The Health and Safety Executive have estimated that in one year alone, faulty electrical appliances caused 2000 fires. A landlord has an ongoing duty to ensure that electrical installations are safe. Faulty appliances should be withdrawn and repaired. Unless otherwise specifically excluded within the tenancy agreement, a landlord is expected to take responsibility for the repairs and maintenance of items supplied with the property such as washing machines and other electrical appliances.
This responsibility does not extend to damage or other misuse by the tenant. If it is known by the landlord that a particular appliance is nearing the end of its working life and is beyond economical repair, this should be declared at the outset and prior to signing the tenancy agreement. Otherwise, a landlord might be obliged to ensure its continued availability in working order throughout the tenancy.
The Government has introduced various legislation relating to electrical safety of household appliances due to an increasing demand for consumer safety and the large numbers of electrical appliances used by a typical household. The governing legislation is the Consumer Protection Act 1987, supplemented by the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 and the Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994.
Both sets of regulations apply to a ‘supplier’ of the electrical equipment, and this includes a landlord or letting agent who supplies property ‘in the course of business’. This includes letting agents who let or manage property, but not those who merely act to find or introduce the tenant to the landlord and play no further part in the management of the property. A landlord may be ignorant of the regulations despite being subject to them, so it is arguable that agents have a duty of care to inform landlords of any relevant safety legislation that may apply. Agents may be held liable for negligence if they fail to do so.
The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994
The Regulations relate to the supply of electrical equipment designed with a working voltage of between 50 and 1000 volts a.c. (or between 75 and 15000 volts d.c.). They cover all mains voltage household electrical goods, including cookers, kettles, toasters, washing machines and electrical heaters. However, the Consumer Protection Act 1989 provides that the Regulations do not apply to equipment which is fixed to the land, such as built-in appliances like central heating.
The supplier must ensure that the equipment fulfils the statutory definition of ‘safe’, so there is no risk of injury or death to humans or pets or of damage to property. The ‘supplier’ of the equipment needs to ascertain whether the product will comply with the current UK safety requirements for safety of domestic electrical products. In practice, the only way to ensure that any equipment is safe is by employing a competent person to test the equipment before a property is let. The Regulations do not require provision of a certificate of testing (unlike the gas safety regulations), or use of a registered electrician.
Instructions: Where the safe use of the equipment relies on the user being aware of any particular characteristics of the equipment, suitable instructions should be provided (in English).
Labelling: Any equipment supplied in the European Economic Community (EEC) after 9th January 1995 must be marked with the appropriate CE symbol. However, equipment which had already been supplied before this date may still be used so long as compliant with the previous Low Voltage Electrical Equipment Regulations 1989.
The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994
The Regulations relate to the supply of any plugs, sockets, adapters or fuses intended for domestic use with a working voltage of not less than 200 volts, and also the supply of any appliance which has a plug fitted.
Such equipment must comply with the appropriate current standard, and must be correctly fused.
The supplier must ensure that the equipment fulfils the statutory definition of ‘safe’, so there is no risk of injury or death to humans or pets or of damage to property.
However, certain plugs or sockets which are incorporated in some electrical equipment, luminaries, ceiling-rose connectors and wall or ceiling lights are excluded from the scope of the Regulations.
The maximum penalty for non-compliance with either set of Regulations is a fine of £20,000 or six months imprisonment, or both.
General Product Safety Regulations 1994
Electrical appliances are also within the scope of the General Product Safety Regulations 1994. Any product supplied must be safe, meaning that under normal or foreseeable conditions of use, including duration, the product does not prevent any risk or only the minimum risks compatible with the product’s use. Particular consideration is given to:
- characteristics of the product, including its composition, packaging and instruction,
- effect of the product on other products,
- presentation of the product, labelling, instructions for use and any other information provided by the producer, and
- the categories of consumers at serious risk when using the product, in particular children
Suppliers should provide consumers with relevant information regarding the risks inherent in any product where such risks are not immediately obvious without such warnings, and should take such steps to be aware of the risks associated with the use of supplied products.