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Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group

The All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) provides a forum for Parliamentarians, gas industry representatives and other key stakeholders to discuss carbon monoxide poisoning in relation to all fuels. It is chaired by Barry Sheerman MP, Jason McCartney MP, and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff.

In 2011, it launched an inquiry, “Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning”,1 chaired by Baroness Finlay. This report estimated that as many as 4000 people each year are diagnosed with low-level carbon monoxide exposure, with a further 200 admittances to hospital with serious injuries, and 50 fatalities every year.2 It calculated the approximate cost to society, and found that preventing carbon monoxide poisoning could save the UK £178 million a year, as well as avoid immeasurable human tragedy and suffering.3

The report put forward seventeen key recommendations to tackle carbon monoxide poisoning through improved detection, increased awareness, and better regulation of safety standards. The APPCOG works to achieve these recommendations, and related aims which have emerged from working with its key stakeholders, which include increasing carbon monoxide safety in the rental sector.

Introduction

The Communities and Local Government Committee has asked for submissions on the Private Rented Sector. Given the focus of the APPCOG on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, this response focuses on only those terms of reference which have the scope to increase carbon monoxide safety. Therefore, this document will respond to following issues:

the quality of private rented housing, and steps that can be taken to ensure that all housing in the sector is of an acceptable standard;

regulation of landlords, and steps that can be taken to deal with rogue landlords; and

regulation of letting agents, including agents’ fees and charges.

Summary of APPCOG Recommendations

Evidence from the Gas Safe Register suggests that people living in rented properties are particularly vulnerable in terms of gas safety. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 should be updated to require all rented properties to be fitted with an audible carbon monoxide detector manufactured to the European Standard EN 50921.

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 should be amended so that gas engineers are mandated to test appliances for the presence of CO, using a flue gas analyser meeting the standard EN50379.

Landlords who have carried out insulation measures in properties, thereby reducing the ventilation, must provide a carbon monoxide detector in order to ensure adequate protection to the tenant.

Stronger measures must be implemented to enforce landlords’ obligations to the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.

Letting agents should be legally obliged to include a declaration on relevant documentation, declaring that a carbon monoxide detector (or detectors) has been fitted. This should be made a condition of letting, which would provide an inexpensive and effective way to incentivise the use of carbon monoxide detectors.

The quality of private rented housing, and steps that can be taken to ensure that all housing in the sector is of an acceptable standard

Landlords’ duties in relation to gas safety

1. Currently, the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 require landlords to ensure that gas appliances, fittings and flues provided for tenants are safe. However, they do not extend to the mandatory provision of a carbon monoxide detector in rental properties.

2. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 state that landlords have three main responsibilities:4

(a)Maintenance: pipework, appliances and flues must be maintained in a safe condition. Gas appliances should be serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If these are not available, it is recommended that they are serviced annually unless advised otherwise by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

(b)Gas safety checks: a 12 monthly gas safety check must be carried out on every gas appliance/flue.

(c)Record: a record of the annual gas safety check must be provided to the tenant within 28 days of the check being completed or to new tenants before they move in. Landlords must keep copies of the gas safety record for two years.

All installation, maintenance and safety checks need to be carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

If a tenant has their own gas appliance that the landlord has not provided, then the landlord is responsible for the maintenance of the gas pipework but not for the actual appliance.

3. The work that landlords must carry out under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 does not include testing for the presence of carbon monoxide. A recent study conducted by Liverpool John Moores University in 2011 measured CO levels in 109 homes over a number of weeks: it found that 24 homes had CO levels greater than 50 ppm (parts per million)—a level in which symptoms of poisoning, such as headaches, tiredness, and drowsiness can be experienced. A further 53 homes contained CO levels between 10 and 50 ppm.5

