I wanted to write an article to highlight one of the biggest issues we face whilst managing electrics in Social Housing. In truth, you could probably just put your hand into any organisation who manages electrical risk and find something they’re doing wrong straight away. This isn’t a dig at every organisation out there, it’s simply a statement that can be proven true by asking one question:
‘Am I legally obliged to inspect electrical installations?’
This is a really interesting question, let me explain why. If you ask the person skilled in electrics the answer, you will get a yes, in some cases the person won’t be able to clearly define why but they know it is. However, if you ask a senior manager who has come up the ranks from housing officer etc. they’ll say “it’s not like gas”. Furthermore, if you ask a member of the legal team they too will say there is no legal duty to test or approve a process for gaining access to a property to inspect.
So, let me climb up on my high horse and clearly say with confidence, if you don’t test your electrical systems and then fail to push the tenant through court or force access to ensure you’re managing your electrical systems adequately, YOU’RE BREAKING THE LAW.
I suppose the best way to explain this is with some examples:
A tenant moves into a property that is owned by you. The previous tenant removed they cooker themselves and left the plate loose with exposed live parts. The new tenant moves in and their child touches the live parts and receives an electric shock…. Who’s at fault?
You implement a process to periodically inspect your properties every 5 years as a standard (which is wrong by the way) yet you get a new tenant from a neighbouring housing association who has been convicted of Abstract of Electricity a number of times. You accept the 5 years next inspection but the property burns down killing that tenant and the families either side a year later. Who’s at fault?
A tenant calls once a week for a year to tell you their electrics keep tripping and they have to stand on a chair to reset the breaker. You send a sparky each time and they reset and move on to next job. You then receive a disrepair claim as the tenant has fallen off a chair and broke their back whilst trying to reset the breaker late at night. Who’s at fault?
You plan to inspect the property in 4 week’s time and the tenant doesn’t allow access. You send a strongly worded letter saying you’re coming the week after, still no access. You refer to your legal department who tell you, we don’t have any legal justification to gain access so we have to just keep trying or do it when they move out. The house burns down due to old stranded cables loose in the walls or damages cables in the loft etc. Who’s at fault, your legal team?
The truth is its very easy to justify why we don’t do things, simply because not doing it saves us money, time and effort. We just can’t be selective in how we abuse the technical teams when a counsellor or MP then sends a letter saying;
Dear Mr / Mrs CEO / MD,
One of my potential votes has complained to me and therefore I am complaining to you. They do not have enough sockets in their lounge to support the many computers they need to run their secret operation to hack the governments database. Could you please address this ASAP.
An MP who knows nothing about management of electrical systems.
This then filters down via a large stick and we have to drop everything to cater to their beck and call. It’s wrong. Why are we so forceful here and yet turned a blind eye to access.
Let’s have a look why this is law and why you CAN’T just turn a blind eye.
The Landlord and Tenants Act 1985 requires that a property is:
· Safe when the tenancy begins and
· Maintained in a safe condition throughout the tenancy
You cannot do this without sending a qualified person to check the installation.
The Act then goes on to say that the landlord WILL keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling.
You cannot do this without sending a qualified and competent person into the property to check it.
The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order
It is reported that thousands of fires per year are caused by faulty electrics. Thousands. So we know loose wires cause fires, how do we find loose wires? We visit and check using test instruments and producing paperwork.
Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
As a landlord, you have a legal obligation to manage the system you own. It’s your electrical system and therefore 100% your responsibility. Within this publication, there are a number of regulations that clearly define what you have to do and what actions you need to take to risk assess against the others.
Maintainability, work activities, competence, connections, earthing, integrity, isolation and suitability.
Just because it was originally designed to be ok doesn’t mean it still is…. Things change, tenants change and temperature changes. Electrical installations don’t just work all the time.
So again, it is physically impossible to sit behind your desk in a legal department or in a senior role and tell anyone that an electrical installation is still ok for continued use without getting a competent person to visit and check it. It’s impossible.
What about Defective Premises Act 1972, Consumer Protection Act 1987, Electrical Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulation 2002 and the many more, are these just mythical regulations that mean nothing or don’t really exist?
You know what, the easiest way to convince your legal team and your management team that you have to go in and test properties and potentially force access through courts or legal action is to sit back and wait till you seriously injure a family, or worse kill someone. There is a number of organisations around the country who have and believe me, they’ll read this and think you’re crazy for even debating it.
It’s extremely frustrating that we have companies sitting in committee meetings and one fire service, in particular, trying to mould the whole industry to fix their own problems. These organisations should be doing more to educate the non-technical folk instead of creating problems for them.
Hopefully, the content of this article is enough to highlight the legal stance of maintaining electrical systems. I haven’t referenced BS7671 or the guidance documents assigned to this as these are minimum standards and hold zero clout in law.