Skip to main content

Domestic Premises (Electrical Safety Certificate) Bill [HL]

Volume 823: debated on Friday 15 July 2022

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, the Bill is a useful prelude to the following Healthy Homes Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, which I fully support. In recent months—not least through amendments to the then Building Safety Bill—I have sought to introduce measures to improve electrical safety in our homes. I am grateful for the support I have received from Electrical Safety First and, especially, Mr Ron Bailey.

The tragic Grenfell Tower fire was started by a faulty electrical appliance. Sadly, there are many other examples of fires started in this way, which lead to loss of life and damage to property and have significant financial consequences. As well as faulty appliances, numerous fires are caused by faulty electrical installations in our homes, with similar results. Electrical Safety First estimates, using Home Office data, that over the last five years approximately five fires a day in England and one fire a day in Wales have been caused by faulty electrical installations. In total, that is six fires a day and well over 2,000 fires every year caused by faulty electrical installations—some with severe, and at times fatal, consequences for the occupants.

I am pleased that action is already being taken. Dwellings in the private rented sector in England are already required to have their electrical installations checked every five years. During the passage of the Building Safety Bill, I proposed that the same should apply in the social rented sector. After a slight hesitation, the Government agreed and the requirement for five-yearly checks in socially rented properties forms part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill currently before Parliament. Action is being taken in Wales too; from December, similar electrical installation checks will be required for all rented homes.

This leaves the owner-occupied sector, where nothing is currently planned despite it being the largest form of tenure and the one in which the largest number of vulnerable people live—those aged 65 and over, who are most susceptible to electrical risk. Overall, 17 million households in England and Wales are living in properties whose electrical installations are subject to no existing or planned mandated periodic checks. That is where this Bill fits. It is intended to fill this regulatory gap. However, certainly at this stage, it appears unrealistic to introduce measures to require five-yearly checks. Unlike in the rented sectors, they would be very difficult to enforce. Instead, the Bill has an easily enforceable approach centred on the time when a property changes ownership.

As covered in Clause 1, the Bill requires the provision of an electrical installation condition report or an electrical installation certificate at the point of sale by the seller or, if deceased, someone acting on their behalf—rather like the seller currently has to provide an energy performance certificate at the point of sale. An agent selling the property would then have to ensure that there is an EICR just as they have to ensure that there is an EPC. Clause 2 specifies exemptions to that requirement: where properties are being sold for demolition or where they have been rewired in the last six months. Clause 3 defines the terms used in the Bill and Clause 4 enables the Secretary of State to make the necessary regulations applying to England and Wales, subject to the power of the Welsh Parliament to nullify those regulations regarding Wales.

The Bill’s provisions have widespread support from, among others, Electrical Safety First, organisations that oversee and regulate domestic electrical work, and the Electrical Safety Roundtable, whose numerous participants range from the Local Authority Building Council and the London Fire Brigade to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and estate agents such as Savills. Many owner-occupiers also want stronger measures in this area. A March 2022 survey by YouGov for Electrical Safety First found that over two-thirds of homeowners in England and Wales stated that they would strongly support being required to complete regular electrical safety checks on their electrical installations.

The Government should also welcome the Bill. As the Minister considers how he will respond, he may wish to reflect that, in the year ending September 2021, there were 954,000 house sales in England and 48,000 in Wales. If this legislation had already been enacted, we could have ensured that an extra million properties were electrically safe. Significantly, it would also help the Government honour a very clear commitment. Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt called for a complete overhaul of aspects of the building regulation regime. Lots has already happened or is in progress; the former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, said that some of these measures were

“unapologetically ambitious, creating a world-class building safety regulatory regime that holds all to the same high standard.”—[Official Report, 2/2/22; col. 916.]

If all housing tenures—privately rented, socially rented and owner-occupied—are to be at the same high standard of electrical safety, this simple and widely supported Bill provides the missing bit of the jigsaw. I hope it will have the Minister’s and the Government’s support. I look forward to his response and beg to move.

My Lords, the Bill is greatly welcome, although I confess that it is not a subject that weighs heavily on my personal work agenda. It was with that in mind that I sought the view of my son, who is the electrical contracts manager for a company that operates throughout central London. He told me this:

“I welcome the objectives of the bill and following on from the earlier associated changes in the private residential sector believe this will be of huge benefit to the safety of electrical installations across the country. There is however one aspect of the bill which I think should be considered carefully: that is the home buyer’s expectation and understanding of the electrical safety report.

