Phil Buckle, Director General at the campaigning charity Electrical Safety First explains why the government’s response to the review of the Private Rented Sector lost an opportunity to protect both landlords and tenants
Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, recently announced that private sector landlords will be required to install smoke alarms on each storey of their property — carbon monoxide alarms in the rooms considered most at risk from high levels of carbon monoxide, and to check the alarms are in working order at the start of any new tenancy.
At Electrical Safety First, we support any improvement in safety for private tenants. But we were extremely disappointed (and concerned) that electrical safety was not included in the Minister’s announcement – part of the government’s response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s Review of the Private Rented Sector (PRS). Yet almost 80% of those who responded to the review supported our call for regular, mandatory electrical checks throughout the sector.
The omission is particularly odd, given that almost half of all domestic fires in Great Britain arise from electricity, creating an estimated £1bn of damage in the last year. The personal cost is, of course, incalculable, but we know electricity kills one person each week and seriously injures 350,000 each year.
For some time now, Electrical Safety First has been campaigning across the UK to improve electrical safety in all housing tenures. Our initial focus however, has been on the PRS. Not only has the sector seen a huge expansion in size – it’s now estimated at 9 million, with almost 50% of growth due to families with children – but a third of PRS properties fail to meet basic standards. And research indicates that, while 16% of private tenants’ experienced electrical hazards during 2013-14, this figure increased to 20% for tenants with children.
Given this context, concerns around electrical safety can only increase. Badly maintained properties often have badly maintained electrics, where the danger is invisible until its effect is felt.
We have lobbied hard to bring electrical safety in the sector more on par with gas, which requires landlords to provide an annual gas safety certificate. We have called for mandatory, five yearly checks of the electrical installations in all PRS properties (along with any electrical appliances supplied), and for residual current devices, which help prevent electric shocks, to be installed. The charity successfully pushed for these requirements to be included in the recent Scottish Housing Bill and we are lobbying Westminster and Wales to follow suit.
Currently, registered houses in multiple occupation are already required to have a five year review of the electrical installation. But a blanket requirement for such testing in all PRS homes would reduce confusion around best practice and provide a degree of parity with gas safety. The cost for this essential precaution would be a small price to pay for the protection of people and property. We are working on it.
Electrical Safety First has developed various tools to help both landlords and tenants ensure their electrical safety. These include a detailed guide for landlords, a smartphone app, which allows a basic visual check of a property and a socket overload calculator, which can help prevent the risk of fire.
Electrical Safety First