On Monday 7th September, Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, spoke at the Report Stage of the Fire Safety Bill in the House of Commons. Sir David tabled an amendment which would improve the safety of electrical appliances in rented properties by, amongst other things, ensuring the landlord or owner of the property keeps a register of appliances and checks them regularly for faults.
As chairman for the All-Party Parliamentary Fire and Fire Safety Rescue Group Sir David was pleased to speak about the need to improve the current legislation on the safety of electrical goods in rented properties. Improving the safety of electrical goods is crucial because electricity causes more than 14,000 fires a year, which is almost half of all accidental house fires and, in England, 53% of dwelling fires are caused by an electrical source of ignition.
There are about 4,000 tower blocks in the United Kingdom, and the English housing survey estimates that they contain more than 480,000 individual flats in England alone. Unless every unit in a high-rise building is subject to the same safety regime, everyone in the building can be placed at risk from one single flat. Therefore, any measure to improve electrical safety in multi-occupied buildings can help to protect more than 1 million people.
Sir David started his speech by supporting the Bill and addressing the issue of the source of fires: “I very much support this Bill … That being noted, I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that I believe that if the Government were minded to accept my amendments, that would improve the Bill even further … The responsible person or duty holder for a multi-occupied residential building must manage risk for the structure, external walls, cladding, balconies and windows, but this legislation should also consider the source of fires in the first place. Surely, for goodness’ sake, that is what this legislation should be all about. The purpose of my amendments is to be proactive, and to help prevent fires caused by electrical sources of ignition and ensure that consideration of the safety of electrical appliances is given in this Bill, as they are a key cause of fires in people’s homes”.
Sir David gave details of his amendment with regards to registering electrical appliances and regular checks of those appliances’ safety: “I agree with Electrical Safety First’s assessment that this Bill should do something more to prevent fires from occurring in the first place, so … my amendments would see a responsible person record the presence of white goods, in order to minimise the risks that faulty goods can pose in densely populated buildings—I know that that is a challenge, and I say to my right hon. Friend that I accept the practicalities about it. Keeping a record of the appliances in use would mean that faulty recalled appliances could be removed or repaired—if only that had happened with the Whirlpool appliances. Mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in tower blocks, regardless of tenure, are also included in the amendment. Current regulations mean that privately rented flats are required to have electrical safety checks, but other tenures are not, which has created what I would describe as a tenure lottery of buildings, which often include owner-occupier, privately rented and social housing property”.
New analysis of Government data reveals that nearly a quarter of the accidental electrical fires that occurred in high-rise buildings in the past five years in England were the result of faulty appliances, leads and fuel supplies, which can include electrical wiring in a property. However, not all fires are caused by faulty appliances themselves, but by the misuse of them. Sir David spoke in favour of fire safety education when he said: “Every year, there is a week of educational awareness raising with the public on the proper use of electricity and appliances through the “Fire Kills” campaign. Recent tragic events have demonstrated the fatal risks that electrical accidents and incidents pose to people in their own homes, particularly in high-density housing such as tower blocks. Electrical Safety First has worked to ensure that tenants living in the private rented sector are protected by mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in their properties, which was recently brought into law. Such measures are crucial in bringing down the number of electrical accidents and incidents, and I believe that now is the time to include individual dwellings in tower blocks in that regime, regardless of their tenure”.
To finish, Sir David concluded with: “On the basis that he is listening to people like me, I believe that the Government can improve this Bill through a number of measures that seek to improve electrical safety in UK homes. Amending the Bill provides an opportunity to make immediate differences to the safety of people who live in multi-occupied buildings. Electricity does cause fires, and I believe that the Government need to consider seriously the electrical sources of ignition”.