Electrical safety is something we feel strongly about at Welsh Tenants. Our association with Electrical Safety First (ESF) dates back to 2013 when mutual concerns were expressed for the rise in vulnerable people having to access the largely unregulated private rented sector which led to ESF being invited to the Welsh Tenants conference. That relationship developed and we were pleased to be invited in March 2015 to speak at the National Assembly round table collaborative campaign event organised by ESF and chaired by Swansea East Assembly Member Mike Hedges AM and Director General of ESF, Phil Buckle.
The event attended by British Gas, representatives of the Fire Services of Wales, Environmental health officers, Residential Landlord Association among others, heard how the time had come to consider the introduction of 5 year electrical safety checks by private landlords in Wales. There was then, and there is now, a strong argument that while we have ‘annual gas safety checks’ there is no statutory provision for the testing and inspection of our home electrics.
For the most part, the majority of homes in Wales were built pre 1919 and while many would have upgraded electrical components in the generations since, this is not true of all homes. Fortunately, in the social housing sector, the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (which has to be achieved by all social landlords by 2020) requires that up-to-date trip boxes with RCDs (Residual Current devices) are installed in our homes. But electrical safety goes beyond just having more efficient and effective mains boxes, it’s also about maintaining the standard over time and ensuring that occupants are using the utility in the manner in which they were designed.
Of course we argued then as we do now, that there is no distinction between having a five year mandatory electrical check in a single licenced house of multiple occupation (HMOs) that have 3-5 (or more) unrelated individuals, than having a family of 3-5 (or more) individuals living in a general needs house. Quite simply if you let a home, there should be a requirement to ensure that the home is electically safe both on allocation and that there is a responsibility to maintain that home for the ‘duration of occupancy’ and not to rely on intervals of tenancy turnover to certify its safety. Of course today, many people rent their homes for decades without ever having their electrical system checked, this would resolve that problem.
Building Regulations provide national standards for building work covering all projects from major new commercial developments and new homes, to extensions and home alterations. Control bodies such as Local Authority Building Control for the public sector and the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI) for the private sector both ensure that controls are maintained. But only if they are aware.
When any electrical work is undertaken in the home, whether carried out professionally or as DIY, and regardless of whether the work is notifiable to building control, the work must meet the requirements of part P of the Building Regulations 2006 (and 2010 amendment’s). The building control body must be satisfied that the work is safe and meets all building regulation requirements issuing a building regulation completion certificate or, if an approved inspector was used, a final certificate.
The new Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2015, which received Royal Assent in January 2016 and will be introduced in Wales next year, and could introduce a 5 year mandatory test in all rented homes in Wales. If we are to do more to make our homes safer then having 5 year mandatory electrical safety check will help us safeguard the occupants and protect homes.
As indicated in 2015 by Phil Buckle the costs of 5 year electrical safety checks would be little more than £3 per month and would significantly protect and even reduce insurance costs for landlords and for many landlords can be offset by savings to insurance and potential claims made against them.
Welsh Tenants Managing Director Steve Clarke invited to speak at the 2015 event stated that a 5 year mandatory check is a low cost – high impact measure that could save the NHS in Wales some serious money considering 68% of all fires were caused by electrical faults.
Steve acknowledged that a while a great deal had already been achieved by the Welsh Government in raising standards of home safety since 2003 with the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) in the social housing sector, through upgraded residual circuit devices (RCD boards) providing vital protection against electrocution, there is more we can do. He also added that the private rented sector had also made a significant contribution as Buy-to-let mortgages were often coupled with major improvement works that improved standards for renters.
But he also warned that both sectors were under pressure to make better use of existing stock, citing that in the social housing sector, the taking in of lodgers as recommended by the DWP due to the Spare Room Subsidy (bedroom tax), could increase household risks in properties not designed for multiple family living. While social landlords by virtue of schedule 14 of the Housing Act 2004 are provided an exemption from the protection of 5 year mandatory checks as required of registered Houses of Multiple Occupation in the private rented sector. There is, he said, a real prospect of more family homes being converted into HMO’s in all but name under shared accommodation initiatives while the drive to provide more single person accommodation could mean tenants not being afforded the protection that PRS HMOs have to provide.
Mike Hedges AM also expressed his support for the initiative having been a beneficiary of the protection of modern RCD boards when accidentally cutting through his hedge trimmer. There was, he stated, a compelling opportunity to provide better protection for people whom rent in Wales, adding, he was pleased to be supporting the recommendation (March 2015).
Organisations like Electrical Safety First (ESF) continue to do a great job in helping to raise awareness of the dangers of electricity with some extremely powerful mobile tools (see below). These help occupiers self-audit their homes for electrical risks.
Apps you can download to undertake homes safety checks.
itunes App (click below)
Android App (click below)
While these tools are invaluable in educating consumers they will not reach everyone. Further information about better electrical safety and Making your home safer in 2016 contact Welsh Tenants.