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The importance of RCDs in the PRS

There is an untapped market available for electricians, according to the Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association.


The private rented sector (PRS) is unique in British housing with some 70 laws and regulations controlling how, when, who and what can be lived in. Try telling an owner-occupier that their house ought to have an electrical safety test every five years, or because three unrelated people live in the property you might need planning permission. In some, cases, especially in university towns and cities, that latest rule is becoming a fact.

They are just examples that demonstrate the market mindset and the degree of protection for the UK’s eight million-plus tenants whose homes are provided by 1.2 million landlords. Despite the scare stories, the vast majority of these homes are safe and the tenants are satisfied with the arrangement. In fact, according to the CLG’s English Housing Survey, 84% of tenants are satisfied with their tenancies, which is slightly more than those in social housing.

So what is the PRS? Totalling 4.5 million properties in the UK, 40% date from before 1919, which means that some pre-war examples may still have lead sheathed cable and twisted-textile cable for pendants. Even those that have been re-wired in the last two or three decades may have under-rated mains fuses, while there are still pickings to be had replacing fused consumer units with MCBs and RCDs.

Only one-in-eight PRS properties was built after 1990, so from an electrical point of view the remainder presents a market in need. And unlike the owner-occupier sector, PRS homes tend to suffer more wear and tear. There is a Housing Health and Safety Rating System, HHSRS, which among its 29 categories deals with electrical risks from electrical fires, burns and scalds, but it’s as much about common sense as pedantic regulation.

So how does electrical safety impact on the PRS? There is a recommendation that all rental properties should have an electrical inspection by a competent electrician every five years. The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985 says there is a duty of repair, but if the property is a licensable HMO – a house in multiple occupation – such as a house with three or more storeys shared by five or more people, it is a legal requirement to provide a certificate.

Few tenants know that, and even fewer ask to see an electrical certificate when they rent. But just like the MoT on a car or van, the certificate is only truly valid on the day of the inspection.

A good landlord will make periodic inspections depending on the type of tenants and the landlord’s experience about how well a tenant is looking after the place. As the student market is one of the biggest users of electrical capacity, more sockets are better when letting to young people. A three monthly visual check around the property can detect broken or over-loaded outlets, while the area around the consumer unit provides much needed storage space, with the potential fire risk caused by over-heating.

PAT testing is a moot point. Few landlords now provide kettles or small appliances. But washing machines, refrigerators, ovens and hobs all require maintenance, as do the interlinked smoke and heat detectors that should be in most houses.

Showers are another high risk item. Combi-boilers are frequently used as a source of hot water but when a property has more than one shower, an electric unit is the usual solution because a combi can’t feed two showers.

Modern lighting brings secondary risks. Halogen downlighters emit considerable heat and protection is vital within floor voids and especially into loft spaces.

Although it is not a landlord’s responsibility, it is amazing what can be discovered in bathrooms. Hairdryers, chargers and portable electric heaters on long extensions can all find their way into this area, making the installation of RCD`s not just good practice, but good protection against compensation claims too.

The market opportunity for qualified electricians in the PRS is to provide sound advice, knowing that landlords will need an electrician far more often than an owner-occupier.

Alan Ward is Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association

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