All residential premises let in England will be expected to meet new electrical safety standards after the Secretary of State was granted statutory powers to make the necessary regulations at the end of October.
The powers were granted when the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Commencement No. 11) Regulations 2019 brought new sections of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (HPA 2016) into force. Section 122 allows for new regulations to be made on electricity supply installations or any other fixtures, fittings or appliances provided by the landlord. And once made, such regulations will be enforced under section 123.
This implies compliance covenants into every tenancy and will likely see financial penalties imposed on landlords for failure to comply. Perhaps even more draconian, local housing authorities will get powers to enter let properties, with occupying tenant consent, and take direct action to remedy any breach.
Some detail here was announced back in January, when the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) responded to its 2018 consultation on electrical safety. Making its commitment clear, MCHLG stressed that it "believes that the safety of tenants is of paramount importance". And most clearly, landlords can expect a new regime to introduce mandatory, five yearly safety checks, carried out by electrical inspectors registered under a new competent person scheme. The new certifications will then be made available to tenants.
MHCLG also stated that when they do come, the regulations will arrive on a phased basis. A transitional period will apply, so only new private tenancies will be caught in year one before the regime is extended to all private tenancies. Landlords with an existing electrical installation condition report (EICR) will have five years' grace before this must be replaced.
In the meantime, other safety measures will also be "encouraged as good practice". Existing competent person scheme operators are invited to set up a voluntary electrical inspection and testing scheme – for all the bureaucracy and cost implications this might entail, this will at least provide landlords with some comfort that the electrical certification is being carried out properly.
Once this body is established, it will be referenced in the Government's How to Let guide, which should also offer landlords recommendations around making visual checks at change of tenancy and installing residual current devices (RCDs) as a matter of good practice.
The HPA 2016 has overseen a broad remit of housing reform since its assent in May 2016, with measures intended to implement elements of the Conservative Government's 2015 manifesto and HM Treasury's productivity plan. Among other things, "rogue" landlords and letting agents have already been targeted with the promise of an attention-grabbing new regime of banning and rent repayment orders.
The fitness test is due to be bolstered for those seeking licence to run a house in multiple occupation (HMO) and estate agents could find their activities monitored by a new regulatory authority. Valuation mechanisms for enfranchisements, leasehold extensions and rent charge redemptions will be updated.
Like the electrical safety reform, however, full blown implementation of much of the HPA 2016 is limited to date. For all the headlines, most of its piecemeal regulations still requires secondary regulation – the exact rules themselves have yet to materialise. Moving forward, therefore, detailed regulations on reform will be subject to the affirmative procedure in parliament and "will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows".
With a general election and a Brexit stalemate, there's not a great deal of hope that this will be any time soon. Still, forewarned is forearmed, and this is therefore a good time to get your let house in order.