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Electrical safety checks must be risk based

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

Government plans to introduce mandatory electrical safety checks in PRS homes are being backed by the RLA – however the body says tests must be risk based.

The association agrees compulsory checks of the fixed wiring are necessary due to the wide range of homes and standards within the private rented sector and on this basis have proposed a risk based frequency for testing.

There is currently no requirement to bring in regulation for electrical testing under the Housing and Planning Bill, so a working group was set up by DCLG to discuss the pros and cons of compulsory checks of PRS homes.

In a submission to the DCLG the RLA said it believes tests are a good idea, but risk must be taken into account when considering how frequently they must be carried out.

RLA Director Chris Town, said: “Compulsory five yearly testing has been brought in in Scotland where housing is a devolved power, but we need to remember that Scotland has a relatively small population, so what is suitable there is not necessarily suitable here in England.

“The PRS in England is huge and extremely diverse, ranging from £1million properties to tiny bedsits and everything in between and the RLA believes the best course of action would be to bring in a risk-based system.

“At the moment mandatory HMOs must have five-year electrical safety test as they are deemed to be high risk, suffering multiple and intensive use. However, if you have a family home for instance, there isn’t the same demand on the system, so there should be a longer test cycle.

“The RLA proposes a system whereby only high risk properties are placed on a five-year cycle.

“This is not just because of the expense of doing the checks but the inconvenience to the tenants.

“To carry out these checks every single fixed electrical fitting, such as sockets, switches and light fittings must be opened up and examined, it is not just a case of plugging in a tester.

“This can take half a day or longer and is much more intrusive and expensive than a gas safety check.”

The RLA also recommends the installation of Residual Current Devices, which offer added protection for the occupants from electric shock and can offer extra protection from faulty appliances.

The association’s response is now with the DCLG.  Civil servants will now look at representations from a range of organisations to decide whether to bring testing forward, and if so what form it will take.

To read the full response click here.


About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.


  • What nonsense is written about electrical testing. There is already a risk assessement recommended by the wiring regs when carrying a periodic inspection and testing as to the time between testing of an installation. The periodic inspection and testing does not require the opening of every socket and switch in an installation.
    Although, as a landlord, it would cost me to have statutory inspection and testing of electrical installations I would welcome it. I have seen many dangerous electrical installations in houses which should be condemned. If gas goes wrong there is a Big Bang and an immediate reaction. Such accidents are rare. If there is an electrical fault it invariably causes a fire and so not so spectacular and newsworthy so it is forgotten about. But these are more frequent.

    • A correct observation regarding the removal of fittings, only a percentage need to be removed for physical inspection of the actual wiring behind them. All the circuits are tested, for things such as continuity and insulation resistance but this is mainly done from the distribution board (the consumer unit or so called fuse box).

      I have a dozen Victorian properties and all have been uprated to include RCD protection and hard wired interlinked smoke alarms and I am supportive of the RLA stance, but based on the correct information.

      A big no no in my opinion is old style wired fuses rather than circuit breakers. In days gone by most people could rewire a blown fuse, but most younger tenants would be well out of their depth nowadays and the temptation is to use some inappropriate wire to restore the fuse.

      As an example of the danger of this, I changed a light fitting in my sister’s owner occupied 1970’s built property, and found the lighting fuse to have been previously mended with a piece of ordinary iron wire that would have happily carried 40 amps, appropriate for a shower circuit wired in 10mm cable but not for a 5 amp lighting circuit wired in 1mm cable with even thinner pendant flexes. My sister hadn’t done this and had been in the property for 8 years.

      I can see the time when rental property won’t be the problem due to mandatory checks, but owner occupied homes will carry the greater risk from inadequate gas, electrical and fire/smoke dangers.

    • As a portfolio landlord and electrical contractors I agree with your comments especially regarding electrical incidents.

  • I have virtually new properties that have been built to the latest electrical building standards and all have RCD devices fitted (as per building regs.).
    Surely it should not be mandated that a new property is tested after the first 5 years. This would be unnecessary in my opinion.
    Once a property has reached a particular age I would then agree that periodic checks should be carried out.
    So the age of the property should be taken into consideration as part of a risk assessment prior to any mandatory checks being carried out.
    In order to assess the starting point for checks surely it would be appropriate to ask the appropriate electrical institute or professional body what is thought reasonable.

