Electrical Safety: Portable Appliances

Commencement:

The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 came into force on 9th January 1995 and werereplaced in 2016 by the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016. The 2016 regulations came into force on 8th December 2016 and apply to all electrical equipment placed on the market after this date. For electrical equipment placed on the market prior to this date the 1994 regulations will continue to apply.

Scope:

Both sets of regulations relate to the supply of electrical equipment designed with a working voltage of between 50 & 1000 volts a.c. (or between 75 & 1500 d.c.), acting as secondary legislation under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 (the ‘Act’). Because the 1994 Regulations operate with the same definition of ‘supplier’ as the Act, then letting agents and landlords letting in the ‘course of business’ are liable as suppliers. The 2016 Regulations apply to landlords and agents who are known as the ‘distributor’ and the duties arise when electrical equipment is ‘made available on the market’ which means ‘any supply of electrical equipment for distribution, consumption or use on the EU market in the course of a commercial activity, whether in return for payment or free of charge…’ Both sets of regulations impose the obligation on the supplier or distributor of such goods to ensure that they are ‘safe’ so that there is no risk of injury or death to humans or pets, or risk of damage to property.

Both sets of regulations cover all mains voltage household electric goods including cookers, kettles, toasters, electric blankets, washing machines, immersion heaters, etc. BUT under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, s.11 the regulations do not apply to items attached to land. This is generally considered to exclude the fixed electrical wiring and built-in appliances (eg. central heating systems) from the Regulations.

Second-hand appliances do not need to have the CE mark if purchased prior to 8th December 2016 but equipment supplied must be safe. Under the 2016 regulations a CE mark is required for appliances first purchased after 8th December 2016 even if the appliance is second-hand.

The 1994 Regulations (for appliances purchased before 8th December 2016) require:

– GENERAL SAFETY. That all electrical equipment supplied is safe. In measuring safety, the ‘supplier’ needs to ascertain whether the product will comply with the current UK requirements for safety of domestic electrical products. Without detailed technical knowledge, there is no simple way to define which electrical products conform and which do not. The Regulations are not helpful in this way and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) guide published in 2012 (which has since been withdrawn) merely stated: ‘As with other second-hand equipment there is no mandatory requirement for second-hand equipment to undergo any safety testing but a supplier may wish to arrange for testing to check the safety of any equipment to ensure that the equipment is safe so as to avoid commission of any offence.’

– INSTRUCTIONS. Where the safe use of the equipment relies upon the user being aware of any particular characteristic, suitable information or instruction booklets should be provided. The instructions should be given in English.

– LABELLING. The 1994 Regulations require that any equipment supplied in the EEC after 9th January 1995 shall be marked with the appropriate CE symbol. In practise, the CE labelling requirement only applies to manufacturers when equipment is first placed on the market.

The 2016 Regulations (for appliances purchased on or after 8th December) require:

– DUTY OF CARE.When making electrical equipment available on the market, a ‘distributor’ must act with due care to ensure that it conforms with safety requirements.

– LABELLING. The 2016 Regulations require that the ‘distributor’ must verify that the electrical equipment bears the appropriate CE symbol and is labelled with an appropriate identification number, name, registered trade mark and postal address of the manufacturer and contains information identifying the importer before making the equipment available on the market. Where it is not possible for this information to be indicated on the electrical equipment the information must be indicated on the packaging or in a document accompanying the equipment.

– INSTRUCTIONS. The electrical equipment must be accompanied by instructions and safety information given in English. Previously under the 1994 Regulations instructions were required where the safe use of the equipment relied upon the user being aware of a particular characteristic.

Letting agents and landlords letting in the course of business should consider the following action:

ESSENTIAL:

  • Check all electrical appliances in all managed properties as soon as practicable for defects (e.g. frayed wiring, badly fitted plugs, etc.). Remove unsafe items.
  • Maintain records of the checks carried out for all the above appliances in each property.
  • Inform landlords of the new Regulations and their obligations.

RECOMMENDED:

  • Have appliances checked by a qualified electrical engineer.
  • Ensure that instruction booklets are available at the property for all appliances and that any necessary safety warnings are given to tenants.
  • Refer to the Regulations within the agency agreement with your landlord.
  • Avoid purchasing second-hand electrical appliances for rented properties and advise owners likewise. If used appliances are installed, it is necessary to have them checked by a qualified engineer.
  • At the time of writing there is no specific requirement for regular testing under the Regulations. However, in order for the agent to ensure compliance, some ongoing checks should be scheduled. The government propose introducing electrical testing regulations in the near future but no detailed information is available.

Exclusions and Indemnity:

EXCLUDED PRODUCTS. Plugs and sockets for domestic use and electricity supply meters are amongst the list of excluded products named by the Regulations.

DUE DILIGENCE. Section 39 of the Act provides a defence of ‘due diligence’. That section provides that it shall be a defence to show that a person took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence. Merely asking the landlord to sign a statement that there are no non-compliant items is not considered to be sufficient in this respect.

Penalty:

The penalty for non-compliance with the regulations is a substantial fine or even imprisonment in serious cases.

Related regulations are the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994.

The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 require landlords renting property in England to ensure that the electrical fixed wiring is installed and tested (on a regular basis) to the current safety standards. See Letting Factsheet No. 4 for more information.

Sources for Further Information:

This summary is intended to assist landlords and letting agents to understand the effect of the Regulations. It is not an authoritative interpretation – this is a matter for the courts. For more detail, you should refer to the text of the Regulations themselves.