Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Electrical Safety First (HPB 37)

1. About Electrical Safety First

1.1 Electrical Safety First is a campaigning consumer charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries and damage caused by electricity.

1.2 We work with tenants, landlords, homeowners and the government to reduce deaths and accidents in the home.

1.3 Electricity can and does kill. Electricity causes more than 20,000 house fires a year – almost half of all accidental house fires. Every year, around 350,000 are seriously injured by electricity and 70 are killed because of an electrical accident in the home.

1.4 Electrical Safety First believes that no one, regardless of age, income or where they live, should be put at risk of electrical faults in their home. To this end we are campaigning that the Housing and Planning Bill includes measures to keep people safe in the private rented sector and we are seeking to amend the Bill.

2. Key Messages on the Housing and Planning Bill

2.1 The Bill published on 13 October 2015 does not include anything on protecting tenants in the private rented sector from electrical accidents caused by unchecked and faulty electrical installations. We believe current legislation in England is inadequate to ensure tenants remain safe.

2.2 Electrical safety in the private rented sector is being left behind other important safety areas, such as gas, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms. We believe that there should be greater parity between each of these, particularly given that electricity causes half of the fires in domestic properties. 75% of responders to the Department of Communities and Local Government own consultation on the Private Rented Sector (PRS) believed that mandatory electrical checks in the PRS were needed, yet the Government decided not to act. [1]

2.3 Electrical Safety First is a charity committed to reducing deaths and accidents caused by electricity. Electricity causes more than 20,000 house fires a year – almost half of all accidental house fires. Every year, around 350,000 people are injured through contact with electricity and 70 people are killed in the UK, this is in comparison with carbon monoxide poising, gas leaks, fires and explosions that are responsible for 18 deaths in the past year, and more than 300 injuries. [2]

2.4 Electrical Safety First believes that people in the private rented sector would be protected by mandatory five yearly checks on electrical installations and supplied appliances in rented homes. 77% of cross-party MPs, who participated in a recent survey, agree with Electrical Safety First that mandatory five yearly electrical safety checks are necessary in the private rented sector. [3]

2.5 Landlords are legally obligated to undergo an annual inspection for gas installations in their properties, but do not need to treat electrics in the same way. Therefore, a property could pass a gas safety check, but its electrical installation; such as sockets and wiring could be unsafe and may go unnoticed until an accident occurs.

2.6 Renting has become the norm for millions of individuals and families in the country. Over 18% of all households in England, some 9 million people and 1.3 million families now rent. [4] We believe that it is essential that properties are safe and fit for purpose for tenants when they use electrical installations and appliances. At present, there is no legal obligation to inform tenants they live in a property that has had the electrics checked.

3. Private Rented Sector (PRS) and electrical safety

3.1 In 2013-14 there were 49 deaths caused by electrical fires in the home – an increase on the previous year’s figures. 37% of these were caused by electrical distribution. We believe that it is essential that mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks, undertaken by a competent person, are required for PRS properties. With a growing PRS and no regular checks, the risks will become greater year on year.

3.2 More people rent today from the PRS looking after 9 million people and 1.3 million families. Over 20% of all households in England are in the sector and nearly a third expect to be doing so for the rest of their lives. This is why we believe the Private Rented Sector should be as safe as possible and due to the fact that the average tenant’s stay in a PRS property is just over 3 years.

3.3 High PRS demand and increasingly low consumer mobility (nearly 50% of the growth in the sector over the last two years has come from families with children) means that some landlords can neglect their legal obligation to maintain the property in a decent condition, as they are confident their property can be let regardless.

3.4 The Decent Homes Standard does not apply to the PRS. A third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet the government’s own standard, with six in ten experiencing an electrical hazard or gas leak in the last 12 months.

3.5 Our proposals to improve housing standards are not burdensome on landlords or costly. This is not only about the safety of tenants but also protects the landlord’s assets, with regular electrical checks helping to spot electrical faults and problems before they pose serious risk to a person or property.

4. Ageing society and domestic electrical safety

4.1 Housing is classed as non-decent if it fails to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard, meaning properties are not warm enough, in a state of disrepair or do not have modern facilities. Poor electrical safety is a particular concern for our older population - nearly two thirds of properties occupied by a couple over 60 do not meet basic electrical safety standards.

4.2 Although accidental fire deaths in the home in 2013/14 were at an historic low, over half of fatalities were aged 65 or over. [5] People over 80 make up nearly 40% of fatalities from portable heater fires [6] and these are key areas for action that the Government must prioritise.

5. Support for electrical safety checks in the home

5.1 The Local Government Association supports the need for mandatory checks in the private rented sector. In fact, local government wishes this to be an annual check in line with gas certification requirements. [7]

5.2 A broad coalition of organisations support the call for mandatory electrical safety checks including London Fire Brigade, Shelter, British Gas, Savills, Young London and the Association of Residential Letting Agents.

5.3 The government recently commenced legislation requiring all private sector landlords to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and this came into effect in October 2015. The Government has stated that it wants to create a ‘bigger, better and safer’ public sector, but there is no mention of the source of these fires or anything on electrical safety in the PRS. This is a missed opportunity and the Government should come forward with regulations to ensure mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks as part of the Housing and Planning Bill.

November 2015

Prepared 17th November 2015