  • I hope they take into account that the very act of doing the testing/inspection carries it’s own risks. If you are going to start disturbing wiring, then you need to be sure that you aren’t creating a bigger risk than the one you are mitigating.
    Every time you take a wire out of it’s terminal – then you are flexing the wire (which isn’t flexible), and then when you re-connect it, each time it’s done increases the risk of the wire snapping off where the screw pinches it.

    • Good point Simon, but not so much of a problem if the original installation has been done by someone with an understanding that the fittings may be disturbed in the future.

      A decent depth back box with ample length conductors allows for snipping off the ends and re-stripping the insulation if the conductor has become compromised.

      The ears of some of the original installers of installations I have come across would have been burning at what was said about the two inches of conductor they thought adequate to leave when installing fittings during second fix.

      • Not really a big deal. A skilled inspector can remove, test and refit accessories without a great risk of damage to the conductors- and it’s only every 5 years so that’s around 8 times over the life expectancy of an installation. Also the way the test schedule is arranged then any conductors damaged during inspection would be picked up on the final tests after reassembly of the installation and could be rectified. No big deal really.

  • The guidance that I receive from the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, as both an approved contractor on the roll and as a landlord, based on guidance note 3 of BS 7671, is that checking of accessories should be done by a sampling method whereby a percentage of the covers are removed for visual inspection. This percentage can be 10. But if defects in the installation are observed it the percentage should be increased until such percentage as defects are no longer observed when covers are removed.

    This can mean that only about six items need to be checked in the average dwelling if the installation was carried out correctly and providing that the installation has not degraded over time. But if its a DIY rewire or if there is evidence of degradation then they will all have to come off, but in reality by the time that I have take off six I can get an idea about the installation so I am either issuing the ‘satisfactory’ report or recommending a rewire.

  • There seems to be a big issue put forward on this thread over ‘sampling’ rather than 100% inspection. I am both a 42 property portfolio landlord and registered electrical contractor of many years. Indeed the IET and BSI who write the ‘regs’ and accompanying guidance notes give a case for sampling. However the bodies that licence us to work can choose to insist on higher standards. On an annual audit by my association I was rapped on the knuckles for sampling a property and was told by my annual assessor” I don’t care what the IET say or what guidance note 3 tells us- I am telling you 100% inspection 100% of the time on a domestic installation. Nothing less is acceptable “. Personally on such a small installation as a domestic house I do not disagree with this policy and indeed I do not see why I should put myself at risk by signing off an installation as 100% ‘safe’ when I have only based it on seeing a small number of inspections. Yes it’s painful and I could do without it but in my opinion it is necessary and only a fool or a short cutter would sample a house- I have been to many ‘sampled’ and previously passed installations only to find concerns that were obviously pre existing the previous test but not picked up on. All my properties are 100% inspected. Either do the job right or not at all. And costs? Typically £200 for a 5 year ticket taking a day with 8 pages of intensive paperwork when people are quite happy to pay £100+ for a gas ticket for a year that takes 1/2 hour to an hour? Come on its about time we started taking get electrical safety seriously and stop belly aching at the relatively low cost.

    • Only an halfwit would check all and every part of the installation unless you find anything of concern. Paul a registered electrical contractor or a bob the builder who has done a one day course then registered as a domestic installer?
      If it takes you 8 hours it’s either due to incompetence or the size of Buckingham palace

  • I know my following question is not appertaining directly to the subject of testing but seeing one of the answers which refers to wiring inappropriate for the cable rating.
    I have owned a new build flat in a block for five years and having recourse to replace a faulty washing machine (that was installed by the builder of the block) I discovered that the machine was “hard wired” and not powered from a plug and socket arrangement.
    Am I correct in thinking that a domestic appliance has to be connected so that it is capable of being isolated by a convenient switch? This was not possible with the builders installation. On reading the manual for the new machine it clears states plug the machine in to a 13amp socket that is capable of being isolated if necessary.
    As the machine is built in and impossible to move easily I have arranged it so that it’s plug is in a switched socket above the work surface.

    Hope this meets the regs?

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