Unlike a private residential landlord who is simply looking for a report stating the installation is ‘safe’ or ‘satisfactory’, a property buyer is looking for information that will inform a financial transaction. Simply stating the installation is ‘satisfactory’ does not answer questions like: How long before the installation needs rewiring? Is it cost effective to renovate the property without rewiring? Should I consider the cost of a rewire in the offer price?

The sponsors of this Bill may say that these aren’t relevant and that the main objective is electrical safety. I would advise not to overlook these issues. These are real questions electrical contractors will be confronted with should the bill pass into legislation.

It is important that potential buyers don’t over-interpret the ‘satisfactory’ certificate to mean the installation will last for years to come where the report does not specifically say so.

During my time in the industry, I have advised clients how to avoid any ‘over-interpretation’ of the results, but on many occasions, I have still been contacted by new homeowners who had instructed other contractors and simply couldn’t understand why they had received a ‘satisfactory’ certificate for an installation they were later told should be rewired.

Am I right to worry, that under the proposed rules, where it is a vendor instructing a contractor to carry out an EICR, that the current ‘over-interpretation’ could then be perceived as the vendor intentionally misleading the buyer?

This confusion can be avoided, but this may need a change in the way an EICR is carried out. It will require additional guidance to consumers (both vendors and buyers) and additional guidance and training to contractors.

To highlight the dilemma, I will leave you with the simple analogy of a vehicle MOT.

The MOT confirms the vehicle is safe to be on the road. But it doesn’t tell you how long the engine will last; if the timing belt needs replacing; or if the clutch is shot. Most people buying a car know this and don’t overinterpret the MOT ‘pass’. However, the public are not as savvy when it comes to EICRs. Some additional support will be required.”

I hope the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Foster, will take my son’s comments into account as the Bill progresses through the House. He is on the tools, knows what he is talking about, and clearly understands the implications of all this.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Fire Safety and Rescue. I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Foster on the Bill, but also on his long-standing campaign to achieve better electrical safety, whether in the recent Building Safety Bill or many questions about ensuring electrical safety, including appliances—not just about installations, which is what this Bill covers. I also thank the House of Lords Library for its helpful briefing.

The Bill looks at one very specific problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, has outlined, at the moment in the sale of domestic properties there is an anomaly: any gas supply or gas fixtures will have been certified as having been safely installed and checked because of the five-year rule. This must be available to prospective purchasers and their conveyancers in the sale pack. The Bill remedies that, in a very neat way, for electrical installations.

One of the worrying aspects of modern fires in high-rise buildings is the number caused by faulty or defective installations. Home Office data shows that this number is growing, whether in the cables themselves or shoddy work. Electrical Safety First’s data—which the noble Lord, Lord Foster, cited—stated that there are five electrical fires a day in domestic properties, and that should be a wake-up call to us all. It should worry not just those interested in preventing fires, but also the insurance industry, our health service and the public, who have a right to know whether their properties are safe. Health services in particular have to pick up the pieces after people have been hurt in fires, whether receiving burns or—much more common—inhaling smoke, the long-term effects of which can affect people’s ability to work and they may be off sick for quite a long time. So the invisible cost to electrical installation fires has to be addressed too.

There is also a particular problem in flats and apartments, where electrical work may have been carried out by a contractor on behalf of a freeholder, and party walls—intended to give time to protect other parts of the building through compartmentation—have been breached, meaning that fire can spread much faster than it should. Grenfell Tower and many other fires in flats are now demonstrating that quite often compartmentation is breached. Many blocks are part privately owned, and part rented. The good thing about the Bill is that any work a freeholder carried out would presumably—I will perhaps check with my noble friend Lord Foster—also have to ensure that work in any private flats owned in that particular block would have to be similarly certified. That would give reassurance that compartmentation would not be breached because there would a checkpoint at the time that work happens.

The solution of my noble friend Lord Foster in the Bill is very neat. He is right that five-yearly certifications—currently required for gas installations, such as boilers—just would not work for electrical installations. But a certificate confirming that the original installation was safe—and recent enough to show that it is still safe—that was required to be shown at the time of the sale of the home to the new buyer and their conveyancer will provide the missing link that is needed.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raises an interesting issue about the consequences of the Bill. I am less concerned about the over-expectation of home buyers because I think it will force buyers to seek advice as part of their fabric survey and be encouraged to consider work where necessary. Electrical wiring, for example, certainly lasts for up to 20 years and if you are buying something that was installed 15 years ago, then any survey should say that you should be considering ensuring that you renew or replace during your ownership of the property. I also think it will help the electrical industry too. Having the five-year certification has certainly transformed the gas industry, and it will help good and responsible electrical installers— such as the son of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—to know that there will be less opportunity for people who might try to skimp on the safety aspects.

