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Electrical Safety First backs proposed amendments to Building Safety Bill

20 January 2022

ON WEDNESDAY 19 January in the House of Commons, Andy Slaughter (the Labour Party’s MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Solicitor General) tabled proposed amendments to the Building Safety Bill that would see mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks introduced for both the social rented units and leaseholder units within a given high-rise residential building. The move has been strongly supported by Electrical Safety First, the campaigning charity that aims to reduce deaths and injuries caused by electrical issues in UK homes.

Speaking during the third reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, Slaughter observed: “There is not an issue before this House that causes me as much concern as does protecting residents living in high-rise blocks from the risk of fire. That has been the case since August 2016 when there was a very serious fire at Shepherd’s Court in my own constituency. A full evacuation of an 18-storey block was required. Then, ten months later, we had the fire at Grenfell Tower, the absolute horror of which stays with me every day.”

Proposed clauses

Specifically, Slaughter has proposed to move two clauses, the first of which relates to the: “Duty of social landlords to undertake electrical safety inspections”.

(1) A social landlord of a residential dwelling in a high-rise building must:

(a) hold a valid Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) for that dwelling (b) provide to the tenant of the dwelling, including any new such tenant (i) a copy of that EICR and (ii) a document explaining the provisions of this Act (c) handle any valid complaint about the safety of the electrical installations of the dwelling in accordance with sub-section (5).

(2) A person who fails to comply with a duty under sub-section (1) commits an offence.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine.

(4) A complaint is valid if (a) it relates to the safety of the electrical installations of the dwelling (b) it is made in writing by, or on behalf of, the tenant of the dwelling (c) it is not frivolous or vexatious.

(5) The landlord must investigate any valid complaint within 28 days of receiving that complaint.

(6) If such an investigation shows that the electrical installations are unsafe, the landlord must rectify the situation using a qualified and competent person within 28 days of the completion of the investigation.

(7) If the landlord believes that a complaint is not valid they must write to the tenant within 28 days of receiving that complaint explaining why they do not think it is valid.

(8) In this section, a “valid Electrical Installation Condition Report” (a) is dated within the last five years (b) covers the whole fixed electrical installation of the dwelling (c) has a satisfactory outcome (d) was completed by a qualified and competent person (e) is based on the model forms in BS 7671 or equivalent. “Social landlord has the same meaning as in Section 219 of the Housing Act 1996.”

Essentially, this new clause requires social landlords to ensure the safety of electrical installations in high rise buildings and is intended to reduce risk of spread of fires between flats.

The second clause centres on the: “Duty of leaseholders to undertake electrical safety inspections.

(1) A leaseholder of a residential dwelling in a high-rise building must (a) hold a valid Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) for that dwelling (b) provide a copy of that EICR to a person specified by the Secretary of State.

(2) A person who fails to comply with sub-section (1) shall (a) initially receive a written request from the specified person to provide the EICR (b) if he or she fails to comply with such a written request, be liable to a civil penalty.

(3) The Secretary of State shall, by regulations, nominate who the specified person shall be.

(4) In this section a “valid Electrical Installation Condition Report” (a) is dated within the last five years (b) covers the whole fixed electrical installation of the dwelling (c) has a satisfactory outcome (d) was completed by a qualified and competent person (e) is based on the model forms in BS 7671 or equivalent.”

Identification of many faults

Slaughter noted: “For 72 people to lose their lives [at Grenfell Tower] in those circumstances is just so appalling that we cannot spend enough time, or do enough, to ensure that such a scenario never happens again, yet we have had other serious fires since that time.”

He continued: “Grenfell led to the identifying of many faults, including external cladding, poor management, poor construction and maintenance, and the people who live in social housing in particular not being taken notice of. It also made us look at the whole issue of fire safety, which is what the Bill purports to do, and in that way Grenfell opened the door on many other issues as well.”

According to Slaughter, the Building Safety Bill as it stands isn’t going to resolve all of the issues involved. “The Government’s approach has been piecemeal. It’s the proverbial Swiss cheese, still full of holes, and there’s a great lack of clarity.”

The MP proceeded to relate “non-exhaustive” list of the issues that he either still cannot comprehend or knows not to have been properly covered in the Building Safety Bill to date.

“The issue has been raised several times, including today, of non-cladding defects in buildings above 11 metres in height. I’m not clear whether these will all be covered, yet all of these issues represent clear and present dangers of fire and fire spread. What about tall buildings that are not specifically residential, such as hospitals and hotels, but still pose risk to people, including those vulnerable people who sleep in them? What about buildings below 11 metres, which, either because they are of a particular construction or because of their use – for example, care homes and schools – also pose risk? We have heard nothing of that, either.”

Planning applications

Apsana Begum (the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse) and Bob Blackman (Conservative MP for Harrow East) have spoken of the fact that, every day, planning applications are going forward that don’t comply with Best Practice.

On that particular point, Slaughter commented: “We have heard the extreme example of blocks over 50 storeys tall that have a single staircase. What about the issue of ‘Stay Put’ evacuation policies? What about alarm systems? What about sprinkler systems? What about ensuring, as I’ve mentioned in dealing with electrical safety matters in particular, that all dwellings in a high-rise block are dealt with equally? Those are all pregnant questions, which I do not see being answered in the Building Safety Bill at all.”

Slaughter went on to state: “Until we start to deal with this issue comprehensively, the Bill will only begin to scratch at a real problem. Yes, it is a real problem. I do not say it-s a party political problem. It has developed over many decades. I think we are all shocked to find out that building standards are so low in this country, but now we know we have to do something.”

In conclusion, Slaughter said “I cannot sleep easily at night knowing that my constituents cannot sleep easily at night because the risk posed to them of, at worst, a repetition of Grenfell Tower, or of something less dramatic, but nevertheless problematic, is still there and has not been addressed by the Government over the last five years.”

Unique risks

Commenting on the Building Safety Bill (report stage) and amendments tabled by Andy Slaughter MP to introduce five-yearly electrical safety checks for social tenants and leaseholders in high-rise residential suildings, Lesley Rudd (CEO of Electrical Safety First) explained: “Those living in high-rise buildings face unique risks and it’s essential this Bill addresses them adequately. We have become all-too-familiar with how devastating electrical fires in tower blocks can be and it’s a matter of urgency that all homes within a block are subject to the same protections, regardless of tenure type.”

Rudd added: “We urge MPs to support mandatory electrical safety checks as part of this Bill so that people and their properties can be kept safe and secure from the devastation that electrical fires in high-rise buildings can cause.”

Electrical Safety First championed the introduction of mandatory electrical safety checks in the private rental sector, which the Government then implemented in 2020. Now, it’s a legal requirement in England for private landlords of rented homes to have all electrical installations checked at least once every five years.

The Grenfell Tower blaze as well as the fires at Shepherds Court Tower, Lakanal House and the recent fire in New Providence Wharf in East London are all thought to have been caused by electrical issues.

 
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