At the Committee for Communities meeting in the Northern Ireland Assembly, held on Thursday 1st July, the Department for Communities (DfC) gave a briefing on the new Private Tenancies Bill which will be introduced shortly. The legislation, if passed, will effect a number of important reforms for the Private Rented Sector (PRS) which has grown considerably in recent years, becoming the second largest housing tenure in Northern Ireland. The sector is also home to an increasing number of low-paid families, disabled and vulnerable people who are now renting privately.
We are particularly pleased to see our proposals for periodic electrical safety checks included in the legislation. Electrical Safety First has campaigned for a uniform level of protection for private tenants throughout the UK. In our recent Recharge report - which looked at electrical safety risks in Northern Ireland’s homes – we found private tenants had less safeguards from electrical risk than in other parts of the UK. Both England and Scotland require landlords to carry out five-yearly checks, with Wales soon to follow suit, whereas private landlords in Northern Ireland have no such requirement placed upon them.
However, annual gas safety checks of PRS properties are legally demanded, despite electricity causing more fires and casualties than gas each year. Almost 60% of domestic fires in Northern Ireland are attributed to an electrical cause.
On this basis, we believe the new Private Tenancies Bill must explicitly state that the electrical safety checks are completed on a five-yearly basis, like other parts of the UK. This would also align with the regulations already in place for Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Northern Ireland.
Whilst the cost of these proposals would fall on the landlord, we do not believe they would be financially onerous. The average cost of an electrical safety check is £150-£200. Over a five-year period, this equates to as little as £30 a year – and protects tenants and property.
This measure and cycle received support by most respondents to the Department for Communities’ 2015 review of the sector. This was echoed in the Department’s 2017 Proposals for Change consultation document which confirmed the intention to legislate for five-yearly electrical checks in all privately rented homes.
This critical change will inevitably decrease the chance of harm caused to tenants because of an electrical fault and substantially reduce the potential of loss of life. It will also increase confidence among tenants, who previously feared that a complaint to their landlord about electrical safety could result in the termination of tenancy.
We look forward to working with Members on this important piece of legislation as it progresses through the Assembly. Our aim will be to ensure tenants in Northern Ireland are afforded the same protections as their counterparts in other parts of the UK.
More posts by Wayne MacKay