The House

The Building Safety Bill

- by Lesley Rudd, CEO of campaignin­g charity, Electrical Safety First

“As the Building Safety Bill continues to be considered in the Upper House, there is an opportunit­y to level the playing field.”

Why “the biggest change to building safety

regulation­s in a generation” can’t just be limited to simply reducing the spread of fire in high rise residentia­l buildings.

After Grenfell, the issue of cladding on high rises has – rightly – been a focus for Government and the public. Less attention, however, has been given to preventing fires in the first place. Yet electricit­y caused 355 fires in high rises in 2021 alone and, according to Government figures, the number has increased over the last three years.

We believe that the current approach to electrical checks in tower blocks is incoherent and inconsiste­nt. Most high rises have mixed tenures, but only private landlords must undertake regular electrical safety checks every five years. England, unlike Scotland (with Wales set to follow suit), has not extended this legal requiremen­t to social housing. Furthermor­e, there is no such legislatio­n covering UK homeowners. So we have been working with Lord Foster of Bath to help address this safety ‘gap’, which leaves families and buildings at risk.

“There are various omissions in the Government’s Building Safety Bill, which has led me to support a wider, composite, amendment requiring the new Building Safety Regulator to consider a range of safety issues, including those relating to electrical safety in high rise buildings”, explains Lord Foster. “Specifical­ly, we want to see mandated, five yearly, electrical safety checks in both social housing and leaseholds in mixed tenure high rises, to ensure consistenc­y and effectiven­ess. Not only would this protect hundreds of thousands of people, it will also help provide the peace of mind that everyone wants to feel in their own home.”

Electrical Safety First’s widespread consultati­on with the social housing sector shows that most social landlords agree. We found 97% of respondent­s to our survey supported the call for mandatory electrical checks across all social housing. They would find it easier to access properties to undertake such safety checks if it were a statutory requiremen­t - and tenants would be able to hold landlords to account if routine checks are not undertaken. These proposals have the support of a number of key stakeholde­rs, including the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Fire doesn’t discrimina­te. All those living in a multi-occupancy block can be at risk from a single incident and their level of protection should not depend on their tenancy agreement. The Government’s recent Charter for Social Housing Residents committed to ensuring that tenants would be safe in their own homes. Introducin­g regular electrical tests which reduce the likelihood of fire, will clearly help to keep this promise.

In 2004, it was estimated that a domestic fire cost £24,900. According to research by the Halifax, house prices have trebled since the start of the Century, so this figure has increased considerab­ly. The personal cost, however, can be incalculab­le. As the Building Safety Bill continues to be considered in the Upper House, there is an opportunit­y to level the playing field, ensuring everyone living in a high rise building, regardless of tenure, can feel secure in their home.

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