Written evidence submitted by Electrical Safety First [BSB 053]

1.              Introduction

1.1              Electrical Safety First is the only UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and fires caused by domestic electrical accidents. Electricity causes more than 14,000 house fires a year – almost half of all accidental fires[i]. Every year, thousands of people are injured in their homes due to electrical accidents and incidents, and some tragically lose their lives in fires caused by electricity.


1.2              Many of these fires are preventable and tackling them with appropriate measures has the potential to not only prevent the associated high personal and financial costs, but also reduce the pressure placed upon the emergency services.


1.3              The draft Bill is a welcome step by the Government to improve building safety following the Grenfell Tower tragedy and towards implementing the recommendations in the independent review of building regulations by Dame Judith Hackitt. Whilst Dame Judith’s review did not include specific measures designed to reduce fires caused by electrical sources of ignition - Electrical Safety First believes that the Government has a key opportunity through the Building Safety Bill to have a lasting impact on reducing fires caused by electricity, from faulty electrical products and/or electrical installations.


1.4              We would therefore urge the Committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny of this draft Bill to consider the key cause of many fires in people’s homes – electrical sources of ignition. Your scrutiny of this draft Bill will hopefully improve it to achieve maximum safety for people who live in tower blocks.


2.              Background – Electrical Fires in Dwellings and need for consideration of legislation


2.1              In England, 53% of all electrical dwelling fires are caused by an electrical source of ignition.[ii] Recent tragic events have demonstrated the fatal risk electrical accidents and incidents pose to people in their own homes, particularly in high-density housing such as tower blocks. Whilst other factors accelerated the Grenfell fire, it must be highlighted that the primary cause was most likely to be from a fault in a fridge-freezer[iii] subsequently confirmed by the Grenfell Inquiry: Phase One documentation.[iv]

2.2              In order to help mitigate risks associated with electricity in domestic dwellings, Electrical Safety First has, in addition to its own campaigning activities, worked with Government through the Home Office’s ‘Fire Kills’ campaign, in association with the Fire and Rescue Services throughout the UK. These campaigns help raise awareness, with the public on the causes of electrical fires in UK homes[v] through various communications initiatives and with the involvement of UK politicians. Whilst communication campaigns and education are important - this draft Bill provides an ideal opportunity to look at strengthening electrical safety legislation further. At present, there is a risk the Government will miss an opportunity to further reduce electrical fires through legislative means – and we believe that the finalised Bill must therefore include electrical safety protection measures.

2.3              There are around 4,000 tower blocks in the UK, estimated to contain over 480,000 individual flats in England alone[vi]. Electrical Safety First believes that every dwelling in a high-rise building, irrespective of tenure, should be subject to the same safety regime, otherwise everyone in the building can be placed at risk from an incident occurring in a single flat. Therefore, without improvement to this draft Bill, over 1 million people living in High Risk Residential Buildings may be at risk living in electrically unsafe homes.

2.4              Electrical Safety First has worked to ensure tenants living in the Private Rented Sector are protected by mandatory five yearly electrical safety checks in their properties, which was recently brought into law through The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations (2020)[vii]. Such measures are crucial in reducing the number of electrical accidents and incidents, and we believe now is the time to include all individual dwellings within tower blocks in this regime - regardless of their tenure.


3.              Specific Committee Questions on the draft Building Safety Bill

3.1              The Committee has asked for contributions on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Building Safety Bill and Electrical Safety First will answer those with relevance on the need to improve it in terms of electrical safety.

How well does the Bill, as drafted, meet the Government’s own policy intentions?

Does the draft Bill establish an appropriate scope for the new regulatory system?

3.2              The intention of this draft Bill is to legislate to improve the building safety and fire safety in homes, primarily as a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017. Electrical Safety First believes that the Bill makes great strides in protecting people in their homes, especially through the creation of an ‘Accountable Person’.[viii] We believe, that person should also be accountable and responsible for electrical safety within respective buildings, as appropriate.

3.3              On fire safety, the Government has introduced a complementary Bill, the Fire Safety Bill which has started its progress through Parliament. Electrical Safety First is seeking to work with MPs and Peers to amend this Bill further which will also have an overall impact on building safety and which has a direct contribution to this draft piece of legislation. Electrical Safety First believes that electrical sources of ignition must be directly addressed and both these Bills need improvement to maximise the protection of tenants from accidents and fires caused by electricity.

              Mandatory Electrical Safety Checks in Tower Blocks – irrespective of tenure

3.4              Electrical Safety First stated in its response to the UK Government’s consultation Building a safer future: proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system in 2019 that mandatory electrical safety checks in tower blocks would be a proactive solution to help reduce fires caused by electricity.