During the recent passage of the Building Safety Act, we heard that many of the fires in high-rise blocks were started by faulty or defective electrical goods or by faulty electrical installation. This Bill brings certification of electrical installations into line with gas installations. It is long overdue, and I really hope that the Government will give it their support so that we can reduce the number of fires in private homes—whether houses or flats—and give assurances to home buyers that the invisible electrical installations they are purchasing with their home are safe.

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, on his excellent Bill, which I am delighted to be speaking in support of today. I also thank the charity Electrical Safety First and the other campaigners who have highlighted for many years the problems we have with electrical safety in this country and how important it is to get this right. There have been improvements in recent years, but this would be another step forward. I hope that we get a good response from the Government and can actually move this forward. I very much support the Bill. If your Lordships support it, I hope that we will see no amendments, because we need to ensure that it gets a speedy passage through this House and is sent to the other place quickly. The best way to do that is not to amend it and to let it move on; I hope that that happens.

I start my remarks with the experience of somebody I will call Sean. He was a first-time buyer who stepped on to the property ladder. A few months after moving into his property, his fuse box started to spark. Once he managed to switch it off, he got an electrician round. In the end, he had to fork out over £10,000 to repair the damage to his property and rewire the entire house. He cannot help thinking—and I agree with him—that this all could have been avoided if he had got an electrical installation condition report done before he bought his home. Of all the residential sales in recent years, particularly in 2017-18, only 37% of those who bought properties undertook an electrical safety check beforehand. One in five of those buyers believed that the checks would be in other survey reports that are done when you buy a home, and a further third of buyers soon found electrical safety problems that they were not aware of before purchasing their property.

Electrical safety checks on domestic properties are slipping through the cracks. This Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, provides a sealing device for those gaping holes in our legislation. The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting recommends inspections of all domestic wiring installations every 10 years or when there is a change of ownership, whichever is first. As it stands, those selling properties are under no legal obligation to carry out thorough electrical safety checks before putting their properties on the market. It is down to the buyer to ensure that the property they wish to purchase is electrically safe. But should we rely on the buyer to carry out these checks? We cannot be sure that the buyer knows that they should do this—from the example I gave, we can see that they do not. This surely cannot be right.

As the evidence makes apparent, the implementation of this Bill is already far too late. The achievement of stepping on to the property ladder can be ruined by poor electrical safety. Putting the onus on those who sell their property to provide electrical safety certificates would save buyers thousands of pounds. But, of course, this is not merely about money. According to the calculations of Electrical Safety First, over 19,000 accidental domestic fires in the UK are of electrical origin. What is more, there are around 70 fatalities and 350,000 serious injuries in the UK due to electricity each year. As this charity puts it,

“you could be saving more than just money by getting the electrics checked.”

This is not just a matter of saving money; it is a matter of saving lives. We should treat this Bill with the urgency it deserves.

The director-general of the Electrical Safety Council has given ample warning of the way in which electrical ignorance plagues our population. In his words,

“Even though we are using more electrical products than ever before, there is a worrying gap between the public’s perception of electrical danger and the reality, with people making simple yet potentially fatal errors that can be easily prevented”.

We cannot continue to rely on buyers to carry out electrical safety checks before buying a property. Let us not wait for another warning from electrical safety experts. Let us not wait for another Grenfell Tower tragedy. We should support this Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, today. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I hope that it is a supportive one.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, just said, this Bill is a step forward, and I am pleased to support it. I think my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath and other speakers have made a very convincing case, which I hope the Government will support. I find the Bill timely, and it offers an effective and inexpensive solution to a serious problem. Since an energy efficiency rating is required when selling a property, it is hard to see why there should not also be evidence of the safety of the electrical installation itself.

I have previously spoken several times in debates on electrical safety matters, both of appliances and installations. It is good to see legislation in operation in the private rented sector with checks every five years, and I hope it will be followed in the social housing sector and that the regulations suggested in the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will be triggered to include both the social housing sector generally and the owner-occupied leasehold properties in social housing blocks.

