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Housing Executive NI – Advice on electrical safety

The electrical wiring circuits, switches and sockets in your house must be in a safe condition, good working order and adequate for the needs of your tenants.

In a shared house, it is likely that there will be more intensive use of electrical equipment with each tenant perhaps having use of their own computer, television, bedside lamp, and even a kettle and toaster. Make sure there are ample electric sockets.

You can make sure that the safety and well being of your tenants is not compromised through a defective or inadequate electrical wiring installation by having regular inspections carried out by a competent electrician.

It is strongly recommended that the electrician you employ is an NICEIC approved contractor. Your electrician’s report will give a recommended re-inspection period. For existing installations, the type of report you should be asking your electrician to produce is known as a Periodic Inspection Report (PIR). Any defects or deficiencies identified in the report which could be potentially dangerous must be attended to without delay.

NICEIC regulations require that electrical installations should be tested by a qualified electrician at least every five years.

Relevant legislation

  • Consumer Protection(NI) Order 1987
  • The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994
  • The Plugs and Sockets (Safety) Regulations 1994

Summary of requirement

  • Electrical equipment that was in the supply chain before the 1st of January 1997 which does not bear CE marking (the manufacturer’s declaration that the product meets the relevant European Directive) can be supplied provided that it satisfies the requirements of the 1989 regulations (the 1989 regulations provide that only electrical equipment which does not jeopardise the safety of people, domestic animals and property may be placed on the market).
  • Any equipment which came into the supply chain after the 1st of January 1997 has to comply with the 1994 regulations. For second-hand equipment and those contained in let accommodation the CE mark is not required on the appliance.

Safety regulations and good practice.

Electrical equipment in furnished privately rented housing which is hired as part of the tenancy agreement is now subject to the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994. These regulations require that electrical equipment must be safe to use and would apply, for example to bedside lamps, televisions, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, portable electrical fires, etc.

Buying new equipment which conforms to British Standards or other approved safety standards is clearly the best way to ensure safety. All new electrical appliances will bear the ‘CE’ mark to show compliance with regulations. Your supplier should be able to provide further details.

If you choose to buy second–hand or your existing appliances are old it would be advisable to have these thoroughly checked by a competent electrician to certify that they are safe.

Landlords are advised to ensure that a satisfactory test programme is set up for all electrical equipment in properties. These checks can be both visual and full electrical checks. The frequency and type of check will depend on the type of appliance and how often it is used by the tenant.

A qualified electrical engineer should be able to give advice as to the frequency of full electrical tests. It is advised that visual inspections are carried out with an inventory check at the start of each tenancy and at least at six monthly intervals. (Remember, this is only a guideline).

It is important to record that all checks including visual checks have been carried out – perhaps a checklist of points could be produced on which each appliance can be listed and ticks placed against each checkpoint. This record should be dated and signed. An electrical engineer carrying out a full electrical test should supply a written report but check this will be provided. Appliances can be identified with their serial numbers.

Such a record system will be worth it in the event of an accident occurring and will go some way towards providing a defence in regard to any offence. Any relevant written instructions/warnings on safe use should be passed on to the tenant. It would also be advisable to check any requirements imposed by the insurance company who insures the let property.

You should carry out a number of basic safety checks yourself, for instance:

  • ensure that cables and flexes are not damaged.
  • ensure plugs are wired with correct colour coding. More modern appliances will have brown (live), blue (neutral) and, if earthed, yellow and green coloured insulation covering. If the appliance still has the black and red coloured insulation it will be old and you should suspect that it will not comply.
  • ensure that plugs have insulated terminal inserts.
  • check that the wattage of light bulbs is not too high for the fitting.
  • make sure that fuses in plugs are of the correct rating.
  • look for an approved safety mark on the appliance, for example, the British Standard Kitemark.

Indications of a substandard electrical installation

  • Insufficient number of power sockets leading to the use of multiple adaptors by tenants with consequent risk of fire due to overloading the circuit.
  • Electric power sockets in bathrooms, near sinks, wash basins, or other sources of water. These must be disconnected and removed.
  • Wall switches for lights or showers in bathrooms (must be pull cord only).
  • Unprotected surface mounted cable.
  • Taped joints, exposed or loose wiring. These are dangerous and should not be used.
  • Charring around power sockets or sparking from light switches.
  • Frequent fusing of a power or lighting circuit.
  • Additional sockets running off existing sockets or light fittings.
  • Lack of earthing to water pipes, in hot press and under sinks, wash basins and baths.

If your property has any of the above features, you should suspect there are problems and call in an approved electrician as soon as possible.