3.5              Mandatory electrical safety checks in tower blocks, regardless of the housing tenure will help reduce electrical accidents and fire incidents. These 5-yearly checks would be paid for by the owner of the property – costing about £150-£200 per dwelling. There would be no additional heavy charges or burdens placed on the owners of individual properties, whether a landlord or owner-occupier. Essentially, as private landlords are already obligated to carry out 5-yearly electrical safety checks and social landlords undertake checks typically on a 5 or 10-yearly basis the additional but reasonable cost would fall on the owner-occupier dwellings. An ‘Accountable Person’ or Management Company should then be responsible for maintaining records and ensuring these checks are undertaken, as well as ensuring access to information for tenants.


3.6              The current Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) regulations[ix] would need to be amended to include both the social rented sector and owner occupiers in tower blocks. Electrical Safety First urges the Committee to scrutinise what an ‘Accountable Person’ will do in terms of electrical safety, and also consider a recommendation to the Government on the need for a new regulatory system to include mandatory 5-yearly electrical safety checks for all tenures that are in High Rise Residential Buildings (HRRBs).


Hackitt Review – Part P of the Building Regulations


3.7               In 2018, the Committee wrote to Dame Judith Hackitt in relation to electrical safety and the importance of Part P of the Building Regulations.[x] Electrical Safety First welcomed these representations and also met with the Chair of the Committee to discuss electrical safety as part of the Hackitt review. We also wrote to Dame Judith Hackitt and met with officials from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to make representations on the importance of electrical safety and the need to consider electrical sources of ignition.


3.8              All these respective representations, by this Committee and Electrical Safety First, to Dame Judith Hackett were an important aspect in raising awareness of Part P and also the safety of domestic appliances. It was our understanding from correspondence from Dame Judith to the Committee that whilst my remit is to focus on structural and fire safety outcomes, recommendations on other parts of the building regulations, including Part P will be included in the final report.[xi] Part P was included in the final report ‘Building a Safer Future’[xii] but this was in relation to competency and not an expected Government review of Part P.


3.9              Part P of the Building Regulations was introduced in 2005 and it provides an essential tool that fixed electrical installation work in homes must, by law, meet the Building Regulations. Part P states that anyone carrying out electrical installation work in a home must make sure that the work is designed and installed to protect people from fires and electric shocks. In April 2013 further changes were introduced, reducing the range of electrical installation work that is notifiable - removing some requirements for installation work in kitchens and outdoors.


3.10              Given the interest in Part P by the Committee and Parliamentarians[xiii], Electrical Safety First sees this Bill as  an opportunity to reverse the changes made to Part P in 2013 – to further protect those living in tower blocks and ensure that consumers are more aware of this important regulation.


3.11              Kitchens are a major source of electrical accidents and fires and we believe there is an opportunity to ensure through Part P that people are kept safe. It is disappointing that improvements to Part P are not in the draft Bill nor are initiatives to support Electrical Safety First’s work to raise awareness of the regulation among the public.


3.12              One of the other issues raised in Dame Judith Hackitt’s response to the Committee was domestic electrical appliances.[xiv] In its current scope, the draft Bill provides an opportunity to resolve some of the issues that Electrical Safety First is concerned about in terms of appliances and we will come on to this later in this submission, however Clause 86 does partially deal with this.


Clause 86


3.13              Clause 86 of the draft Bill is aimed at tenants and places a duty of responsibility on them to “Keep any relevant resident’s item in repair and proper working order”.[xv] We understand that this could be in relation to electrical appliances, but given the limited detail we would expect the Government to consult further on how this new duty on tenants will work in practice. For example: -


3.14              We urge the Committee to look closely at Clause 86 and consider the points listed above in 3.13. The Grenfell Tower tragedy source of ignition was very likely a fridge-freezer and we are pleased the Government has listened to representations made by Electrical Safety First on the need to improve the effectiveness of product recalls , however the scope and practical application of Clause 86 needs careful consideration.

Will the Bill provide for a robust – and realistic – system of accountability for those responsible for building safety? Are the sanctions on those who do not meet their responsibilities strong enough?

Will the Bill provide strong mechanisms to ensure residents are listened to when they have concerns about their building’s safety?

3.15              Electrical Safety First welcomes the creation of an ‘Accountable Person’ and the creation of a new regulator for building safety within the Health and Safety Executive. However, it is not clear at present as to the extent of the ‘Accountable Person’s’ role in electrical safety nor of the new regulator. Furthermore, will the proposed Building Assurance Certificate include electrical safety. These issues will need further clarification.

