Frequency of inspection for Electrical Systems in Social Housing
One of the questions I am asked a lot is what is the frequency of electrical inspection in the Social Housing sector, why is it not set in stone like gas? It’s a little disheartening when the question is followed by a comment about the issues around budget planning, as if that’s the priority.
So what is the answer to the question? The answer, whether you like it or not, is there isn’t one.
Let’s look at the confusion in the industry and why your contractors or direct labour force are putting 5 years.
Over the last few years, the competent person schemes and other organisations in the electrical industry have been trying to push mandatory electrical safety checks every 5 years in private rented properties. This has been implemented in Scotland and is soon to be implemented throughout the rest of the UK. I’ve had the pleasure of auditing private rented properties throughout Leeds and I am 100% behind this decision as the quality and standards are very low in most cases I’ve seen. What I am not 100% behind is the way in which these organisations are promoting/advertising this…. for example:
If you look at Electrical Safety Firsts landlords guide to electrical safety they state that ALL tenanted properties should be inspected every 5 years.
Note the word tenanted, this is a play on words and covers much more than “private rented properties”. Whether this was intentional or a slip of words it has impacted the way we do things.
Another really important thing to consider about the decision to introduce mandatory 5 yearly checks in private renting is the fact that there has been no representation from the Social Housing sector in the talks with the DCLG. I attended a meeting and was told Local Authorities were represented through the LABC. Now I worked for Leeds City Council for 5 and half years and in that time I never spoke to building control once! Another clear demonstration that these organisations have lost touch with those that SHOULD be helping with these decisions.
The next document that creates confusion is Guidance Note 3. We all know there is a table in that document (table 3.2) that defines the initial frequency for inspection. This is guidance for designers to help them decide the time between install and first inspection. You could say its a way to prove the install is sound prior to signing it over to the client. Another way to look at this is like a warranty period. Any good electrician will know that if you install a system correctly it will probably last 40/50 years.
You should also note that nearly every person doesn’t do the 1 yearly visual inspection which is also in the table. This is because no one is actually taking the time to understand the table and the adjacent page.
To clarify this point – if you’re a contractor and you put 5 years next inspection because of table 3.2, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. If you have access to the previous documents and you can see a clear sign of deterioration and you have used your engineering judgement to decide that the installation will fail in 5 years potentially, then put 5 years. If you have no previous data and the installation is as expected…. why put 5.
For example –
Say we have a property that is 25 years old (wiring). You carry out all the checks on the system and everything comes back perfect. Why would you put 5 years? 25 years + zero deterioration = electrically sound installation.
Now some people might say “but it might fail tomorrow so 5 years is better than 10”. My response is always the same…. why don’t we create something that monitors the installation continuously then, because 5 years wouldn’t be enough either?
For the record, there is no document or publication anywhere that defines a set frequency. Every organisation who stands in front of you and says the recommendation is 5 years has zero knowledge of what you do. if you have an area engineer come to your organisation and pull you on the frequency, show them this article. if they still force you into a 5 yearly inspection regime, change your registration body as the one you have doesn’t understand your needs (or the regs for that matter).
Let’s have a look at what the regulations do ask you to do:
How old is the installation?
What protective devices are installed?
Is the person working in the property competent to do so?
Is the property subject to a responsive maintenance/emergency maintenance regime?
Is someone (or a team) responsible for the compliance of said property?
Do you have a documented spec for the standard and quality of the system?
Is the tenant aware of their responsibilities (tenancy agreement, publications, leaflets etc)?
Define how the system is used and identify anything that may impact on the safety of the installation.
Also, clearly define who should be working in your property.
Having worked in the industry for a few years I have researched the Competent Person Schemes and other schemes and association in our industry to see which provides the best cover when considering risk mitigation. There is an organisation that operates a Qualifying Supervisor model, this model doesn’t work and is being abused throughout the industry. We rely on the QS to check and confirm the work that company has done is correct yet we have companies with one QS and 15 to 20 sparks. It would be physically impossible for that one QS to check everything, therefore, the risk is greater. The other Competent Person Schemes offer Individual Accountability as each electrician is assessed rather than one person. These models work much more for the Social Housing sector (and others really).
A final point is a Licence to Practice register which should be built into procurement strategies etc., any large scheme should have this built into the specification as it forces those electricians to register their competence which ultimately provides that warm feeling for you as a client that all work is being carried out by someone who is actually competent as opposed to being managed by someone who is competent.
The above is only my opinion (I say that but I think everyone I talk to is on the same page as me).
Most Social Housing providers I have met have teams responsible for ensuring safety and compliance. In my view, the frequency of inspection does not need to change dramatically from where you were a couple of years ago. The industry needs to do more to communicate with our sector and allow us into the forums and committees that make the rules and regulations. The barriers are up at the moment which will inevitably push the sector to make the changes anyway and force those organisations standing in front of us to move anyway.
If anyone wants to discuss the content of this article in more detail please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org