It is interesting that a fifth of those who have a survey done of a property they are planning to buy already assume that the survey includes the electrical installation and so do not get a separate one. There are too many examples of home buyers discovering problems with the electrical installations in their property after they move in. I find it very reasonable for those purchasing a property to be supplied automatically with a valid electrical installation condition report or an installation certificate. The costs would be low; it is estimated to be between £125 and £300 per property. It may result in our needing more electricians, but high-skilled jobs would then be generated.

To conclude, there is a regulatory gap affecting 17 million homes, to which this Bill is a simple and effective solution. The Government should welcome it, and I hope that they will.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, on introducing this Bill today and on his relentless and continuous campaigning on electrical safety. The Bill would require an electrical installation condition report, EICR, or electrical installation certificate, EIC, to be made available to prospective buyers of domestic properties in England and Wales. This has been brought forward following concerns, raised by the charity Electrical Safety First, at the levels of home fires resulting from home appliances. According to its data, 53.4% of all accidental domestic fires in England had an electrical origin in 2018-19.

At present, only 37% of residential sales include an EICR, while 20% of home buyers wrongly believed the electrics were checked during the process. This new legislation would reflect existing obligations on vendors to provide energy performance information, in addition to existing legislation which requires landlords to inspect electrical installations in properties. It is important to note that it would not even force the seller to undertake repair works; instead, it focuses on transparency by providing buyers with accurate information.

Labour supports the Bill because we want to see families given greater security at home, while also wanting first-time buyers to feel confident when joining the housing ladder. More broadly, Labour also wants to see the Government be far more ambitious in their attempts to improve building safety, including on combustibles. In the past four years, at least 70 schools and 25 hospitals and care homes have been built using potentially dangerous products.

There is clearly popular support for this move, with research by Electrical Safety First showing that nearly-two thirds of home owners want a requirement for regular electrical safety checks in their properties. Meanwhile, NICEIC, NAPIT and the Electrical Safety Roundtable have also spoken of their support for the Bill. As the noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Shipley, mentioned, 17 million households have no regulation of the safety of electrical installations. That is a horrifying figure.

In conclusion, I echo my noble friend Lord Kennedy’s comments about making sure that the Bill has a speedy passage. This has taken far too long, and it is about saving lives. Without this legislation, home owners will continue to be placed at risk every day. I look forward to the response from the Minister, and I hope it will be positive.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for drawing our attention to the important subject of electrical safety in the home, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Khan, that people deserve to feel safe in their homes, and government has played an important role in ensuring that this remains the case. However, we must make sure that when we legislate, it is proportionate, necessary and not overly burdensome. We must avoid adding further blockers to the already complex process of buying and selling a home.

We take this matter seriously and have already taken significant action to introduce regulation and guidance where it is practical and proportionate to do so. The provisions in the Building Safety Act 2022, in addition to our recently published consultation about electrical safety in social rented homes, show that we are taking action. I will set out the progress we have made and our plans to go further, so that we can see why the powers that the noble Lord proposes in his Bill are not necessary.

First, we have already put key regulations in place to secure tenants’ domestic electrical safety. Our building regulations set out robust safety standards that must be met when electrical installation work is carried out in the home, regardless of whether it is rented or owned by the occupier. Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, all private and social landlords must make sure that electrical equipment and installations are in good working order. We have already taken this further. In 2020, we introduced a regulatory requirement for all electrical installations in private rented properties to be inspected every five years, with the electrical condition report provided.

Secondly, we are taking forward further measures for social rented properties, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned. We are currently consulting on electrical safety in social housing and will use the information we gather to consider how best to introduce regulation in this area. This includes legislating for electrical safety checks and requiring landlords to provide residents with electrical installation condition reports to show that domestic electrical systems have been checked and are safe. At this point I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his fascinating and informative speech on certification. At the same time, we are seeking evidence better to understand the case for mandating electrical safety checks in owner-occupied leasehold properties in social housing blocks.

Thirdly, we have stipulated in legislation that an assessment must be made of electrical testing in relevant buildings. Our Building Safety Act 2022 requires the new building safety regulator to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of testing, inspecting and reporting on the condition of electrical installations in relevant buildings. This assessment must be carried out within three years, and we would not want to pre-empt the outcome of that work.

