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A guide to electrical safety for landlords

7th May, 2020

Keeping properties in a good condition for tenants can be a time-consuming activity for landlords but electrical safety is one area that in which you can’t afford to take shortcuts. If the electrics in your properties aren’t safe, they pose a real risk to the occupants.

To help you keep your properties safe and well-maintained, Robin Hood Energy has put this guide together. It covers regulatory information, safety standards for appliances, requirements for HMOs and more.

Electrical safety for landlords: the law

While not solely concerned with electrical safety, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 contains several regulations that have an impact on this topic. The most important of these is that all electrical installations must be safe and repairs to them carried out swiftly. If your tenant notifies you of a legitimate electrical problem that needs dealing with, you have a responsibility to ensure that it is resolved.

The consequences for allowing unsafe electrical installations appliances that you have provided to remain in your property are serious. Possible sanctions include a fine of up to £5,000, a 6 month prison sentence, criminal charges, and invalidated property insurance. Needless to say, the ramifications of such sanctions are significant. The desire to avoid them is more than good enough reason to do what you can to ensure the electrical safety of your properties.

Do landlords need an electrical safety certificate?

There is no legal requirement to get an electrical safety certificate for most properties
located in England and Wales. The only exception is if your property is classed as a HMO (house in multiple occupation), in which case it will need an Electrical Installation Condition Report to be carried out every five years or at the start of a new let. All Scottish properties must also be recertified every five years or at the start of a new let.

Even if you are not required by law to get an electrical safety certificate for your properties, it’s a good idea to have a full inspection every 5 to 10 years to obtain a new accreditation. It is also a good idea to have an inspection every time the occupancy of the property changes. If this change occurs within six months of the last full inspection you only need to carry out a visual check yourself. If it occurs within two years, just get a visual inspection from an electrician. If it’s been longer than two years, have a full inspection carried out again.

A full inspection for an electrical safety certificate will check for a number of things:

  • Poor quality installation work and areas of risk;
  • Overloaded circuits;
  • Inadequate earthing and bonding measures;
  • Proper servicing for relevant installations;
  • The extent of any damage or wear and tear.

For an inspection to be valid, it needs to be carried out by a fully qualified electrician. Unless you’re simply checking the property at regular intervals, it’s not enough to check the electrics yourself.

We should also make it clear that the requirements for gas are different. A Gas Safety Certificate must be obtained every year – wherever your property is in the UK – and has no bearing on the electrical safety of the property.

For more information, visit the Residential Landlords Association website.

Additional requirements for HMOs

As well as requiring a new electrical safety certificate every year, HMOs are subject to close scrutiny by local authorities. Landlords can be required to produce an electrical safety certificate with only 7 days’ notice if the property’s local authority requires.

Other noteworthy installations

There are some corner cases that could require further attention. If you own a property with a swimming pool installed, the pool will need to be checked every year to ensure that it is functioning correctly.

In addition, if you have just completed work on the property involving extensive electrical work you should have a full inspection at the earliest opportunity. Building work such as an extension or a new conservatory are prime examples of activity that would warrant further inspections.

Safety requirements for electrical appliances

Electrical appliances fall into a different bracket from larger installations and require separate attention. Portable appliance tests (PAT tests) are the standard way of ensuring that electrical appliances are safe. Any appliance that you have bought for the property should be safe for the tenants to use.

There are no legal requirements for PAT tests. The only regulations involved are those we’ve mentioned already: the need to ensure that anything you leave for the tenant is safe and well-maintained. Serious problems could arise if a tenant suffers an injury as a result of using an untested or poorly maintained appliance that you’ve provided.

PAT tests can only be carried out by someone who is appropriately qualified (a qualified electrician should be able to do them). The recommended testing time period for larger appliances is four years for larger appliances and two years for smaller. It is also a good idea to conduct your own visual inspection if the property’s tenancy changes.

You can take another step to ensure the safety of your properties by only buying appliances that have been given a European CE mark and one additional mark, such as the British Standard Guidance Mark or the BEAB approved mark. This guidance comes from the Electrical Safety Guidance as a way of helping landlords to buy appliances with safety in mind.

The final corner case to mention is emergency lighting. Landlords who own buildings with emergency lighting fitted need to have it checked at whatever interval the manufacturer specifies.

General tips to keep your tenants safe around electrical appliances and installations

It’s important to have regular inspections of your properties’ electrical installations and appliances but there are also some general guidelines to follow if you want to keep your tenants safe throughout the year. We’ve listed a few of our favourite tips here:

  • Conduct a visual inspection yourself whenever something changes in the property, even if a full inspection has been done recently. Changes could include anything from major building work to the installation of a new appliance like a fridge or dishwasher.
  • Make sure that tenants are told how to find the fuse box, isolator switch and consumer unit as soon as they move into the property.
  • Make sure that tenants have the manuals for any appliances that you leave them with, even if you’re sure that those appliances are currently safe.
  • Keep an eye on the most recent lighting and wiring regulations. You don’t need to keep changing your electrics (doing so could cause more problems than it solves) but it’s helpful to be informed if you ever consider making a change.