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Housing: Carbon Monoxide Monitoring

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to inform the public of the new requirements for carbon monoxide monitoring in rented residential properties.

My Lords, while declaring an interest as in the register, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the new requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were published widely, both before and after their commencement. Methods included contact from officials and stakeholders, a £10,000 government social media awareness campaign, leaflets distributed to landlords, press notices, Facebook posts and an awareness campaign run by the Chief Fire Officers Association, which was estimated to have reached more than 8 million people.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I spent an hour and a half this morning in the Library, trying to trace with the staff the public information that is available. They suggested that the thing to do was to go on to the GOV.UK website, which is the official national website. I have pages from it here. The opening page referred me to another document, then to another document and another. There were alternative searches. What it all boiled down to was: if you proposed to rent a property and had no idea, you should ask the landlord. I am, of course, a landlord. I found it impossible when I bought the carbon monoxide monitors to know where I should put them. Now, having studied this all morning, I have discovered that they are only for if you are burning solid fuel. They are not for gas at all. This has not been made clear. I could show her chapter and verse but I do not want to waste the time of the House—

I could show where GOV.UK definitely does not have the answers that people require. Will she update the website?

My Lords, I will not personally update the website but I thank my noble friend for alerting me to the fact that it is not as accessible as it should be. I will take that back. We constantly update the GOV.UK website to make it as up to date and accessible as possible. I mentioned the other matter of solid fuel appliances requiring carbon monoxide alarms during the debate on the relevant SI, but perhaps I could have been clearer about it.

My Lords, it has been several days since the regulations were approved. In the debate on that occasion, I raised the question of the need to inform tenants, as well as landlords, of the new provisions. Will the Minister indicate what efforts have been made to inform tenants, and whether in particular local newspapers, local authority publications and local broadcasters have been asked specifically to target tenants with this information? What steps have been taken to check on the progress made by private landlords in relation to installation?

The noble Lord did, indeed, ask me how tenants would be informed. I think I said at the time that the How to Rent guide would be updated by 1 October to give tenants the full information. It has, in fact, been updated and the information is on page 4 of the guide. I assure the noble Lord that every new tenant will get a copy of the How to Rent guide. In addition, there are social media handles and a Facebook page on the subject.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, despite all this wonderful information on this wonderful government website, a lot of tenants and landlords will not access it, understand it or read it? Are the Government prepared to be more innovative and more holistic in getting this message out to landlords as regards their liabilities and to tenants on what they can expect? I hope that every landlord pays tax. Could not Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tell every landlord what they should be doing in this regard? Does the Minister realise that most students in what we used to call sixth forms will probably be private sector tenants in the near future? Should we not have classes in sixth forms to tell them about their rights?

My Lords, as I have just said, the How to Rent guide will be available to every single new tenant. It was produced on 1 October to capture the student tenants to whom the noble Lord referred. The campaigns that have been run have reached literally millions of people.

My Lords, given the myriad sources of information to which she referred, does my noble friend the Minister think that landlords and, indeed, tenants have an individual responsibility to find out this information? Having let a property as a landlord last month, I assure the House that the information was staring me in the face.

My Lords, who is responsible for enforcing this requirement, and what resources are made available for them to do so?

It is up to the tenant to get in touch with the local authority if the regulations have not been complied with. The landlord will have 28 days to do so, within which time a notice will be issued.

Do the Government agree that we need an ongoing public education campaign about the silent killer that is carbon monoxide? It is generated from all fossil fuels and wood and can occur anywhere at all, irrespective of where people live. People going on holiday are at particular risk because their guard is often down. Will the Government accept my congratulations on having begun to do something about raising awareness of carbon monoxide detection?

The Government certainly accept the congratulations. I also thank the noble Baroness for bringing this up during the SI debate. It certainly is a silent killer. I talked at the time about the first sign that you might be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning being that you had a headache; you might then lie down and the next thing you might be dead. The noble Baroness is quite right.

My Lords, the Minister did not answer the question from my noble friend Lord Beecham about checking progress on this issue. I have a horrible feeling that it will take a tragedy before this is brought to real public attention. There are too many examples, particularly in London, where a subletting is in turn sublet for even shorter periods. I know of a sublet for 90 days which was then further sublet for two to three days at a time. With the deregulation that the Government are promoting on letting, how on earth can these things be properly monitored?

I apologise to the noble Baroness that I did not answer all the noble Lord’s questions. I think I answered two out of three—I cannot always answer all of them. In terms of progress, I hope that I will be able to give him an exact figure and I shall write to him on that. The fact is, looking at it the other way round, 26 lives per year are lost because of carbon monoxide poisoning and that figure alone should be enough to support these regulations.