Written evidence submitted by Electrical Safety First (DHH0023)

Introduction

Electrical Safety First is the UK’s Consumer Charity dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and fires caused by domestic electrical accidents. We do this by working closely with Government, the electrical industry, manufacturers, retailers and consumer safety organisations to improve safety regulation and standards. We run media and digital campaigns to raise awareness of electrical risk and share advice and guidance with consumers that will help them to stay safe in their homes.

Electrical Safety First is pleased to respond to the consultation. We share in the Government’s view that a transition to Net Zero is critical for the future of the UK, but any such effort must ensure that safety does not become a secondary consideration. Electrical Safety First recommends that product safety and installer competence are primary considerations to making policy decisions.

Two key questions are responded to, numbers 2 and 7.

2.              What key policies, priorities and timelines should be included in the Government’s forthcoming ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’ to ensure that the UK is on track to deliver Net Zero? What are the most urgent decisions and actions that need to be taken over the course of this Parliament (by 2024)?

Electrical Safety First acknowledges that heat decarbonisation is a significant but essential challenge facing the UK in order to meet the net-zero target by 2050. Almost a quarter of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from heating domestic homes, therefore the UK Government has highlighted heat in buildings as a priority policy area in order to reduce carbon emissions.

Much of the UKs progress in reducing emission to date has come from the electricity sector and whilst there are several routes that Government policy could take to achieve heat decarbonisation they are all likely to involve increased use of electricity. Widespread use of electric heating has a potential to reduce carbon emissions and transform the way we heat our homes.

At this time of transition it is crucial that safety is a priority. Electrical Safety First recommends that any strategy must include thorough engagement with industry to ensure that the resource to deliver this goal is available and supported and that there is no risk of a “skills gap”. For example, the Government’s objective of developing a heat pump market that delivers 600,000 units per annum by 2028 will be dependent on the availability of competent, registered installers. These installers are paramount not just to delivering the changes necessary to achieve Net Zero but to delivering them safely and professionally.

The Future Homes Standard proposed to be in force by 2025 will lead to a move away from fossil fuels to electricity in the new build sector and as that change takes place it is essential that the new build sector prioritises safety.

 

 

7.              What action is required to ensure that households are engaged, informed, supported and protected during the transition to low carbon heat, including measures to minimise disruption in homes and to maintain consumer choice?

Electrical Safety First believes that the UK Government must consider how consumers are supported through the transition to decarbonisation of heat and the greater use of electricity in their homes. There will be increased demands on the electrical systems, both inside and outside of their homes. The replacement of fossil fuel heating systems with electric heating including heat pumps will impact consumers. Whilst the technology itself is mature and proven UK consumers are not familiar with it. They will need to be well informed about how its operation  differs to fossil fuel heating, including any ongoing maintenance. Consideration should also be given to how we can ensure that the electrical wiring in homes is safe and has capacity for additional load. We do not believe there has been significant consideration of these issues to date. 

Requirements for gas are often stricter, for example in the private rented sector (PRS) a qualified Gas Safe registered engineer must, by law, check gas appliances and flues annually. The Government implemented new regulations in the PRS in 2020 which mandate an electrical installation check every five years and this is welcomed by Electrical Safety First. However, given the increased importance and expanding use of electricity, we believe consideration should be given to extending this requirement to other tenures.

As stated in answer to question 2, Electrical Safety First recommends that any strategy to deliver significant change to how we heat our homes must include thorough engagement with industry to ensure that the resource to deliver this goal is supported and that there is no risk of a “skills gap”. The availability of competent, registered installers is paramount to delivering the changes necessary to achieve Net Zero safely and professionally.

The Government must also take all necessary steps to maintain product safety as a priority matter. The desire for a speedy transition to a Net Zero state cannot be allowed to compromise safety in any way and so the Government must act to guarantee a robust and well-resourced consumer safety environment. This must include strong and rapid enforcement as well as a focus on public awareness.

As in the response to question 2, Public awareness and engagement are critical to ensure policy becomes reality. Electrical Safety First has been supporting and promoting consumer facing online databases for many years, as a means to helping the public make the safest choice when choosing tradespersons to perform domestic electric work. The main UK webpage for this is Electricalcompetentperson.co.uk, which has been a key resource in this effort as it only lists those persons and companies who are registered with a Government approved Competent Persons’ Scheme.

Electrical Safety First strongly recommends the public only use registered professionals, as they are regularly assessed for competence and have the backing of protection schemes. The Government must do more to promote these initiatives to the public to guard against any large scale installation effort being undermined by unsafe and unscrupulous actors.

The Government must also continue and expand their initiatives to promote buying any electrical products from reputable suppliers and retailers. This is critical to protect against low quality, non-compliant and unsafe products entering people’s homes. The electrical installation industry has so far through co-operation and the support of high standards performed an exceptional job of preventing low quality and counterfeit products becoming a major issue in the UK, as has unfortunately happened in other countries. Government support going forwards is therefore extremely important in order to prevent this situation from changing. Any large scale initiative such as the push for Net Zero may of course attractive the unscrupulous, and it is vital that support is provided before this becomes a major issue, rather than when the problem becomes widespread.

The large scale transition required to achieve Net Zero will by necessity involve a equally large scale turn over in domestic electrical products and the need for retrofitting. We welcome schemes such as the Green Homes Grant which supports the cost of low carbon heating installations but we urge the Government to consider how other work which may be necessary will be supported. This may include work to improve the electrical installation/wiring in homes..

In terms of appliances - it is vital, that a sufficiently robust product registration and recall system is also put in place. Electrical Safety First has been working with industry, the Fire and Rescue Service, Local Government, Trading Standards and Parliamentarians on a way to introduce a way to improve the current system for product recalls by enhancing registration at point of sale. We believe that more attention and engagement by Government on this matter is required.

November 2020