Monday, 29 October 2012

I'm backing the Electrical Safety Council's private rented sector proposals

I am backing the Electrical Safety Council's campaign for better regulations to protect tenants from bad landlords in the private rented sector.

I was horrified to read about the young mother electrocuted t death in her bath in front of her young children. The Thirza Whittle case from 2009 is an example - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1198470/Young-mother-electrocuted-live-tap-ran-bath-familys-new-home.html.

More recently I brought BBC Breakfast news film crew up to report on a shocking house in Bold Street where electrical wires at a low level were loose and bound by tape only and a property on Clement Street where the electrical fascias where broken and wires accessible.

Houses for rent in Hyndburn are guaranteed to be safe and tenants must e made aware of the dangers for themselves and their children.

I support the Electrical Safety Council's calls and want to see;

  1. An inspection of the electrical installation carried out every five years.
  2. As part of local licensing for landlords to install Residual Current Devices (RCDs) in all privately rented properties.
  3. A simple standardised document containing all landlord and tenant responsibilities
  4. Decent Homes Standard being applied across PRS properties 
I will be writing to the minister concerned to ask for his response.

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Private Rented Sector Review by the Electrical Safety Council

Overview

The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) is a UK-wide charity committed to reducing fires, deaths and injuries from electrical accidents at home and at work.

The ESC very much welcomes the opportunity to feed into the Labour Party’s review of the Private Rented Sector (PRS). We are keen to raise standards in the PRS and for the Government to ensure that landlords are encouraged to take appropriate action to safeguard the electrical safety of their property and tenants.

While we recognise that in the majority of cases private landlords adhere to the necessary regulations and provide safe and secure homes, there are numerous cases of landlords[1] failing to provide safe electrical installations and appliances, thereby compromising the wellbeing and safety of tenants. We would therefore encourage the Labour PRS review to actively consider any measures which will force those landlords to improve the electrical conditions in their properties as part of this exercise.

Context

Recent research demonstrates that PRS tenants are much more likely to be at risk of electric shocks than their counterparts in other sectors. This is due to a number of factors, including poor maintenance and a lack of knowledge among landlords of their responsibilities.

The ESC is committed to raising housing standards in the private rented sector and has called for such action across the UK, without imposing undue regulatory burdens on landlords. In particular, we have called for:
  • · Provision of Residual Current Device (RCD) protection within all properties that are let
  • · Installation checks every five years by a competent person
  • · Appropriate guidance for Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)
Making the fitting of RCDs in rented properties mandatory

Fitting an RCD into a consumer unit (fuse box) is the most effective way to protect against dangerous electric shocks and reduce the risk of electrical fires (An RCD is a sensitive switching device that constantly monitors current flowing through one or more circuits. If it detects electricity flowing down the wrong path, such as a person touching a live part, it will switch the circuit off very quickly, reducing the risk of death or serious injury).

The value of RCDs is being increasingly recognised by governments throughout the world, and there have been significant moves to legislate for wider use, most recently in Western Australia in 2010. In England, they have been conventionally included under the UK Building Regulations in all new build homes since 2008.

As part of Labour’s commitment to improving standards in the PRS we would like to see a commitment to ensure that RCDs are made mandatory in all let accommodation.

Mandatory Licensing Schemes

The Coalition Government is opposed to any further statutory regulation of the PRS at a national level, although a number of mandatory licensing schemes are currently under consideration or being taken forward locally, for example in the London Borough of Newham and Brighton.

As part of those local licensing schemes, the ESC is in favour of making it a requirement for landlords to demonstrate electrical safety by having an inspection of the electrical installation carried out every five years. Similarly, and as set out above, a requirement as part of local licensing for landlords to install Residual Current Devices (RCDs) in all privately rented properties would dramatically reduce the number of electrical fires and electrical shocks in the sector.

Improving understanding through rights and responsibilities guidance

The ESC believes that one of the major obstacles in achieving improved standards in the PRS is a lack of knowledge among both tenants and landlords of their respective rights and responsibilities. This is particularly the case for so-called accidental landlords entering the marketplace who may not be aware of their obligations regarding electrical safety. In addition, there tends to be low-level knowledge amongst tenants regarding what defects may lead to a severe injury or fire from an electrical installation.

Landlords and tenants need to be aware of their respective obligations and rights across various pieces of legislation which include the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the Housing Act 2004, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005, Part P of the Building Regulations (2005) and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) regulations 2006.

We understand that the Coalition Government is currently looking at putting together a simple standardised document containing all landlord and tenant responsibilities. Whilst we believe that electrical standards should be made mandatory across the PRS, we would urge the Labour Party to support any non-statutory guidance as an intermediate step to increase the awareness of the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.

The ESC would welcome replication of proposals made in Scotland regarding Tenant Information Packs (TIPs). By early 2013, PRS landlords will have to provide the tenant with a pack that may include vital safety information about the property, including when the last inspection of the installation took place and whether an RCD is installed.

Whilst the TIP does not make it mandatory for those inspections to take place or for an RCD to be installed, by providing an option for landlords to voluntarily demonstrate their commitment to improving standards in rented accommodation, it should see a significant improvement in attitudes towards electrical safety, as well as tenant safety, whilst also protecting landlords’ investment.

We would therefore encourage Labour’s strategy for the sector to actively consider similar initiatives that would empower tenants to question the electrical safety of a prospective home.

Ensuring unitary minimum standards in housing

Historically, the PRS has had the lowest proportion of decent homes across the housing sector. According to DCLG figures from 2006, 40 per cent of the private rented stock failed to meet the basic Decent Homes Standard (DHS). Of these, over 30 per cent could be classed has having category 1 hazards under the framework set by the housing health and safety rating system, which means they have some elements of serious disrepair and would be classed as non-decent.

The DHS ensures that properties meet the current housing statutory minimum standards and that the property is in a reasonable state of repair, including its electrical systems. The DHS has significantly improved standards in the social rented sector. As a minimum standard that triggers action below which no social housing should fall below, we believe there is real merit in a similar standard being applied across PRS properties.

We would therefore encourage the Labour PRS review to consider whether a single mandatory condition standard should apply to all privately rented housing as well as social housing. Local Authorities would then be able to undertake appropriate enforcement action in relation to those PRS properties that fail to meet basic safety standards.

Conclusion

Given the continuing growth of the PRS, it has never been more important to ensure that standards in private rented housing are maintained and improved. The ESC would be delighted to feed into this on-going consultation over the course of the summer. If you have any questions, or would perhaps like to arrange a meeting to discuss our submission in more detail please contact Daniel Walker-Nolan at the ESC on 0203 463 5131 or by emailing daniel.walker-nolan@esc.org.uk.

[1] The Thirza Whittle case from 2009 is one such example - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1198470/Young-mother-electrocuted-live-tap-ran-bath-familys-new-home.html.