The Housing and Planning Act 2016 has finally been published, click here. This has taken some time due to the late amendments to the legislation and the tortured process of Parliamentary ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons.
A key late stage amendment to the Act was a new power to impose electrical safety standard on the Private Rented Sector. As with much of the Act details are sketchy as it requires the Secretary of State to make regulations to bring it into effect and much of the detail will sit within them.
What we do know is that the Secretary of State may make regulations to ensure a defined safety standard is met. This can apply to either or both of the fixed wiring installation in the property or the fixtures, fittings and appliances. In other words, the government could simply extend the requirement for a fixed wiring certificate from HMOs to all rented property or they could go further and add PAT testing of all appliances provided by landlords. The regulations may require that there is safety or they may require that there is testing by an approved body. One assumes that the government will seek testing rather than a mere declaration of safety. The regulations may also require the obtaining of a certificate and its provision to a tenant and it is very likely that they will do so. The testing period is also up to the regulations and so there will no doubt be a range of views as to how often the tests need to be carried out.
Interestingly the legislation adopts a very wide definition of premises which would include caravans and mobile homes and also a very wide range of tenancies which would mean that almost all residential tenancies were captured including the entire PRS and much of the social sector, it would also include licences which would draw in holiday lettings and lodger arrangements. However, the regulations could of course be framed to act on a narrower spectrum of properties and tenancies.
The enforcement provisions are widely drawn but they do allow for enforcement to be passed to local authorities and for local authorities to levy fines which they are empowered to retain themselves. Given the current fashion in housing matters for passing all enforcement to local authorities but also helping funds their enforcement by retention of fine it would be surprising if this was not the option chosen.
The level of inspection and how it works in practice will be crucial. It is not clear whether this is aimed at simply eliminating danger or whether there will be drive to actually improve the quality of electrical installations. Much of this will depend on the safety standard set in the regulations and also in associated inspection guidance. There will, of course, be little to stop unscrupulous electricians failing installations and suggesting expensive remedial works and this will be a concern to some landlords. Clearly in terms of cost to the sector there will be a world of difference between requiring repair of dangerous or risky items and a requirement to bring properties up to current standards. The standards for electrical installations have recently been upgraded and if this road was to be taken there would be a need for wholesale replacement of electrical consumer units.
If the government does go for PAT testing it is likely that some parts of the sector will react by paring back the electrical appliances provided to tenants. To some degree this has been going on for a while in that many landlords have moved toward unfurnished property lettings. It is common to hear politicians talk about how our rental sector should be more like Germany where no electrical goods (even white goods) are provided to tenants at all. However, I am not sure this is the similarity they had in mind!