The Welsh Government’s available funding for electrical repairs is woefully inadequate for some of the most vulnerable citizens in Wales, a Charity is warning.
A new report published by consumer safety charity Electrical Safety First highlights how only £139 is potentially available per terraced household in the South Wales area for electrical safety improvements from current grants[i]. This is despite the area seeing an increasing trend in electrical distribution fires[ii]. Terraced houses are considered at greater risk of spreading fires due to shared attic spaces, and are particularly concentrated in South Wales.
Furthermore, the Charity estimates that this figure is as low as £70 per property for all housing types when looked at across the whole of Wales[iii]. This is a problem for the vulnerable, low income homeowners who would be unable to afford the often steep costs of necessary electrical work.
According to the Welsh Government, between 1 and 2% of homes in Wales are at a significantly higher than average or extreme electrical safety risk – a figure the charity estimates to be up to 27,000 properties[iv].
As well as the scale of the problem, examples from the report also demonstrate the complexity and slow pace of the process by which funding is acquired to ensure the safety of owner-occupied properties.
The findings come as data shows electrical distribution fires have continued to rise in the last 15 years in Wales[v] - many of these fires were attributed to fuse boxes or old and defective wiring.
The Charity believes the age of housing stock in Wales may play a part in deteriorating electrics in these properties. According to Government analysis, housing constructed before 1919 is at greater risk of fire. In Wales, 26% of housing was built before this time, considerably higher than in Scotland where this is 20% and England where the proportion is 21.2%[vi]. The report also voices concerns about the significant number of inter-connected terraced houses in Wales sharing open attic spaces, which can easily allow fires to spread.
A separate survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Electrical Safety First found that worryingly, when asked to imagine if their home needed to be re-wired, just 51% of Welsh homeowners believe they’d be able to afford the £4,000 cost. Moreover, 81% believe that vulnerable residents should be given electrical safety checks for free – relevant, as 13% of all Welsh adults said they haven’t had the electrical wiring in their home checked by a professional in over 10 years.[vii]
Electrical Safety First has worked in partnership with Care and Repair Cymru since 2015. The organisation has distributed funds from the Charity to older, vulnerable people across Wales allowing them to keep their homes safe. The Charity now believes it is time for the Welsh Government to commit its own, dedicated fund to tackle electrical repairs across Wales for those who cannot afford them.
Catherine, age 62, owner occupier, lives alone: “I started to notice the lean-to at the back of my home, in which my washing machine is stored, was in bad shape and letting water in when it rained which I worried could damage the electrics. The wires and extension leads running to the kitchen were getting wet. I live on my own and have fibromyalgia as well as a few other health problems so if something were to happen, I’d be in a very vulnerable position.
I contacted Care & Repair for help with the issue who gave me a quote from a qualified electrician to do the necessary work, which came to £698. With no savings of my own – I live on just the Employment and Support Allowance I’m given for my health issues – this was much more than I could afford. Luckily, Care & Repair applied for charitable money from the Perry Fund and were able to get the work complete, so my house is now safe. However, that wasn’t until six months after I’d sought help and I worry about other people put in a similar position, because an accident could have happened in the meantime. A dedicated fund for repairs for vulnerable people in Wales would have really helped someone like me.”
Robert Jervis-Gibbons, Public Affairs Manager for Electrical Safety First commented: “Action is urgently required to ensure that a dedicated scheme to fund electrical repairs in Welsh homes is available. Electrical repairs can be costly with an average full rewire costing on average, £4,000. The current available funds are in no way specific to electrical repair work and subsequently the money available is too thinly spread across all types of home improvement applications. Electrical fires can be devastating and the worrying increase in electrical distribution fires in Wales needs to be tackled.”
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- Electrical Safety First is a UK Charity dedicated to reducing and preventing damage, injuries and death caused by electricity. More information can be found at electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk
- Consumer research was undertaken from 15 to 16 October 2019 by YouGov with a sample of 1,000 adults across Wales, 672 of which were homeowners. The figures are representative of all Welsh homeowners.
[i] Methodoloy: £67.5m / 22 =£30.6m x 10 =30.68m /220259 (number of terraced housing stock in 10 local authority areas in South Wales) = £139
[ii] Welsh Government Report Electrical Fires in Wales, A Review of the Evidence, July 2018 (page 2)
[iii] Methodology: £67.5m / 995,314 owner occupied sector homes in Wales = £67.81
[iv] Estimates number of households in Wales according to the Welsh Government (2017 estimate) is 1.35million. 2% of 1,350,000 = 27,000. Household estimates accessed from the following site: https://gov.wales/statistics-and-research/household-estimates/?lang=en
[v] Welsh Government Report Electrical Fires in Wales, A Review of the Evidence, July 2018, page 2, paragraph 2.2 available to view at https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2019-05/electrical-fires-in-wales-a-review-of-the-evidence.pdf
[vi] References from the Welsh Housing Conditions Survey available at the following link https://gweddill.gov.wales/statistics-and-research/welsh-housing-conditions-survey/?lang=en
[vii] Consumer research commissioned by Electrical Safety First and conducted by YouGov surveying 1,000 people in Wales, 672 of which were homeowners, found that 51% of homeowners who responded answered ‘not very likely’ or ‘not at all likely’ to the question ‘To re-wire a whole house (i.e. to replace all of the electrical wiring), can cost on average around £4,000. Please imagine that you needed to re-wire your home…How likely, if at all, do you think you would be to afford this?’; 81% answered ‘strongly agree’ or ‘tend to agree’ to the statement ‘Electrical safety checks should be given vulnerable (e.g. older, low income etc.) residents for free’; and 13% answered ’10 to 15 years’, ’15 to 20 years’ or ‘more than 20 years’ to the question ‘When, if ever, was the last time your electrical wiring in your current home was checked by a professional? (Please select the option that comes closest. If you are unsure, please give your best estimate. If you have never had the electrical wiring in your current home checked, please select the 'Not applicable' option)’.