Why I want legislation on smoke alarms

Nick Raynsford MP

Nick Raynsford MP explains why he promoted proive Members Bill throught the Hous of Commons this month

Smoke alarms save lives. A person is four times more likely to die in a fire in the home if they do not have a working alarm. Building Regulations require smoke alarms in all new dwellings, and after very successful promotional campaigns over the past decade nine out of ten homes now have a working alarm.

But more needs to be done. Two and a half million homes are still unprotected, and by a margin the largest proportion are privately rented. Almost one in five privately rented homes does not have a smoke alarm, double the proportion in the social housing sector.

The purpose of my Ten Minute Rule Bill is to remedy this by making the installation of a working smoke alarm mandatory in all privately rented housing. I have no objections to extending this provision to all rented homes, but thought it sensible to start with the sector where there is greatest need.

 Indeed, the Energy Act 2013 already contains a clause which makes it possible for Ministers to make this measure law. All that is required is the introduction of a Statutory Instrument to bring this into force. So why has the Government allowed this issue to be kicked into the long grass?

The CLG consultation paper on smoke alarms has cited ‘regulatory burden’. In contrast, however, the National Landlords Association say “we already advise that it is best practice to install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in rental properties and are comfortable with this being made a regulatory requirement”. The British Property Federation says that it “supports the compulsory roll-out of smoke alarms and CO alarms across the rented sector”. 

The public too is overwhelmingly supportive. Research by YouGov for the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service conducted nationwide found that 93% of the more than 2,000 respondents agreed with the statement: “Private landlords should be required by law to ensure that working smoke alarms are fitted in rented residential properties”. A parallel YouGov survey of businesses found a similar level of support with 91% of the 690 respondents agreeing with the statement. Interestingly, when broken down by category of business, YouGov found 100% of real estate respondents in favour.

I therefore find the Government’s ‘regulatory burden’ argument wholly unconvincing. We know that the Government is sceptical about regulation, but this scepticism does not prevent it imposing new regulatory burdens when it wants. The Immigration Bill for example imposes penalties of up to £3,000 on landlords who let premises to people without leave to remain in the UK, even if they were unaware of their tenant’s immigration status.  

The Government’s claim that this “would impose additional costs on landlords” is equally unconvincing.   In reality the cost would be tiny. A sealed smoke detector with a ten-year battery costs around £15, only £1.50 a year spread over the life of the battery against the average rental income from a private letting which is currently over £10,000 a year.

We simply cannot allow such a flimsy pretext to delay any further the necessary action to save lives. Those landlords keen to do the right thing will by now almost all have installed alarms. Those who are negligent or indifferent to tenant safety may well not have done so. Without a legal obligation it is unlikely that they will respond positively to further encouragement. That is one of the reasons why landlord representatives like the National Landlords Association are supportive. It will ensure a level playing field, and help raise safety standards across the whole sector. That is why I today presented my Bill as a call to action.  Given the overwhelming support of the House of Commons (voting 245 to 8 in favour) I hope that the Government will now act without further delay.