulations

Importers have to comply with import licensing requirements and safety legislation; exporters need to know about customs duties and reliefs.

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This is an overview of the household goods, furniture and furnishings sector and the key regulations you will need to comply with as an exporter or importer. You can also find out how to research the countries you plan to export to.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.

Export regulations in the sector

Regulations, charges or restrictions may apply to household goods, furniture and furnishings exports as they leave the UK and when they arrive at their destination country. It is important that you research both sides of the transaction.

For more information, see the guide on exporting your goods from the EU to a third country.

First, you need to classify your goods. Using standardised classification codes makes it easier to check if any restrictions or charges apply. You can use the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff) to classify your goods.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.

Remember that in general it is simpler to trade with other EU countries than with countries outside the EU. This is because the goods are in free circulation. The EU is a single market and the UK is in a customs union so you can trade with other EU countries without restriction (although some local charges may still apply).

Where goods of cultural interest such as art, antiques and antiquities are leaving the UK a licence will be required if their value reaches a certain threshold - currently £30,400 for items associated with this sector. Read about importing and exporting cultural goods on the Cultural Property Advice website. You can also download a guide to UK export licensing for cultural goods of national interest from the Arts Council website (PDF, 195KB).

Exporting goods for processing

You may be able to obtain relief from customs duties when you re-import EU goods that have previously been exported from the EU for processing. Outward Processing Relief (OPR) enables you to claim relief from customs duty if you can show that the exported goods were used in, or incorporated into, the products being imported.

Before you can claim duty relief under OPR you must have the appropriate authorisation. For more information, read notice 235 on OPR on the HMRC website and see the guide on OPR.

Researching your export destination in the household goods, furniture and furnishings sector

You should thoroughly research your export destination country when planning to export.

As a starting point, you may wish to seek advice from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). Find your local international trade team on the UKTI website.

There are various ways that you can research a potential export destination. These include:

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool

You should also consider product safety and other technical standards in your export market. Your goods may need to be adapted to comply with these where they differ from the UK.

Using the Integrated Tariff

A common customs tariff is applied across all EU countries on goods imported from outside the EU, while details of specific duties and measures are contained in the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.

Get more information on classification of goods.

The Tariff is used to determine the specific classification code of your goods and to find:

  • any licensing requirements that apply
  • the rates of duty and import VAT that apply
  • any additional charges, such as anti-dumping duties
  • any available preferential duty rates

Preferential rates of duty

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows originating products from a wide range of developing countries to be imported into the EU at a reduced or zero rate of duty. For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one read Notice 830 - Tariff Preference: New GSP rules of origin on the HMRC website.

See the guide on using trade preferences.

The EU has a number of other preferential trade agreements with third countries as a result of which goods may attract preferential rates of duty.

Find out if your goods qualify for a preferential rate of duty and meet the appropriate rules of origin on the HMRC website.


If you are VAT-registered and the goods you acquire from or supply to VAT-registered businesses in other EU countries reach the Intrastat exemption threshold for the year you must submit monthly supplementary declarations to HMRC. The thresholds are £600,000 for arrivals and £250,000 for dispatches.

Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states. See Intrastat - reporting the value and volume of intra-EU trade. Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders.

Intellectual property (IP)

You should ensure that imported goods do not breach the IP rights of other businesses, eg watch out for counterfeit goods and design infringements. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by HMRC. You can ask HMRC to check for imported counterfeit versions of your goods. Read how HMRC can help protect your IP rights on the HMRC website.

Import regulations in the sector

As the EU is a customs union you can buy most goods from other member countries without restrictions, although VAT and excise duty can still apply. For more information, see trading in the EU. You can also see the guide on imports and purchases from abroad: paying and reclaiming VAT.

If you import from outside the EU you may have to comply with import licensing requirements and with common customs tariffs that apply across the EU. For more information see importing your goods from outside the EU.

Import licences

Import restrictions can be product-specific or trade-specific. Many products are subject to product-specific standards and need to be supported by applicable certificates, product-specific licences and documentation.

Other regulations may impose permanent or ad hoc quantity restrictions, quotas and/or anti-dumping duties. For more information, see anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Use the UK Tariff for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply.

