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Private Rented Sector: Electrical Safety Checks

Volume 787: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce mandatory electrical safety checks in the private rented sector.

My Lords, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requires landlords to keep electrical installations in repair and proper working order. Local authorities have powers to ensure that properties are free of potentially dangerous hazards. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 includes the power for electrical safety standards in the private rented sector to be set in secondary legislation. An independent working group has recommended mandating five-yearly electrical installation checks. We welcome its report and will consult on its recommendations in the new year. However, following the Grenfell tragedy, we must take account of the conclusions of the Hackitt review of building regulations and fire safety, which are expected in spring next year.

I thank the Minister for that reply, which sums up exactly what the problem is. Electrical safety checks are mandatory every five years in Scotland and are due to be brought in in Wales. In England, the enabling power that the Minister mentions, which was passed in May 2016, has not been enacted despite the working group that he mentions recommending that it should be. The further consultation that he mentioned, which is a consultation on the consultation that has already happened, has to take account of the independent review of Grenfell, a report that will not be published until spring 2018, two years after the enabling power was passed. This is unnecessary, and private renters in England will rightly see it as the Government dragging their feet. Does the Minister think there is a particular problem in England that warrants such a delay to this common-sense proposal?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is wrong on a couple of things. First, we are not waiting for the Grenfell review, which is a quite separate inquiry; we are waiting for the Hackitt review and are about to receive the interim report before Christmas. That is the first point to make. That does not stop progress being made, and we are looking at this in the department. I am sure that the noble Baroness and others agree that it would not be sensible to have immediate action on these recommendations without taking account of the important work being done by Dame Judith Hackitt, who is well qualified in this field, and seeing what her recommendations are.

My Lords, to clarify, has the Minister just said that the Government are waiting for the interim report of the Hackitt review or the final conclusions? That would make a significant difference, I hope, to the Government’s decision. Given that there is further delay, for good or bad reasons, are they also considering introducing mandatory electrical safety checks in the social rented sector, especially given the sad events at Grenfell Tower?

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the latter point first. The enabling legislation, the Housing and Planning Act, does not enable us to do anything in relation to the social rented sector—only the private rented sector. The noble Lord will be aware that we are coming up with a Green Paper on social rented sector housing shortly, and that will be the opportunity to look at that particular question. The action that we are proposing will await the final report of the Hackitt review, which is due in the spring. However, given that there is an interim report, work will be able to start on the basis of it. Indeed, we have been looking at and welcome the recommendations. It is not that we are doing nothing; it is just that it would be sensible, in the light of this important review, to wait to see what Hackitt recommends, rather than do this in a piecemeal way with one piece of legislation and then have to take further action three or four months later.

My Lords, I completely and utterly fail to understand why, given that checks have been a legal requirement in Scotland for many years, they have not been implemented much sooner in England. I declare an interest as a resident of Scotland and having one or two rented properties.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for putting that on the record. This is the very nature of devolution. It should not amaze noble Lords in this House that Scotland and Wales on occasion do things differently in devolved areas. That does not mean that we do not talk and learn lessons. In the DCLG in particular, we have a devolution forum that meets regularly to discuss these issues so that we can learn from each other.

My Lords, I cannot speak for Scotland or Wales, but does the Minister recognise that in England, particularly in university towns and cities, all sorts of properties are in multiple occupation and local authorities—including, I might say, Labour authorities—take no account of what is going on, with blocked flues, gas fires with no exhausts and electrical failures? As we know from the record, many students have died as a consequence of this totally unacceptable situation. What are the Government going to do to address it?

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with some justification about issues primarily of enforcement. Local authorities have powers available to them that they should be exercising. I am not sure whether he was intending to bring in the carbon monoxide situation where, in fact, mortality is very low and there are provisions in relation to enforcement of the regulations on solid fuel. That does not exist at the moment in relation to gas, but a working party is looking at this matter. There is a consultation on it, which started on 7 November.

My Lords, why not make this mandatory on a change of tenancy, as against in guidance, when often landlords are not competent persons as defined in the regulations?

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord is talking about the installation or checking of appliances. Again, this is something on which the Hackitt review will no doubt opine, and we will take account of that when we see the interim and final reports. It is not that we are not intending to do anything; we intend to do something in the round, rather than in a piecemeal fashion, to ensure that the measures are sensible.

My Lords, first I should say what an excellent Question from my noble friend.

I refer the House to my entry in the register of interests. The Minister himself announced from the Dispatch Box on 29 March that the Government were going to introduce this measure in the private rented sector. Undoubtedly, it will save lives. Does he accept the deep frustration by campaigners such as Electrical Safety First at it not moving forward quickly? When we get the report in the spring, it will be two years from when the power was taken. Are any groups or organisations that are opposed to it putting pressure on the Government?

My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Lord on ensuring that this Question was book-ended by the Kennedy family—one at the beginning and one at the end.

I accept that action will be necessary. I think every fair-minded person would see the sense of waiting for the Hackitt review before taking definitive action, but of course action is needed. We welcome the report. We have said that we want to look at the issue in the round in the light of what Dame Judith Hackitt, whom I think everyone welcomed for the review of building regulations and fire safety, says in her full report. It is not that we are not doing anything; we are waiting to see, and I think that most fair-minded people would welcome that.