Unsafe electrical wiring

No Access – the ongoing issue we face in Social housing

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.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

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.

Ryan Dempsey - CEO
Ryan Dempsey

Over the last few years I have found myself in a very fortunate position where I can implement and promote change in the Social Housing sector. My passion and drive to improve Electrical Safety continually fuels my motivation to implement slight changes to engineer and industry work patterns in the hope the mentality currently sitting in the engineering industry can change. We need to ensure the right people with the right skills and experience are working in and around the properties we provide. Not only that, we need to ensure the workforce are the people talking and helping develop the standards we work towards. Improved quality assurance and the avoidance of the 'status quo' should be a starting point in any organisations route to complete compliance. Improved compliance at all levels will improve the safety and sustainability of the properties we provide and manage. The key to improve risk management is to pinpoint the areas of risk and manage these individually. Don't over complicate a simple process. We also need to ensure those with a similar passion speak up and be counted for. It's time for change and that means moving out the old and replacing with the new. All the views and opinions on here are my own and not that of any company I am associated with.

11 Comments
  • Avatar
    Sian Bridge
    Reply
    Posted at 3:15 pm, 5th December 2017

    I was on a snagging job once and due to refusal of access a 4 day job took 2 weeks .. i totally feel everyones pain and frustration o this .. very interesting and honest.. thank you

  • Avatar
    Andi Wilson
    Reply
    Posted at 3:17 pm, 5th December 2017

    I was the Electrical manger for a company who covers 4 major housing associations across Manchester.. on the audit there was thousands of EICR needed … 80% were accessed and possibly 60% needed work some minor some major .. the other 20% never got done because of no access when I questioned with all the assiosaotions they said they couldn’t make them give us access how ever in there tenancy agreement it states that they can gain access to check the property with notice I was told . This makes me wonder why they don’t just use that to gain access . On the EICR my electricians did I made sure they were 5yrs or change of tenant .. like you say if the old tenant moves out they can take electrical equipment with them .. I’ve been to a house with no light fittings and no face plates and I attended on the day it was being tenanted. I feel the housing need to do more to force the issue of electrical testing

  • Avatar
    Bob H.
    Reply
    Posted at 3:17 pm, 5th December 2017

    Absolutely on the money again Paul. Many thanks for this posting.

  • Avatar
    Christian Jones TMIET
    Reply
    Posted at 3:17 pm, 5th December 2017

    Exactly

  • Avatar
    Alan Melroy
    Reply
    Posted at 3:18 pm, 5th December 2017

    I always believe that you need to bring it to the attention of someone if for no other reason than liability.

  • Avatar
    tom Hainey
    Reply
    Posted at 3:19 pm, 5th December 2017

    Ryan Dempsey FIET I appreciate your passion for the cause Ryan. I think the tide has turned or is turning in the right direction but there is a way to go yet. As far as electrical fire risks go though your concern about integrity of systems pales into insignificance compared to fires caused by “blunders” as this 2012 article describes them i.e. resident misuse of portable appliances. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19696912 More generally faulty portable appliances are a far greater issue than system defects. So what is the reasonably practicable response to that? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33124925 It is unreasonable to PAT test all appliances so that leaves education, campaigns and promoting voluntary (ideally free)testing.
    My point is we all take compliance seriously but it is in determining what is reasonably practicable to do that matters. That is not a cop out and I agree Ryan it should never be used as a convenience to justify in action. Keep the debate alive.

  • Avatar
    Ryan Dempsey FIET
    Reply
    Posted at 3:19 pm, 5th December 2017

    Hi Tom, it’s really great to see organisations pushing the boundaries and stepping outside of the status quo. Totally understand it’s a difficult thing. Please don’t think I tarnish folk with the same brush, I don’t. Unfortunately the majority don’t do what you do, they turn a blind eye because they don’t understand and it’s scary. The pictures I post and the comments I use are from experience around the whole country. Unfortunately the electrical industry is in dire need of a solution to fix competence, system quality and management… all I do is try to show why in the hope those who can, DO!!!

  • Avatar
    Tom Hainey
    Reply
    Posted at 3:20 pm, 5th December 2017

    So what are you suggesting landlords do to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable and practicable steps. What regime would you impose and how would you deal with owner occupiers whose actions or inactions could not only put their families at risk but their neighbours too? We have resolved to treat electrical safety “as gas” and are exploring how we make that happen especially in terms of access. It is reasonable to inspect and carry out remedial works at change of tenancy. It is reasonable to seek access every 5 years to inspect and carry out remedial works. It is reasonable to respond to reported defects in a timely manner and put them right. It is reasonable to improve and upgrade the electrical systems on a planned basis to keep up with modern demands. It is reasonable to do that when other planned works like kitchens are being replaced. It is reasonable to require access of tenants to do all of this and go to court if needs be to do it. It is unreasonable to tar all non electrically trained colleagues with the one brush as you do especially when you regularly post shoddy work by members of your profession. We do not condemn all sparks the same. We take compliance extremely seriously. It is our top priority. Work with us.

  • Avatar
    Dale Heywood TMIET
    Reply
    Posted at 3:21 pm, 5th December 2017

    I reckon on average 10% of repairs I attend are no access

  • Avatar
    Ryan Dempsey
    Reply
    Posted at 3:22 pm, 5th December 2017

    Exactly. Fantastic Paul. Thanks for adding this

  • Avatar
    Paul Skyme
    Reply
    Posted at 3:23 pm, 5th December 2017

    Then on top of this is the shall requirement under Section 3 of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act:

    “3 General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees.
    (1) It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

    Is it reasonably practicable to legally “force” i.e gain entry by legal means even if that is a warrant, to prevent death, or fire…

    I would say yes, that way the social housing landlord, who is an employer under the Act, can ensure that they don’t have another horrible scenario where people are burned to death in their property such has been seen recently.

    I’ll just leave that one there for thoughts…

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