Did you know the landlords’ ‘transitional rule’ for electrical safety in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) ends on 01 December? Here, Phil Buckle, Director General of the charity Electrical Safety First, explains what this means for both landlords and tenants – and how it is beneficial to both.
When the Scottish Government introduced a requirement for regular electrical safety checks in the PRS, it proved itself a step ahead of the rest of the UK – and aware of the real impact of dangerous electrics. The vast majority (around 70%) of accidental fires in Scottish homes arise through electricity, with faulty electrical products often the main culprit. While the personal cost of domestic fires is often incalculable, we do know they result in billions of pounds of property damage throughout the UK.
Electrical Safety First led the charge in calling for regular electrical safety checks in all PRS homes, along with any electrical items provided with them. So we were delighted when this requirement was included in the most recent Housing (Scotland) Act, which became law in 2014.
However, the electrical safety regulation only came into effect from December 01 2015, and it only covered new tenancies which began on, or after, this date. Landlords with existing tenancies were given an additional or ‘transitional’ year – until 01 December 2016 – to organise inspections for their properties. All PRS landlords in Scotland are now required to ensure the electrical installation, wiring and fittings in their rental properties are inspected at least every five years and they must provide tenants with a copy of the latest or electrical inspection condition report (EICR).
An EICR will involve an inspection and test of equipment by a qualified electrician. They'll check if electrical circuits are overloaded and identify any electric shock hazards or defective electrical work. Testing of the installation must be undertaken by an electrician registered with one of the government’s approved schemes (to find one in your area, click here).
Any electrical appliances provided with the tenancy must also be checked and should carry a PAT (portable appliance testing) sticker. The Scottish Government’s guidance also recommends – but has not made mandatory – the installation of an RCD or Residual Current Device (which rapidly cuts off the current to prevent electric shock), in the fusebox of all PRS homes.
If a landlord fails to get an EICR done, or make the recommended changes, they can be reported to the Private Rented Housing Panel, which can issue a repairing order - a legal requirement. If a landlord still fails to make changes then they could be forced to allow their tenant to pay reduced or no rent until the fault is fixed.
The benefits of regular electrical safety checks have been widely acknowledged. Electrical Safety First has worked with a range of stakeholders – including the Scottish Association of Landlords, Shelter Scotland, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Scotland and the Council of Letting Agents - in calling for them to be made a legal requirement. As there had been a long-standing obligation for landlords to provide an annual gas safety certificate, this new duty was seen as a move closer to bringing electrical safety on par with gas. It was also recognised as a small price to pay for landlords to ensure the safety of their property and their tenants.
But what about the rest of the housing sector?
Currently, regular electrical safety checks are not explicitly required in either the social housing sector or owner-occupied properties. Recently, however, Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) – Scotland’s largest social landlord, with almost 40,000 homes in the city – has instigated similar checks in all its properties. And the Scottish Government is considering proposals for a new common housing standard, which would cover all housing tenures. Electrical Safety First has made a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government regarding this issue, including a call for free, five-yearly electrical safety checks for all households with one person of pensionable age and mandatory checks in the social rented and care sectors.
At Electrical Safety First we want to ensure that everyone, regardless of whether they are home-owners, private tenants, or living in social housing, are properly protected from the risks of electricity. To help ensure landlords understand their obligations, we have produced a number of tools and guides and a visual inspection app, which can be downloaded to your mobile phone, to help provide an initial electrical safety review of any property.
Electrical Safety First is a campaigning charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries and damage caused by electricity.