Report: Home Improvement

By: Martha Mackenzie  Published: June 2014


This report has been produced in partnership with Electrical Safety First, with the support of British Gas. Both Shelter and Electrical Safety First see an increasing urgency to tackle the issue of poor electrical safety in private rented homes. Our combined frontline experience has shown that this problem is getting worse. Private rented housing makes up a disproportionate share of the problems Shelter’s advisers deal with every day.Too often, renters struggle with unsafe, unstable homes. Electrical Safety First, have seen in particular an unacceptable increase in the number of complaints relating to poor electrical safety in rented homes. This is especially concerning given the dangerous nature of electrical hazards. They can lead to serious injury and death.

Summary

Private renting is fast becoming the new normal. The sector is now home to more than 9 million people and 1.3 million families. For the first time in post-war history, more people rent privately than rent their home from the council or a Housing Association. Yet standards in the private rented sector have not kept up with this rapid growth. Homes in the private rented sector are worse than in any other tenure. Electrical safety in private rented homes is a particular problem. Renters and professionals continue to report unacceptable levels of non-compliance.

In spite of this, electrical safety in private rented homes is subject to weak and inconsistent regulation. The houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) management regulations require landlords to carry out five-yearly electrical installation checks – but this covers only a small minority of privately rented homes. And under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 landlords are expected to ensure that the electrical installations in their rented properties are safe when tenants move in and maintained in a safe condition throughout its duration. Yet there is no requirement for a professional to prove this: landlords are not required to regularly inspect their electrical installations and appliances. Electrical hazards are often unseen, so the only way to effectively ensure this obligation is met is to programme regular electrical inspections and checks.

Shelter and Electrical Safety First believe that the following measures should be introduced to protect renters and ensure better electrical safety in private rented homes:
  • Mandatory five-yearly safety checks, by a competent person, of the electrical installation and any electrical appliances supplied with private rented sector properties. This should be verified by the provision of relevant safety certificates to tenants.
  • Residual Current Device (RCD) protection should be required within all properties that are rented privately. RCDs are designed to constantly monitor the electric current flowing along a circuit and almost instantaneously switch off the circuit if they detect electrical faults, such as somebody touching a live part or wire.
These reforms would significantly reduce risks to renters, with only a minimal impact on the majority of landlords. Electrical safety is a problem, but solving this problem can be quick, easy and non-burdensome for landlords.

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