Recharge – a new report on Northern Ireland’s homes, by leading safety charity Electrical Safety First – found private tenants had less protection from electrical risk than in other parts of the UK. It also suggests how annual savings of almost £9million could be made – if electrical hazards in the housing stock were addressed. Currently, electricity is the primary cause of fires in Northern Ireland’s homes.
Electrical Safety First’s report reviewed the level of electrical risk in Northern Ireland’s housing, with a particular focus on the private rented sector (PRS) and vulnerable groups. In recent years, the PRS in Northern Ireland has grown considerably, becoming the second largest housing tenure. It houses a diverse range of people, including an increasing number of low-paid families and disabled and vulnerable people. In fact, there are now twice as many families with children living in private rentals than in social housing.
In England and Scotland, regular, five-yearly electrical safety checks in the PRS are legally required, with Wales expected to shortly follow suit. But private landlords in Northern Ireland have no such requirement, leaving their tenants at greater risk of an electrical fire. Yet annual gas safety checks of PRS properties are legally demanded, despite electricity causing more fires than gas each year (almost 60% of domestic fires in Northern Ireland arise from electricity).
The situation in relation to social housing is also ambiguous. There are no specific legal requirements for regular electrical checks in social rented housing. As best practice, the Housing Executive undertakes five-yearly electrical checks on their properties and after change of tenant. But it is unclear if housing associations have similar processes in place.
“Tenants in Northern Ireland deserve the same level of protection as those in the rest of the UK”, explains Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First. “Electrical fires in people’s homes can not only cause hundreds of thousands of pounds of property damage, the human cost can be incalculable. And, not surprisingly, the impact on older and vulnerable people is much greater. Like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has an ageing population, so the incidence of illnesses such as dementia will increase. All those with a disability – whether it’s mental or physical – face unique challenges in a fire.”
It’s a view echoed by Janet Hunter, Director at Housing Rights, Northern Ireland’s homelessness and housing charity. “Housing Rights has worked alongside Electrical Safety First for some time in calling for improvements to the housing conditions of people in Northern Ireland. The risk from electrical fires, for those who are vulnerable due to age and health and those who are living in unsafe accommodation, is inevitably increased.”
Electrical Safety First’s Recharge report offers a series of recommendations to enhance electrical safety for all tenures. However, given that the Department for Communities is planning to introduce legislation to improve the safety, security and quality, of the PRS, the report’s publication is timely.
“We are calling for forthcoming legislation to include a requirement for mandatory electrical safety checks, which are a safety essential”, adds Lesley. “This was unanimously supported by various stakeholders – including landlord groups – in previous consultations and our proposals are fair and reasonable. The average cost of an electrical safety inspection is between £150-200. Over a five-year period, this equates to as little as £30 a year. We believe it’s a small price to pay to protect people and properties”.