Associate Feature: Electrical Safety Protection for the Most Vulnerable
Electricity causes around 75% of fires in Scotland’s homes. Yet the Priority Services Register (PSR), whereby the most vulnerable are supported by their utility company, fails to include electrical safety ─ despite widespread support.
Now, the campaigning charity, Electrical Safety First, is calling on energy suppliers to address this inequality, by ensuring those on the register are as protected from electrical risk as they are from the dangers of gas. Wayne MacKay, Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Electrical Safety First, explains.
Struggling to make ends meet is not new for some Scots but now record numbers are feeling the pain. However, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis will inevitably hit older and vulnerable groups hardest, particularly when using energy in the home.
One protection provided for vulnerable people – such as those on benefits, pensioners, or the chronically ill or disabled ─ is the PSR, which was designed for energy suppliers and network operators to support customers in need. Unfortunately, it omits a key factor: electrical safety.
Overseen by Ofgem, benefits offered by the PSR range from having priority service in power cuts, to bills produced in Braille. But while the register is voluntary for providers, it does include a requirement for free gas and carbon dioxide checks, as part of Ofgem’s licensing conditions. Yet electricity is responsible for more deaths than both of these combined ─ and in Scotland, electricity causes almost 75% of domestic fires each year.
In November 2022, we undertook a survey of people on the PSR and found around 25% of Scottish respondents had either never had their electrics checked, or simply didn’t know if it had been. The vast majority (85%) also supported a call for energy suppliers to provide electrical safety checks as a PSR requirement. It’s a view echoed by both private and social housing landlords. In previous research, we asked a range of UK housing providers if regular electrical safety checks should be offered by energy suppliers to those on certain benefits, with 90% saying yes. However, the owner-occupied sector is the largest tenure in Scotland, with a greater proportion of older people than any other. It also has the lowest electrical safety requirements compared to other tenures, which require regular electrical safety checks.
People aged 60+ are more likely to die in an electrical fire than any other demographic, especially if living alone. The risk of a fatality from fire is also increased for this age group when living in older housing, without up-to-date electrics. And it’s heightened further by a health condition, such as dementia or Parkinson’s.
Regular electrical safety checks have been compulsory in Scotland’s private and social rented sectors for some years now. Scotland’s owner-occupied sector, however, only has to meet the basic levels of electrical safety required by the Tolerable Standard ─ which has no legal requirement for this safety essential.
While some older people in Scotland may be asset-rich by owning their own home, they will often be cash-poor. During the current cost-of-living crisis many will be pushed into fuel-poverty. Living in older properties, with potentially dangerous electrical systems that may never have been checked, the risk to older vulnerable groups is heightened.
Electrical Safety First is calling on energy suppliers to support the introduction of regular electrical safety checks as a required feature of the PSR, bringing parity with gas safety. We believe that this will help ensure that all those most vulnerable to fuel-poverty during this period of financial flux have, as a minimum, enhanced electrical safety.
For more information about the campaign, contact:
Wayne MacKay, Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Electrical Safety First.
Electrical Safety First is the UK charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries and damage caused by electricity.
Find out more at: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/our-policies/scotland/
This article is sponsored by Electrical Safety First.
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