3.16              Through our work on the Fire Safety Bill, we are seeking amendments which will ensure that the ‘Accountable Person’ is responsible for maintaining records of the white goods in operation in all dwellings in tower blocks and the management company responsible for the building record what white goods exist within the building. This will build upon Clause 86 and will ensure tenants have confidence that their management company has a system for helping identify electrical products subject to a recall and expediate the removal of the risk.

3.17              It should be noted that in the last 5 years in London, there have been 200 fires caused by electrical sources of ignition alone.[xvi]. Of those, three high profile incidents involving white goods have taken place in London’s tower blocks over recent years, including Shepherds Court[xvii], Lakanal House[xviii] and Grenfell Tower[xix] – all have been confirmed to have been caused by electrical goods. Shepherds’ Court was a tumble dryer that was subject to a safety notice and then subsequently recalled.

3.18               We must ensure that the finalised Bill has strong mechanisms and responsibility placed on both management companies, ‘Accountable Persons’ and tenants – through provision of education and advice to help ensure the use of electricity is undertaken in the safest way possible, whilst ensuring there is accountability and access to information when fires do occur.

3.19              Misuse of electricity is one of the biggest causes of fires in people’s homes – causing 46% of all fires in England last year[xx]. There is a need to increase consumer awareness as part of the introduction of legislation– as legislation will not prevent the misuse of electrical products. We would urge the Government to support Electrical Safety First consumer campaigns, through the media and online via our social media channels, that aim to increase awareness of the dangers of electricity and encourage people to make the simple changes that will help them to stay safe in their homes.

Does the Bill improve the product testing regime in a way that will command the full confidence of the sector?

Is it right that the new Building Safety Regulator be established under the Health and Safety Executive, and how should it be funded?

3.20              The main issue in relation to these aspects of the Committee’s Inquiry is that consumers have confidence in any new requirements or legislative framework and that they have the knowledge, information and understanding and assurance that they will be listened to when things go wrong.

3.21              Electrical Safety First believes that consumer confidence in competency is essential, and, as we mentioned earlier, Part P does not appear in the draft Bill and neither does the issue of electrical competency.

3.22              In Dame Judith Hackitt’s report it states “While originally outside of the immediate remit of this review, the review is mindful of the importance of Part P of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 2010, which requires that anyone carrying out certain types of electrical installation work in a home must make sure that the work is safe. The review has heard that Part P should be modernised and improved, and recommendations made in Chapter 6 will ensure that Part P is reviewed and improved as necessary, along with the suite of other Approved Documents. It is important that the competence of those undertaking electrical installation works – where this may impact on building safety – is assured and verified. Electrical work covered by Part P allows for self-certification by electrical installers (whereby aspects of building work can be signed off by the individuals doing the work without broader regulatory oversight), if they are a member of one of the Government-authorised competent person schemes. Electricians registered with these schemes must demonstrate their ability and ongoing competence, and that their work meets the correct standards. The schemes operate on a qualified supervisor model: not all those carrying out work must be fully qualified but all work must be adequately supervised by a fully qualified person. Government-authorised scheme operators maintain a register of electrical installers who have been assessed as competent to self-certify the compliance of their own work. This should simplify the task of finding a competent, registered electrician. In the proposed new regulatory framework, this will continue to be critical for all building work. The bodies that own the relevant competency frameworks and scheme operators which cover electrical installation work will also have a role to play in working with other professional bodies to develop a proposal for an overarching body to support the provision of competent people undertaking work on HRRBs, and assuring their skills, knowledge and experience.[xxi]

3.23              In the UK Government consultation, Building a safer future: proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system” the Government asked a number of questions on competency in relation to the ‘Competency Steering Group’s Recommendations to establish an Industry led Committee’; third-party schemes and minimum standards. .


3.24              Clause 6 of the draft Bill deals with competency matters, however there is no direct reference to the competence of those undertaking electrical work. We urge the Committee to draw this to the attention of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government on how improvements can and in many cases have already been made. Account and recognition should be made of the new requirements for assessing enterprises, introduced in the Electrotechnical Assessment Specification (EAS 2020)[xxii] that comes into effect on 1 September 2020. EAS 2020 places much greater focus on an enterprises requirements for ensuring employee competence when undertaking electrotechnical work, including regular inspection and testing. Amongst other things this step change will see the end of the few ‘5-day’ courses that have plagued the electrotechnical sector and dented confidence. Account should also be taken of the importance of regular assessment of enterprises and their operatives – qualification, experience, training and CPD alone does not adequately assure competence.


3.25              Whilst we assume at this stage that the Government may review Part P, and therefore could expect additional regulations to come forward, we believe that the following need to be also considered as part of the draft Bill’s scrutiny: -

We urge the Committee to consider these key questions as part of the scrutiny of the draft Bill, as well as the new requirements on enterprises in the Electrotechnical Assessment Specification.