4. The APPCOG recommends that the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 be amended so that gas engineers are mandated to test appliances for the presence of CO, using a flue gas analyser meeting the standard EN50379. As proposed by the charity CO-Gas Safety, these measurements should be given to the tenant as part of the safety certificate. If the measurements are not within the specifications made by the manufacturer, the measurements must be recorded and a written copy given to the tenant together with a notice in writing that a full service must be undertaken at the landlord’s expense within 28 days. The tenant must be given an opportunity to seek advice with regard to any exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning, before a service is undertaken. Therefore, the appliance must be cut off during this time. The measurements and notice must also be given to the landlord as soon as possible. After the service is completed, a record of the service and new measurements must be made and kept and given to the tenant and the landlord as part of the safety certificate.6

5. Landlords do not have a legal duty to fit a carbon monoxide detector, unless they have specified in the tenancy agreement that they will do so. Therefore, provision of carbon monoxide detectors varies widely across the rental sector.

6. Tenants in rented properties are often the most vulnerable consumers in terms of gas safety. Recent research by the Gas Safe Register, entitled “Being Gas Safe: Audience research and segmentation to support behaviour change7 demonstrated that students and renters were more likely to be represented in the riskiest consumer group in attitudes to gas safety. The report stated that students, a large proportion of whom are renters, have “much lower risk awareness than other gas users”. It also identified that “homeowners are much more vigilant than renters”8 in terms of gas safety. Typical attitudes amongst this group revealed an unawareness of the risks of carbon monoxide.

7. The APPCOG believes that it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that tenants are protected from carbon monoxide poisoning. As in the case of smoke detectors, landlords should provide a carbon monoxide detector in properties.

8. Therefore, the APPCOG recommends that the Government update the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 to require all rented properties to be fitted with an audible carbon monoxide detector manufactured to the European Standard EN 50921.

The Green Deal and carbon monoxide safety

9. There is an even greater need for equipping homes with carbon monoxide detectors due to the launch of the Green Deal. An unintended consequence of increasing a property’s energy efficiency is reduced ventilation—if a faulty heating or cooking appliance is present in the dwelling, there is a greater risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

10. Given the relatively low cost of fitting a carbon monoxide detector in comparison to the total cost of energy efficiency improvements, landlords, or the Green Deal installer, should be legally obliged to install a carbon monoxide detector in the property, if one is not already present.

Regulation of landlords, and steps that can be taken to deal with rogue landlords

11. Research commissioned by the Gas Safe Register in August 20129 demonstrated that a large proportion of private rental landlords in Great Britain were ignoring the legal requirement (as outlined in Paragraph 2) to provide tenants with an assurance of the safety of their gas appliances. A poll showed that only 50% of tenants received an up-to-date gas safety record when they moved in, and that 75% of these tenants were left without a valid record for their entire tenancy.

12. The APPCOG recommends stronger measures to enforce landlords’ obligations to the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. Currently, the onus is on the tenant to report landlord negligence of gas safety. The APPCOG recommends a more proactive approach from the Health and Safety Executive in identifying and addressing negligent behaviour from landlords.

Regulation of letting agents, including agents’ fees and charges

13. Letting agents should be legally obliged to include a declaration on relevant documentation, declaring that a carbon monoxide detector (or detectors) has been fitted and an up-to-date gas safety certificate has been provided. This should be made a condition of letting, which would provide an inexpensive and effective way to incentivise the use of carbon monoxide detectors.

1 http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/appcog/inquiry-2011. Accessed 31/01/2013.

2 Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, p 15.

3 Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, p 17.

4 http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/advice/renting_a_property/for_landlords.aspx. Accessed 31/01/2013.

5 http://www.corgitechnical.com/news/merseyside-groundbreaking-co-study-finds-dangerous-levels-of-carbon-monoxide-in-homes/. Accessed 31/01/2013.

6 http://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/energy_bill.html. Accessed 31/01/2013.

7 http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/coafaf/sites/pol1-007/files/GasSafeBehaviourChangeReport.pdf. Accessed 31/01/2013.

8 Being Gas Safe: Audience research and segmentation to support behaviour change’, p 9.

9 http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/news/gas_safe_register_news/landlords_fail_to_comply.aspx. Accessed 31/01/2013.

Prepared 16th July 2013