Furthermore, we have concerns that mandating further electrical safety checks at the point of marketing homes may cause capacity problems in the industry, which in turn could delay the buying and selling of homes. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the fact that we need more electricians. As he said, it will take time to build up a cadre of skilled electricians to carry out an increased volume of EICRs. This is discussed in the social housing consultation. As I said, qualified electricians are needed to issue electrical safety certificates and, as noble Lords mentioned, there are currently personnel issues in the industry caused by an ageing workforce and recruitment problems.

To require all homes to have electrical safety certificates before they can be sold would delay homes being listed for sale, preventing owners from moving and buyers from buying their dream home. It would prolong the home buying and selling process, which is frustrating and costly for everyone involved, not least at a time when the property industry is already experiencing a shortage of properties for sale.

We are already looking at where further regulation is required in the home buying and selling process, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Foster, Lord Shipley and Lord Kennedy. In the Levelling Up White Paper we committed to working with industry to make sure that buyers have access to the critical material information they need to know to decide if a property is for them.

We are refreshing our home buying and selling strategy to support this work and to meet our objective of creating a fair housing system that works for everyone. This includes looking at potential legislation to bring forward in the fourth Session. As such, we think it is more appropriate to consider any fundamental procedural change to how homes are bought as part of the wider home buying and selling process.

The Government have a strong record in tackling safety in the home. We are providing £5.1 billion to address fire safety risks caused by unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings and have made great progress in tackling high-rise buildings with the most dangerous form of cladding, such as that on Grenfell, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Some 94% of buildings with this type of cladding are now either remediated or have work under way, and industry will contribute an estimated £5 billion to resolve defects in high-rise buildings. This has been spurred on by continued government pressure, both direct and indirect, which has held building owners to account and compelled them to act. We will continue to make sure that building owners, who are the ones responsible for making sure their buildings are safe, act where necessary.

In a landmark step change, the Building Safety Act 2022 will establish a building safety regulator to improve both the safety and standards of buildings. The Act also paves the way for a new national regulator of construction products, strengthening the regulatory regime for these products. We have updated the fire safety building regulations to improve safety standards for new buildings and have extended our 2018 ban on the use of combustible materials in and on high-rise buildings.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we have moved quite some way in this area, and as I mentioned before, we are looking again at the home buying and selling process. However, we feel that the Bill is unnecessary due to the strides the Government have taken, and we will continue to deliver in the field of electrical safety in the home.

To conclude, the Government will therefore not be supporting the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, at this time.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and thank the vast majority of them for their support. I say to the son of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that he has raised some very interesting issues which I hope we can at least look at in more detail in Committee, if we can get that far.

My noble friend Lady Brinton drew attention, as did I, to the problems caused by faulty electrical appliances. As I said, more work needs to be done on that, not least on electrical appliances bought online, to which the level of security that applies to appliances bought on our high streets does not apply. However, I am grateful for her support, as I am for that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, my noble friend Lord Shipley and the noble Lord, Khan, on the Opposition Front Bench.

I am grateful that the Minister repeated a lot of what I said at the beginning of my speech, saying what the Government have done and what they plan to do. As he said, the Government have moved quite some way. I too said that, and I applaud the Government for the work they have done and the work being planned.

However, the Minister suggested that the Government would support this Bill only if it was “proportionate, necessary and not overburdensome.” I went out of my way to say that it is proportionate, because I do not propose to introduce five-yearly checks but to do it at the simple point of sale of an individual property. On whether it is necessary, I have already given the statistics, backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who drew attention to the way in which this will not only save a vast amount of money but, much more importantly, save lives. That is one of the key reasons why it is so important. It is certainly not overburdensome. If it is so overburdensome to require some form of certification for something or other at the point of sale of a property, why have the Government introduced that very approach by the requirement of an energy performance certificate at the point of sale? I have sought to mirror what the Government have already done in respect of energy efficiency of properties in relation to the security of energy installations.

The Minister suggested that some measures were taking place in respect of owner-occupied premises, and he is absolutely right. But I say gently to him that that applies only to those in high-rise premises, which is not the vast majority of the 17 million owner-occupied properties in this country. That remains a huge gap in the current regulatory regime. He talked about his concern about this being overburdensome. The cost of the checks I am proposing would be between £150 and £250. As a proportion of the cost of selling a property, that is a very small amount indeed.

Nevertheless, I hear what the Minister says. I hope that he will agree with at least some of the representative organisations which are supporting the Bill, including those that would be responsible for providing it, the fire services and homeowner organisations. I hope that the rest of the House will be prepared to support the Bill. I commend it to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.