Simplify to Clarify – Electrical Safety in the Private Rented Sector

NAPIT Trade Association Chairman Frank Bertie

NAPIT Trade Association Chairman Frank Bertie

Electrical Safety in the Private Rented Sector is poor. In 2014, 16% of private rented sector tenants in England experienced problems with electrical hazards, which equates to nearly 1.5 million people living with unsafe electrics. Coupled with the fact that 5,622 accidental domestic fires were caused by electrical distribution systems in 2014/15, the scale of this risk is greater than most people perceive.

It is poor because the laws detailing how landlords must demonstrate the electrical safety of their property are not clear cut. What is clear is that the landlord has responsibility for making sure the electrical installation is ‘kept in repair and proper working order’ as detailed in the Landlord and Tenant Act.  It would therefore seem that it has been the Government’s intention since 1985 to require landlords to ensure that electrical installations in the houses they rent out are safe, but there is no detail as to how this should be done or evidenced. Yet if a privately rented house has a gas appliance, the landlord must have a Gas Safety Certificate every year.

More needs to be done and the Electrical Safety Clause in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 is a much needed step forward in providing clarification in this area, as it gives the Government the powers to introduce specific requirements to introduce Electrical Safety Standards within the Private Rented Sector through secondary legislation. However, the Clause is meaningless unless the Government decides to act on it.

Scotland were the first to act in providing clarity to this area by requiring an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) be carried out at least every 5 years by a competent person through The Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 in all privately rented homes, which came into force on the 1st December 2015.

England now needs to follow suit and use Clause 122 to require an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) be carried out at least every 5 years by a competent person. We would go further and also ask that the implementation of the Clause requires a Routine Visual and Operational Check of electrical installations every year and at change of occupancy. This visual check doesn’t necessarily need to be carried out by an electrically trained person, but it will ensure that the safety electrical installation is at the very least considered on a regular basis. Our position on the implementation of the clause is set out in detail here.

Not only should EICR’s be required at least every 5 years, but more needs to be done to make an EICR understandable to a non-electrically trained person. We propose the introduction of a one-page record to be presented to the landlord following the completion of the EICR, which makes it very clear whether the electrical installation is satisfactory or not. In the event that it is not, this one-page record would provide the opportunity for a competent, registered electrical installer to verify that the unsatisfactory items of the electrical installation have been put right and that the electrical installation is now satisfactory. This would provide clarity to landlords, tenants and letting agents and remove the need for another EICR to be undertaken if an unsatisfactory one was issued first of all, but subsequently once all the required work has been completed. We’ve mocked up a Landlord Electrical Installation Safety Record to illustrate our idea.

Ultimately, we are calling on the Government to use the powers they have given themselves in the Housing and Planning Act to provide clarity around Electrical Safety Standards within the Private Rented Sector and to introduce specific requirements through secondary legislation. This will ensure that their intention of holding landlords responsible for the ‘repair and proper working order’ of electrical installations is both realised and enforceable.

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