Spreading the word about electrical safety

NAPIT’s Business Relationship Director, Ian Halton, shares how he has been helping Local Authorities and Landlords to understand the realities of keeping their properties electrically safe.

The issue of electrical safety is high up on the Government agenda currently, with consultations in both England and Wales looking into tightening the regulations which surround the inspection and testing of electrical installations in Privately Rented properties. The Private Rented Sector is continuing to expand: having doubled in size over the past ten years, it is expected to grow by a further 24% by 2021, meaning that one in four people will be renting their properties. These figures mean that any changes to legislation will directly affect an increasing number of tenants and landlords. But for any policies to succeed, people need to be kept informed of the guidelines – and the occasionally devastating consequences that can come from not following them.

Over the past few years, spreading the message of electrical safety, and sharing the value of using NAPIT members to inspect and carry out work on properties, has been a real labour of love for me. A typical week could take me from a landlord forum in Cornwall to a training session in the North of England, with plenty in between. Apart from long-distance lorry drivers or touring rock bands, I’m not sure anybody has seen the inside of as many motorway service stations as I have in recent years. But by doing this, I’ve spoken to over 3,000 landlords at over 70 events since the start of 2017. While most landlords do comply with regulations and provide safe accommodation for their tenants, being able to show them real-world examples of some of the worst practice out there can only help to keep them on their toes. And it can serve as a real eye-opener:

 

Landlords who don’t meet the legislative requirements often aren’t intentionally providing sub-standard accommodation, but there can be a tendency for people to cut corners with electrics that they would never dream of doing with gas. These really aren’t risks worth taking – the latest figures showed that almost 3,000 accidental fires were caused in England by electrical distribution (wiring, cabling and plugs) in 2015/16, leading to 379 injuries or fatalities that could have been avoided.

One of the most valuable things about getting out to meet landlords is that they can ask me questions about the electrical safety of their property that they may be reluctant to air publicly. By addressing their concerns, hopefully we will see these numbers fall in the years to come. We hope that legislation will soon reflect just how serious electrical safety is, and strongly feel that bringing in mandatory Electrical Installation Condition Reports (EICRs) to be carried out every five years will help to deliver results. These reports should be compiled by competent, registered electrical inspectors (such as those on our Electrical Inspector Scheme) who are assessed as competent to undertake inspections. I still see examples of EICRs that have been carried out by non-registered electricians, and they’re often incomplete, inaccurate or full of errors.  Having a registered inspector fill in the report means that no resident will begin a tenancy unsure of whether or not the electrics in their property are actually safe.

It’s also important to make sure those who have powers of enforcement over private landlords – and who may have their own housing stock – are fully educated about the electrical dangers they need to be able to spot. My training sessions for Local Authorities help to make sure this is the case, and I have trained more than 500 representatives from over 70 Local Authorities in the past 18 months. The feedback I receive from attendees shows the message is being heard, and makes crunching the miles up and down the country worthwhile. 95% of attendees who’ve filled in our survey say they have a better understanding of the competency requirements and dangers of electrical installations after completing a training session, while 94% feel they are left with a better understanding of how EICRs compiled by a registered competent electrician give an overview of the electrical safety of a property. They’ve even been known to be complimentary about the bloke giving the training!

The tide is starting to turn in favour of introducing more electrical safety legislation in Private Rented Sector properties, with recent consultations on the issue in England and Wales following the Scottish government’s decision to make it compulsory for PRS properties to have an EICR every five years in 2015. While nobody wants to see the cost and hassle that unnecessary legislation brings, in these cases there is surely too high a price to pay if electrics are left in a poor condition. Complying with regulations can be a daunting prospect for Landlords, but free help is available and I promote the Home Safety Guidance documents available for download at http://www.homesafetyguidance.co.uk/download.  They allow Landlords without electrical training to be able to spot potentially dangerous electrical faults, and understand exactly what they need to do to comply with the law.

My work with Local Authorities and Landlords is all about taking the potentially dry, technically complex subject of electrical safety and bringing it to life off the page. While there will be many more miles to travel, and more roadside hotels and service stations to visit, it’s all made worthwhile when people say that my presentation has compelled them to go and check the safety of their properties. By making more people become aware of the dangers of electrical installations, and letting them know of the registered competent electricians in their area that can help them, NAPIT can make a tangible difference to the safety of tenants in this country.

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