My Lords, this matter will be discussed during the Energy Bill debates later today but I can announce to the House now that my department will be undertaking a formal review of the rules and regulations relating to carbon monoxide alarms in rented homes. This will consider the technical questions of how best to ensure safety in the home, as well as regulatory mechanisms, given the overlapping regimes of building regulations, fire safety and housing standards.
I am, of course, delighted to hear that there will be a review but I hope that, in the light of the coroner’s Regulation 28 letter following yet another fatal carbon monoxide poisoning, the Government will also consider giving fire and rescue services a statutory role in carbon monoxide safety, regulation and enforcement, given their good track record on fire alarms. I also ask the Government to consider how carbon monoxide tracks in buildings. Some of the deaths have occurred among people who have been resident in properties or rooms where the boiler has not been situated, although the boiler has been the source of the carbon monoxide and the source of the deaths.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this important matter. I pay tribute to her for everything that she has done to raise this issue over several years. She is right about the coroner’s Regulation 28 letter that we received following the tragic death of Mrs Kerr in Manchester. We are currently considering its recommendations, which include some of those that she has mentioned, and we will reply, as we are required to do. As to the noble Baroness’s second question, she is right to emphasise the risks to tenants in rented properties. In the wider review that I have just mentioned, we will be looking at the requirement for landlords to install carbon monoxide detectors.
My Lords, there is currently an obligation for rental properties to have a gas safety certificate every year. If the compulsory installation of carbon monoxide monitors is to be introduced, would it not be practical for those monitors to be tested at the same time, as people would then know that it had been done? Further, is it not important to indicate on the carbon monoxide monitor how long it will work satisfactorily? I have found great variation in what people tell you when they come about the gas. One will say that the battery just needs changing but another will say that the sensor stops working after a certain number of years. I noticed that whoever installed the carbon monoxide monitor in my home wrote on it the date when it will definitely need replacing.
My noble friend raises an interesting point. One of the new steps that the department is proposing as part of its wider review to enhance the safety of people in rented property is to ensure that they are properly equipped to ask the right questions about alarms and their longevity. Annual safety checks are about appliances and flues. The most important thing is that appliances are operating properly because, if they do so, the chance of injury or death is that much more diminished.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will of course be aware that some of the regretful deaths that have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning in people’s homes is due to a device driven by gas. Does the noble Baroness agree that the utility companies that supply gas should be under a legal obligation to ensure that the supply and installation in the homes of their clients are tested and that their premises are safe and, perhaps, retrospectively fit a CO device free of charge? Of course, they can easily afford to do so.
Appliances in rented properties are subject to an annual requirement for a gas safety check. As for the providers of gas pipes, since April this year the distribution network operators have been required by Ofgem to raise awareness and reduce the risk of carbon monoxide. So there is now a requirement on those companies as well as the annual safety check on the appliances which is part of existing regulations.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s answer today. Is she aware that in its response to the recent CLG Select Committee report the Government also agreed with the Electrical Safety Council’s view that all private rented sector properties should be subject to electrical safety tests at least every five years? Can she say how and when the Government will ensure that landlords do that, and that such checks include appliances and are carried out by registered electricians?
I will have to write to my noble friend on the specifics of his questions on electrical checks, but I would point him to the wider review which is taking place to enhance the safety of all people in rented accommodation. It will cover a wide range of issues and not just gas, carbon monoxide or electricity.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. The Department of Health has been working with the British Standards Institution to introduce warning labels on barbecues and barbecue fuels to warn people of the dangers of bringing barbecues indoors or into tents. I think that people are gradually starting to understand the risks and dangers of that.
My Lords, the Minister’s announcement is welcome. She will be aware that we now have some 3.6 million households renting privately in a sector that has hitherto been largely unregulated. Mention has already been made of the landlord’s obligations under health and safety legislation. Is she aware of research from Shelter that shows that in 2011-12 there were some 85,000 complaints against rogue landlords, two-thirds of which related to serious life-threatening hazards such as dangerous gas and electrical installations? Given savage cuts to the HSE and local authority budgets, how can the Secretary of State’s new-found zeal for cracking down on rogue landlords be brought to bear to ensure compliance with these vital health and safety regulations?
The noble Lord seems to want it both ways—he wants me to say that we are going to do more but then questions whether we can do more. As I said, a couple of weeks ago we announced a range of measures to enhance the safety of tenants in all kinds of rented accommodation. Among a range of measures that we will be introducing is guidance for local authorities to help them prosecute rogue landlords and press for the maximum possible penalties. From next month the courts will be able to take account of a landlord’s assets and not just their income, as at present, when determining an appropriate fine.