The trade in certain goods may be prohibited unless you have a specific licence issued by the competent authority.

Upholstered furniture and mattresses imported to the UK for the domestic market must comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 which set out stringent flammability requirements. Imported furniture must be accompanied by documented proof of compliance and with the required permanent labels attached.

Download a guide to the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended 1989 and 1993) from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) (PDF, 359KB).

For advice on testing furniture to meet the requirements of the regulations, contact the UK Accreditation Service on 020 8917 8400.

Safety and other regulations for imports of electrical equipment, furniture and furnishings

The General Product Safety Directive places a general safety requirement on any product put on the EU market that is intended for or likely to be used by consumers, including all products that provide a service. Liability for injuries or damages caused by defective products also comes under European law and injured parties have up to three years to seek compensation.

If you become aware that a product you have placed on the market or distributed is unsafe, you must notify the local authorities who will determine whether notification to RAPEX (the EU rapid alert system for non-food consumer products) is necessary.

If you import electrical equipment or goods that could pose a fire hazard you must comply with certain regulations.

Electrical equipment

All businesses need to comply with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006, which:

  • Place responsibility for financing the costs of collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE on the products’ producers and distributors.
  • Require producers to mark products accordingly and provide information about recovery and disposal of WEEE. See waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

Other regulations apply to the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. You must ensure your imports comply.

Fire safety

If you trade in goods that may pose a fire hazard there is specific legislation that relates to these goods. A wide range of consumer goods bears the Kite and CE marks as proof of compliance with safety regulations. Read about the CE mark. You can read an overview of the Kite mark on the British Standards Institute (BSI) website.


Inefficient light bulbs in non-directional lamps are being phased out and new mandatory functionality requirements for certain other lamps will apply. Clear incandescent and conventional halogen light bulbs of certain voltages can now no longer be placed on the European market. For further information, you can download Commission Regulation (EC) No.244/2009 from the Europa website (PDF, 94KB).

Also, since 2010 new eco-design requirements apply to manufacturers and importers of electric and electronic household appliances that have a stand-by and/or off mode.

Other regulations

Your imported consignments may need a phytosanitary certificate if they contain, for example, wood packaging. Read about wood packaging import controls on the Forestry Commission website. This certificate proves that the wood has been properly treated to prevent pest infestation and disease.

Some products, particularly textiles, also have quotas applied to them. Read about quotas and imported goods on the Europa website. You can also read the guide on textiles, interior textiles and carpets.

There are also rules of origin for textile products that you may import from Laos, Cambodia and Nepal.

Sources of help and support in the sector

As an importer or exporter in the household goods, furniture and furnishings sector you can turn to a range of bodies for help and information.

The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support to UK exporters is UKTI. UKTI has an impartial global presence in countries throughout the world and helps businesses realise their international potential through knowledge transfer and ongoing partnership support. Further information on the UKTI website.

You can also find details of your local international trade team on the UKTI website.

Government sources of support

In addition to UKTI other government bodies that provide business support in the household goods, furniture and furnishings sector include:

Household goods, furniture and furnishings trade associations and other bodies

You can find help with exports and further links on the British Furniture Confederation website.

Further information

HMRC Tariff Classification Service enquiry line

01702 366 077

Business Gateway helpline

0845 609 6611

UKTI enquiry line

020 7215 8000

Postcode search to get details of your local trade team on the UKTI website

Importing and exporting cultural goods guidance on the Cultural Property Advice website

Trade data information on the uktradeinfo website

Importing and exporting information on the HMRC website

Information by destination country and category of goods on the Market Access Database website

Goods Checker on the ECO Checker website (registration required)

Country profiles on the UKTI website

EU-wide customs tariffs guidance on the HMRC website

How IP protection works on the UK Intellectual Property Office website

General Product Safety Directive guidance on the Europa website

The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 on the Trading Standards website

Plugs and Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations 1994 information on the BIS website

RoHS information on the BSI website

Published 1 August 2012
Last updated 13 June 2013 + show all updates
  1. Fixing references to specialist guides

  2. First published.