3.26              Enforcement is a key aspect that cannot be ignored when it comes to electrical safety. The UK can have all the regulations it needs to ensure safety but successful implementation is achieved through effective enforcement. Whilst the Health & Safety Executive will create a new regulator we need to understand to what extent they will cover electrical safety, and if so what will they enforce.


3.27               Electrical Safety First believes the current electrical safety regulations are not properly enforced, particularly by local authorities in their Part P enforcement responsibilities. For example, as a snap-shot it has been reported that three-quarters of authorities had taken no action against Part P non-compliance between 2011 and 2013, and 9 local authorities had identified breaches of Part P but have taken no action.[xxiii]


3.28              There needs to be a more detailed understanding of the new regulator’s responsibilities for electrical safety and the future of Part P enforcement in HRRBs.


Does the Bill present an opportunity to address other building safety issues, such as requirements for sprinkler systems?


3.29              Yes. Electrical Safety First would like to make the following comments in relation to other policy areas, including the aforementioned that do not appear in the draft Bill, which we believe would go some way to reducing fires caused by electrical sources of ignition.

3.30              We have frequently voiced our concerns about electrical safety in tower blocks/multi-occupied residential buildings to UK Government, particularly following the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Our policy solutions will help to ensure safety in tower blocks through the following additions to the draft Bill:


4.              Conclusion

4.1              Electrical Safety First will therefore seek to work with the Government to improve this draft Bill to: -

1.               Introduce a package of measures as mentioned in this submission to reduce fires caused by electricity in HRRBs.

2.              Create electrical safety improvements for tenants so they can be confident their electrics are safe, regardless of the tenure in which they live in HRRBs.

3.               Recognise that electrical sources of ignition fires are a cause of fires in residential dwellings – from installations and appliances.

4.              Clarify the role of the Accountable Person on electrical safety in HRRBs to ensure tenants have confidence in who is responsible.

5.              Support consumer awareness campaigns such as ‘Fire Kills’ and the work of Electrical Safety First in raising awareness on the safe use of electricity in homes – as legislation alone will not prevent the misuse of electrical products.

6.              Implement effective enforcement particularly to ensure that the new regulator does not duplicate or overlap existing enforcement structures.


September 2020

[i] Electrical Safety First analysis of Home Office Statistics 2018-19 https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/our-policies/westminster/statistics-england/

[ii] Electrical Safety First analysis of Home Office Statistics 2018-19 https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/our-policies/westminster/statistics-england/

[iii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46363830

[iv] Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report Overview, p4 https://assets.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/GTI%20-%20Phase%201%20report%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

[v] https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/electrical-fire-safety-week/

[vi] English Housing Survey 2018-19 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-housing-survey-2018-to-2019-headline-report

[vii] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2020/9780111191934

[viii] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/explained-the-draft-building-safety-bill

[ix] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2020/9780111191934

[x] https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/communities-and-local-government/Correspondence/Letter-from-Dame-Judith-Hackitt-to-the-Chair-regarding-the-Independent-Review-of-Building-Regulations-and-Fire-Safety-5-March-2018.pdf

[xi] Ibid

[xii] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/707785/Building_a_Safer_Future_-_web.pdf

[xiii] https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-01-21/debates/A365DD09-66E0-40B5-A472-1D95484733CD/GrenfellTowerInquiryPhase1Report

[xiv] https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/communities-and-local-government/Correspondence/Letter-from-Dame-Judith-Hackitt-to-the-Chair-regarding-the-Independent-Review-of-Building-Regulations-and-Fire-Safety-5-March-2018.pdf

[xv] Draft Building Safety Bill - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/explained-the-draft-building-safety-bill

[xvi] Electrical Safety First analysis of Home Office Statistics 2018-19 https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/our-policies/westminster/statistics-england/

[xvii] Shepherds Court Fire – BBC News, 27 August 2016 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-37203933

[xviii] Lakanal House Fire – BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-london-21964603/lakanal-house-fire-a-tragedy-waiting-to-happen

[xix] Grenfell Tower Fire – Sky News https://news.sky.com/story/grenfell-tower-inquiry-faulty-wiring-in-fridge-freezer-started-fire-says-expert-11565956

[xx] Accidental Electrical Fires in England https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/our-policies/westminster/statistics-england/

[xxi] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/707785/Building_a_Safer_Future_-_web.pdf

[xxii] https://electrical.theiet.org/media/2349/eas-effective-from-1st-september-2020.pdf

[xxiii] Report on Part P. https://professional-electrician.com/features/part-p-what-more-can-be-done/