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Every year in the UK, 200 people die as a result of domestic fires, which mostly occur at night when occupants are asleep and therefore entirely dependent on alarms to alert them to the danger. 

50 deaths a year are attributable to carbon monoxide poisoning with 4,000 victims hospitalised. The Private Rental Sector needs to ensure that tenants are kept safe but without enforcement deaths are likely to continue. So when will the Government publish its Carbon Monoxide Alarm review and save lives?

Safety in the property 

Fortunately the number of fatalities is small compared to the 37,000 house fires which occur annually, largely as a result of misuse of or faults within electrical equipment. 

However, one preventable death is too many, which is why in 2015 smoke alarms in private rented property were given mandatory status. 

But even where fitted, according to government figures, 45% of smoke alarms fail to sound. This has been attributed to incorrect placement as well as failures of power supply, suggesting that maintenance plays as big a part as installation in keeping tenants safe.

Although seemingly less dramatic, each of the 50 deaths a year that are attributable to carbon monoxide poisoning could be prevented as well as effect a reduction in the 4,000 victims hospitalised each year. 

These cases are not related to house fires but are usually the result of poorly maintained boilers and gas cookers or inadequate ventilation.

Unlike smoke, carbon monoxide is impossible to detect without equipment because it can’t be seen, smelt or tasted. It is known as the silent killer.

Consultation to extend regulations   

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 imposed an obligation on landlords, among other things, to fit a smoke alarm on every floor of a property where a room was used wholly or partly as living accommodation and to ensure it is in full working order at the beginning of a tenancy. 

They are also obliged to investigate any reports of malfunction. 

In November 2020, mindful of the similarly life-saving potential of carbon monoxide alarms, the government launched a consultation on proposals to extend the provision of the regulations to social housing and to introduce a duty for private landlords to install carbon monoxide alarms.

The proposals did not go so far as to prescribe the type of alarm required, on the basis that landlords are best qualified to decide on the needs of individual households, nor do they seek to oblige landlords to carry out testing during a tenancy, suggesting that this should be the responsibility of tenants. 

The only extra requirement envisioned is for landlords to replace faulty alarms when they are made aware of them. While in relation to smoke alarms, this may directly affect only social landlords, since private sector landlords are already covered, the introduction of the same obligation for private landlords regarding carbon monoxide alarms is a significant development.

The consultation lasted for 8 weeks from 17th November 2020 to 11th January 2021. It seems unlikely that there was anything controversial in the contributions of public bodies, private businesses or individuals. 

However, the conclusions from the consultation have not been published and there is as yet no indication when the information will be forthcoming. 

The statistics quoted above are uncontested and are supplied by government sources. 

Carbon monoxide alarms save lives. 

Winter is approaching 

As such, many people in the industry are scratching their heads over this delay. The consultation was launched in the winter, which may have been a coincidence, but if so it is a fitting one because it is possible to trace a pattern over at least the last 25 years of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Over this period the annual average was 717. Of these, almost half occurred in November, December and January, with the figures falling rapidly towards July then rising sharply again towards winter. 

We are now approaching another dangerous winter and almost a year has been lost. It is almost inconceivable that the government will have the time to publish its report, draft legislation and get it passed before next summer at the earliest. 

Implementation may cause further delays, meaning not just one but potentially two more winters without this life-saving regulatory change.

Despite the protracted nature of this process, it is entirely within the power of landlords to take their own steps in anticipation of the outcome everyone hopes for and expects.

It’s not necessary to wait for the installation of carbon monoxide alarms to be mandated: the technology’s benefits are known and the devices are neither expensive nor difficult to fit.

Regular property inspections and reviews  

Inventory Base are firm believers in the importance of regular property inspections and reviews, not simply to protect a landlord’s property but also to ensure the safety of tenants and the discharge of what many consider to be a landlord’s moral duties. 

Installing a carbon monoxide alarm ought to be a routine procedure in every privately rented property. Once in place, the alarm, as with those for smoke, can be made part of the standard inspection procedure. 

Simple safety steps

Inventory Base’s property inspection app already and easily accommodates this, in addition to all other checks regarding utilities, services and security. 

Every residential and commercial report template has a Health & Safety field that encourages the supplier, agent or landlord completing the report to add the number of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the property, its location, type and whether it has been tested for an audible tone. 

Users also utilise the action feature to alert the property manager, agent, landlord and tenant to the fact that alarms are either not present, not emitting an audible alarm or incorrectly sited. 

For example: fitted smoke alarm in the kitchen when they should be a heat sensor or a solid burning fuel stove without a carbon monoxide alarm fitted in the same room.

Potential sources of Carbon Monoxide

  • Sleeping Areas
  • Stoves
  • Fires and Boilers
  • Water Heaters
  • Paraffin Heaters
  • General Gas Wall Heaters
  • LPG Gas Appliances in Caravans & Boats

Where to install a Carbon Monoxide Alarm

  • Fit the alarm high-up in the same room as the potential source of carbon monoxide
  • The unit should be positioned around 15cm from the ceiling and at least one metre away from boilers, cookers and fires
  • Make sure the unit is not directly above a source of heat or steam
  • If it does not need or cannot be fixed to a wall position the unit on a stable shelf or ledge

Information courtesy of Which?

When can we expect the consultation to be published?

At the moment this is unclear. 

Without the results of the consultation, we cannot know whether the government intends to maintain its position that the onus for testing alarms should be on the tenants, but a landlord has the choice of going further than the amendments may demand by making a simple check part of any interim property inspection.

Those businesses with a stake in the health of the private rental market should give careful consideration to the idea of being proactive in speeding up an industry-wide adoption of best practice regarding carbon monoxide poisoning, since it looks as though regulatory change is not coming any time soon.

And that should concern everyone in the private rental industry.