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Electrical Safety Checks

This page lists ways you can reduce the risk of electrical shocks and fires in your home. It outlines your responsibilities if you're a home owner or a tenant, and explains the electrical safety checks your landlord has to do to ensure your accommodation is safe. It also explains what to do if the power goes off.

What are the dangers?

If electrical systems or appliances in your home are unsafe, you could be at risk of:

  • electric shocks - severe electric shocks can cause heart failure
  • electrical burns - these can require major surgery and can be permanently damaging
  • fire - every year, 12,500 fires are caused in UK homes by electrical faults.

What are my responsibilities if I own my home?

If you own your home, you should:

  • arrange for an electrical inspection to be carried out every ten years (see 'what does an electrical inspection involve' below)
  • watch out for danger signs and make sure all electrical equipment in your home is maintained and used properly (see 'what are the danger signs' and 'how can I minimise the risks' below)
  • ensure all repair and installation work is carried out by a registered NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting) contractor. You will then be issued with a certificate to prove that the work has been done properly and is safe.

Electrical Safety Checks - My responsibilities if I rent my home

If you rent your home, you should:

  • watch out for danger signs and make sure all electrical equipment in your home is maintained and used properly (see 'what are the danger signs' and 'how can I minimise the risks' below)
  • don't use equipment or appliances that you think may be unsafe. If your landlord has supplied the faulty equipment, report the problems to your landlord for repair.
  • allow your landlord or an electrical contractor access to your home to carry out inspections and repairs. Your landlord should give you 24 hours' notice before coming round.

Electrical Safety Checks - My landlord's responsibilities

From 1 December 2015 landlords must carry out an electrical safety check of all installations, fixtures and fittings in a property. Landlords have to give a copy of the most recent inspection report to new tenant before the tenancy begins.

After the initial inspection, there will have to have a further inspection carried out at least once every five years.

This new requirement applies to any new tenancy that begins on or after 1 December 2015. 

For existing tenancies landlords have up to 1 December 2016 to carry out an inspection.    

HMOs

If you live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO), your landlord must make sure that all electrical equipment in the property is tested every three years. If you are concerned that any of the electrical equipment in your home is unsafe, speak to your landlord first and ask for it to be tested, repaired or replaced. If you're not happy with their response, you can report them to the council.

Remember, you are responsible for the safety of your own electrical appliances.

What does an electrical inspection involve?

The NICEIC recommends that you should get your home inspected by an approved electrical contractor every ten years. In addition, landlords should get rental properties inspected before they are let out.

During the inspection, the electrical contractor will:

  • check for potential electrical shock risks
  • check for electrical fire hazards
  • make sure your electrical circuits and equipment are not overloaded
  • make sure all the wiring is safe
  • test all electrical appliances.

If the inspection report highlights any urgent problems, you or your landlord will need to get them fixed as soon as possible.

You can find an approved electrical contractor at the NICEIC website.

What are the danger signs?

You can also check yourself for possible danger signs. These include:

  • plugs or wall sockets which are overheating or are scorched or cracked
  • cables or wires which are loose, exposed or fraying
  • a burning smell when appliances are switched on
  • fuses which blow frequently.

If you are concerned about any of the electrical installations or appliances in your home, speak to your landlord or call in an electrician immediately.

How can I minimise the risks?

There are several things you can do to minimise risks of electrical shocks or fires in your home. For example:

  • Make sure cables from electrical appliances (including extension cables) don't run underneath carpets or rugs.
  • Don't overload wall sockets. If you need to use an adaptor, use a multi-socket trailing adaptor, not a multi-way adaptor that plugs straight into the socket.
  • If you need to use an extension cable, don't use a longer one than you need. Don't keep extension cables coiled, as this can cause them to overheat.
  • Don't exceed the recommended bulb wattage for light fittings.
  • Don't put too high a fuse in plugs - the Scottish Government's fire safety leaflet recommends the kind of fuse you should use for different electrical appliances.
  • Never use mains powered electrical equipment in the bathroom.
  • Don't leave electrical appliances switched on or on stand by when you're not using them - this will save you money as well as improve safety.
  • Electric blankets are a common cause of fires - the Trading Standards Institute recommends that you get them serviced every three years. You can find out more about electric blanket safety at the Electrical Safety Council website.
  • Make sure that your home has smoke alarms fitted and that they are all in working order.
  • Make sure you can access the consumer unit (the fuse box and meter) easily. It's a good idea to keep a torch nearby, so you can see what you're doing if the lights go out.
  • Don't touch or use any electrical items that you think are unsafe.
  • Plan what to do in case of fire and be aware of all escape routes.
  • Make sure that exit routes are always kept clear.

Find out more

The Electrical Safety Council is an independent charity committed to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents.

The NICEIC website has more useful information on electrical safety in the home and garden.

What if the power goes off?

The electricity in your home can go off for a variety of reasons. It may be due to a fault in the electrical system in your property, or due to a wider supply problem.

Resetting the 'trip switch'

First of all, check whether the circuit breaker has been 'tripped'. This is a safety measure that's triggered when your electrical system becomes overloaded. This may happen if, for example, you try to operate too many electrical appliances at once or you turn on a faulty appliance. If this happens, you'll need to switch the circuit breaker in your consumer unit (fuse box) back on again. If you're unsure how to do this, you can call the helpline of your local electricity network operator or supplier and an adviser should be able to talk you through the process. You can find contact details in the phone book.

Power cuts

If this doesn't work, or you find that the circuit breaker has not been tripped, there may be a power cut in your area. Again, your local electricity network operator or supplier should be able to tell you if a power cut has occurred and, if so, how long it's likely to last.

If there has been a power cut, switch off and unplug any expensive electrical items such as your hi-fi, TV and computer - this will prevent them getting damaged when the power returns. If you need to use candles for light, never leave them unattended.

You may be able to claim compensation from your supplier if:

  • the power cut lasts for more than 18 hours, or
  • in one year, you have more than four power cuts of at least three hours each, or
  • you suffer particular hardship as a result of a power cut.

The questions section of the Consumer Focus website has more advice on power cuts and compensation.

If you can't turn the circuit breaker back on and there isn't a power cut in your area, you'll probably need to call in a qualified electrician to fix the problem.

Disconnection for works

Your supplier may occasionally need to disconnect your electricity supply in order to carry out essential works. You should be given written notice of this in advance. If you particularly need power in your home (for example, if you are elderly or have a medical condition) get in touch with your supplier. They should be able to help you arrange an alternative energy supply (for example, from a generator) while the repairs are being carried out.

Disconnection due to unpaid bills

If you have not paid your electricity bill, it's possible that your supplier may have disconnected your energy supplier. However, this should only be a last resort for your supplier, and you should always be given plenty of warning. The page on dealing with debt has more information on what to do if you are having problems paying your bills.

What if I'm injured by a faulty electrical supply or appliance?

If you are injured by a faulty electrical supply or appliance (for example, if you receive a bad electric shock or the fault appliance starts a fire), you may have a right to take legal action against your landlord, or anyone directly responsible for negligent work. Bear in mind that there are time limits - for example, if you want to sue your landlord for negligence, you must start the action within three years of being injured. Talk to an adviser at Citizens Advice or a solicitor at a law centre or independent firm if you're considering this course of action.

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The important points

  • If you own your home you should have an electrical inspection carried out every ten years.
  • If you rent, your landlord should ensure that the electrical equipment and installations in your home are safe.
  • If you rent or own, you should look out for danger signs and make sure all electrical equipment in your home is maintained and used properly.

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us

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