Having safe and sufficient electrics at your property is one of those subjects that can get easily glazed over. So long as electrical items and lights work, and no one is chasing any compliance paperwork, then all can be assumed to be well. It kind of happens automatically, and only when things don’t pan out how you except do you reluctantly delve in deeper.
The good news though is that it’s not as daunting as you may think, and being more pro-active to clarify can not only literally save harm to people and properties, but provide long-term savings and even additional value and rent. Whether you’re an occupying tenant at the receiving end of electrical circuits, a landlord or investor with an ownership that carries a liability, or a middle-man contractor or advisor that needs to ‘sort out’ the electrics – everyone wins by getting to the bottom of this.
Just before we delve into these three stages, it’s worth noting where the obligations stem from for all these electrical works, checks, and requirements.
The 3 Sources of Responsbility
In terms of where any obligations to maintain electrical equipment and circuits in a property stem from, here are three main areas to look into:
1. Check Any Immediate Contracts, Agreements, and Parties Involved With Your Particular Property
So tenants and landlords will have responsibilities set out in leases, and managing agents have obligations within property management agreements.
There’s also building insurers, who may have requirements as well as good advice for correct and timely electrical checks, and you may even find this noted through funding agreements.
2. General Legislation in Various Formats
Although there are not quite as much black-and-white obligations to do checks at certain time periods compared , say, gas checks with residential properties, the legal common-law principle underpins and influences a variety of obligations that things must be correct and regularly checked and tested.
This might be through general Health & Safety legislation, or more specific Fire Safety Orders, right through to particular cases like residential landlords under the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 and any requirements under Building Regulations.
3. General Best Practice
This may include a party being part of an accreditation scheme or deciding to adhere to good practice and safe and green credentials. It can help raise the bar of expectation and ensure that everything is in tip-top condition and safety.
The 3 Easy Stages
Here are 3 simple stages to look at electrical issues within properties, almost as phases to go through and see what needs doing. This is applicable to the actual electrical circuits at a property, including meters and fuse boxes, wires and cables, sockets and switches, light fittings and power supply.
This is the literal electrical kit that brings power to your home or business, as opposed to the actual source of electricity which is via the supplier. So Southern Electric might supply and bill you, and as a separate issue you might need to look at how these charges can reduce, however this is the actual equipment you find in the property to channel all the electricity.
1. Certified Installations
This is a technical bit, where a qualified electrician needs to ensure that any electrical circuits are correctly installed at your property. This is not only when the property is first built, but after any changes and refurbishments. Even with any form of minor alterations with electrical changes being needed you may need a certified electrician’s approval, for example for a new partition in an office changing light positions, or new sockets in a residential kitchen.
Two popular forms of these certifications are the Electrical Installation Certificates (EICs) and Minor Electrical Installation Works Certificates (MEIWCs), but check with any authority as to what these need to be, and that the right documentation and certificates are issued to match the actual as-built plans and specification. In the frenzy of completing works, don’t forget to collate these, as they’ll be needed later on down the line in the event of any incident or property transaction.
At this stage, it boils down to any changes being correctly and safely completed, but remember to use the opportunity to think outside the box a little bit as well. So changes like new lighting and LED bulbs, additional sub-metering and cabling, new security lights and sensors, and adding-in the right sockets and switches in a room can all pay off long term.
2. Qualified Testing
Once electrical items are correctly installed in the first place, you then need to have regular testing of them by a qualified electrician. Electricity is a powerful force that can harm people when it’s out of control, therefore help check that everything is how it should be, and any subsequent changes or general faults and repairs are identified and resolved as soon as possible.
In addition, regulations and requirements can change over time, so what was acceptable ten years ago may not be now under new testing criteria, and trigger additional safety works.
Timescale wise, a rough rule of thumb is that ten years can pass from new-build or with owner occupied properties and five years is an average time to elapse before a formal test - ideally every year to be all above board.
Although not necessarily set in stone legislation wise, check what is right in your own situation, with the popular five-year ‘fixed wire test’ or ‘hard wire test’ being a popular reference made in day-to-day dealings with properties, in addition to the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) and Periodic Inspection Report.
Whoever does it, make sure they’re qualified with the right regulation authority, and that you not only have the initial report but any necessary action points actioned and documented afterwards. It may only be certain urgent works that are actually needed, and therefore you may need to phase in with other works in the future to make cost efficient.
Also, check if there is any overlap with other areas as well, for example fire alarm maintenance and emergency lighting which relates more to fire precautions, and linked with security alarms and access control systems.
3. Visual Checks
The final stage is keeping on top of things, and a form of visual checks to help make sure things are in order.
This could actually be by a non-electrician and someone who has some basic knowledge and experience in electrics, for example a surveyor as part of general surveys like Condition Reports, Home Buyer Reports, and Building Surveys.
Even a landlord or managing agent direct could carry this out, and focus on the basic checks like the condition of visible cables and sockets, noting any signs of things being loose or scorched, and checking the main consumer unit and items like the fuse board.
Timing wise, such checks are best every year or when there is a change in circumstances like a new tenant, and records wise it’s important to note and then action any recommendations afterwards, similar to the formal testing above.
Another form of inspection is via a Risk Assessment, whether a general Health & Safety or a specific Fire Risk Assessment, and the responsible person having a careful check of things. These can also help identify more general issues such as correct signage, posters, locked areas, and even rubber matting in cupboards with electrical intake equipment inside.
Probably one grey area between this and the earlier testing stage, is the popular PAT or Portable Appliance Testing. This is more for individual plug-in items like kettles and vacuum cleaners, and therefore part of an occupier’s own duties rather than the main building system’s, and although there is no black-and-white law on how they’re completed, the rule of thumb is every two years by someone who has received basic training.
Sparking Up Interest
So after you’ve gone through these three stages beginning with initial certification, ending with ongoing checks, and involving suitable testing along the way, you’re on the way to piecing together a coherent plan for your property.
There is a range of information available on and off line, including from organisations like Electrical Safety First, and you can discuss further details with good and helpful electricians, property professionals, and other interests like insurers and solicitors to clarify duties.
You then need to implement, and make sure that everything is effectively communicated and recorded. So letting other parties like a tenant and landlord know, both what you’re doing, but also anything they need to do themselves and follow up.
You also need to make sure records are clearly kept, whether that’s an accurate digital or file copy of the latest inspections and certification to show people when needed, and a trail of communication demonstrating that the right and qualified people have accomplished this, and actual action points have been completed.