Electrical Safety First and Shelter are calling on the government to change the law after a joint report revealed that dangerous electrics are putting the lives of England’s 9 million private renters at risk.
The report, ‘Home Improvement: Tackling Poor Electrical Safety in the Private Rented Sector’, reveals that homes in the private rented sector are worse than in any other, with a third of properties failing to meet basic standards and a sixth of renters, or 1.2 million adults, reporting problems with electricity in the last year.[i]
The report highlights that current regulations are not fit for purpose: there is no legal requirement for landlords to ensure that electrics are safe before renting out a property or to check the wiring and any electrical appliances they have provided on a regular basis. This is particularly concerning given that there is a growing number of ‘accidental’ landlords – renting out properties either because they inherited or could not sell – and who may be less likely to consider electrical safety as a priority.[ii]
As dodgy wiring and poor electrics are often unseen, lying uncovered until a serious accident occurs, a lack of legislation means that an unacceptable number of properties are let out in a potentially deadly state. Every year 70 people die from electrical accidents and 350,000 people are seriously injured[iii]. Research suggests that private renters are more likely to be affected.
Jane Andain knows too well the consequences of a lack of regulation – her daughter, Thirza Whittall, was electrocuted six years ago as the result of poor electrics in the house she was renting. Thirza had just moved to Cornwall with her family and a few months later was found dead in the bath after electric current had made its way through to the metal bath taps.
Jane is now supporting Electrical Safety First and Shelter’s campaign to ask the government to introduce legislation that means this will not happen to other families. The charities’ report concludes that the easiest and most efficient way to do this is to introduce mandatory five yearly checks, by a competent person, of the electrical wiring and appliances.
Phil Buckle, Director General of Electrical Safety First said: “Mandatory five yearly checks are the only way to ensure that all private rented sector properties are safe. This change in law would be very easy to implement as the primary legislation already exists and our research shows that the majority of MPs would support a change in law[iv]. Electrical inspections by a competent person can cost as little as £100, which is less than £2 a month or 6p a day over a five year period. This is an incredibly small price to pay to keep people safe and we want to see the government take action.”
Jane Andain said: “What happened to my daughter was a tragedy, but could have easily been avoided if her landlord had made sure the electrics were properly and regularly checked. Electricity kills, it’s as simple as that, and yet there is no law in place to protect tenants like my daughter.
“Introducing mandatory five yearly checks of electrics seems like such a simple ask and so I can’t understand why six years on from Thirza’s death there is still no requirement for landlords to ensure the property they are renting out is in a safe condition. I hope that the Electrical Safety First and Shelter report will lead to something, finally, being done to stop the same thing from happening to other families.”
Another concern highlighted in the joint report is the significant imbalance of power in the private rented sector. There is currently no specific legislation in place to protect renters who report poor conditions to their landlord or local authority from being evicted in retaliation. More than 200,000 renters were evicted or served notice in the last year because they complained about a problem in their home, and 1 in 8 renters have not challenged their landlord because they fear this could happen to them.[v]
The research was commissioned by Shelter and British Gas as part of their partnership to improve the conditions of privately rented homes.
Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter said: “As our shortage of affordable properties pushes homeownership further out of reach, more of us are facing the prospect of settling down and bringing up a family in a rented home. But England’s nine million private renters face the worst housing conditions in the country, and the chance of eviction if they complain. Generation rent is desperate for a better deal. No home should put your life at risk, and no-one should feel too scared of eviction to ask a landlord to make a repair. We need to see politicians tackle these problems once and for all.”
Visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/renting to hear more about Jane’s story. Landlords and tenants can also learn more about electrical safety and current legislation and can download advice and toolkits from Electrical Safety First and Shelter, as well download the Home Electrical Safety Check app which allows users to identify and flag electrical dangers in their home.