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Confusion exposes millions to serious electrical dangers

As the number of people becoming landlords soars, and 13% of UK adults are considering leasing out a property in the near future¹, new research from the Electrical Safety Council (ESC) has found that some misunderstandings between landlords and tenants over responsibilities for safety are in fact exposing millions of people to electrical dangers.

Image courtesy of: David Fowler /

Electricity kills at least one person every week in the home and almost 1,000 are seriously injured every day. Electricity causes around 20,0002 fires a year; almost half of all accidental UK house fires. The ESC has found that of all the people receiving an electric shock3, private tenants are disproportionately affected; 16% of the UK population living in private rented properties4 accounting for 20% of UK adults receiving an electric shock.

The ESC is concerned that the rise in inexperienced landlords – many of whom are finding it easier to rent out their property than sell it – will further compromise safety. More than one fifth of all private tenants (21%) already report concerns with the electrical safety in their home and three quarters of private tenants (75%) can’t recall discussing electrical safety with their landlord5.

The ESC’s research also found that landlords and tenants are confused about their responsibilities whereby three in ten landlords and two-fifths of renters do not know who is responsible for electrical safety in their rented properties (29% and 40% respectively).

By law, landlords must ensure electrical installations and wiring are maintained in a safe condition throughout the tenancy6. Tenants should feel obliged to flag electrical problems as soon as they appear, as well as maintain any electrical items they bring into the house. The consequences for not understanding obligations can be serious. If a landlord is found to be negligent over electrical safety it can lead to prosecution, with a fine of up to £5,000 on each count, or even imprisonment. This may come as a shock to the 38% of landlords who don’t believe there are any penalties for failing to maintain safety.

In response to the statistics, the ESC has produced a simple guide for landlords outlining how to ensure the electrical safety of a property, available free at:

One of the key recommendations is that landlords should download the ESC’s free Home Electrical Safety Checks Smartphone app, which allows anyone to do a quick visual check to ensure a property is electrically safe. The app highlights potential dangers in each room and explains how to resolve simple problems or where they should be flagged to an electrician. The app can also be used by tenants to flag issues to landlords with confidence. Whilst no legislation exists for tenants relating to electrical safety, if they are complacent to the issues it could result in a serious injury or death.

Anneke Rousseau, Head of Communications at ESC, said: “It is important that all landlords understand their obligations and ensure the safety of their tenants. Part of the confusion may arise from the fact that landlords are legally responsible for an annual gas safety check but it is not a legal requirement for electrical safety. And so we are encouraging landlords and tenants to start talking more openly with each other about this vital safety issue.”

The ESC is also calling on landlords to ensure that there is adequate RCD protection in all of their properties as just under half of UK households (49%) have adequate RCD protection and the number drops to just 30% for private tenants.

A Residual Current Device (RCD) is a life-saving device that protects against dangerous electric shock and reduces the risk of electrical fires. Plug-in RCDs should be used if there is no RCD in the fusebox.

Richard Price, Director of Operations, National Landlords Association, said: “Landlords have an obligation to provide safe accommodation and compliance with electrical safety regulations helps to achieve that. The NLA welcomes these guidelines from the Electrical Safety Council, spelling out how landlords can make their properties safe for tenants and reduce electrical accidents. Tenants also need to be encouraged not to alter the installation, and to raise any safety issues with their landlord immediately, so they can be addressed as promptly as possible.”

[1] 13% replied ‘yes’ to ‘Are you planning on renting out a property to tenants now or in the near future?’

[2] CLG fire statistics 2007

[3] 2.5 million people receive a mains voltage electric shock every year (MORI 2011)

[4] English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Housing Surveys

[5] When asked ‘Thinking again about your last privately rented accommodation to what extent did you ever discuss electrical safety with your landlord for this property when you moved in?’, 56% of renters answered ‘Electrical safety was not discussed’ and a further 19% answered ‘Don’t know / can’t remember’.

[6] The Landlords and Tenants Act 1985. Further guidance in the Housing and Tenants Act 2004

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