Fire Safety

Social Housing CO Legislation (England)

Ensuring tenants safety is one of the most pressing issues for registered providers. England’s social landlords accommodate around 17% of all households in the UK, and a large proportion of these are vulnerable tenants – individuals who are likely to need extra help or protection in the home.

Whilst there are a variety of fire hazards that tenants need to be aware of, the dangers of toxic carbon monoxide (CO) in the home are often overlooked or unknown, yet CO poisoning accounts for up to 4,000 medical visits a year in England. As the symptoms are often mistaken for that of flu, and the gas cannot be naturally detected by human senses, there is an increasing pressure on social housing associations and landlords to do their utmost to protect their tenants from this deadly gas.

Fuel-burning appliances

A result of incomplete combustion, CO can be produced from any appliance that burns fuel, e.g. faulty boilers, gas fires, cookers, or blocked chimneys. In order to safeguard tenants, best practice therefore includes to:

(1) Educate tenants about CO

(2) Have all fuel-burning applies regularly serviced by a gas safe engineer

(3) Install carbon monoxide alarms

(4) Inform tenants on what to do in the event of a carbon monoxide event

Carbon monoxide legislation for social housing

Although social housing houses some of the most vulnerable in society, it is often exempt from carbon monoxide legislation that applies to private dwellings.

The following carbon monoxide legislations will therefore outline those that apply to social/affordable housing, but will also give advice to registered providers on best practice for protecting tenants – which will also likely safeguard the premises against future changes in CO legislation to include the social housing sector. “future legislation and/or regulation requiring the practice to be mandatory in the social housing sector.”

Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998

Under this legislation social landlords must:

  • Ensure that gas fittings and flues are maintained in a safe condition
  • A gas safety check is carried out annually on each appliance/flue

However, it is important to note that this annual inspection is essentially a “gas safe MOT”, and it will not guarantee tenant protection from carbon monoxide between these timeframes. Only carbon monoxide alarms can provide this.

Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015

What this stipulates:

  • Private landlords must install a carbon monoxide alarm in every room where there is a solid fuel burning appliance

This legislation, however, appears to have a few shortcomings. It only applies to “solid” fuel-burning appliances, yet oil and gas based boilers – which have been known to produce the toxic gas – are excluded. The legislation also excludes social housing, thereby creating an odd situation where local authorities will be enforcing legislation on private rental properties that local authority and Housing Association housing is not required to meet.

However, despite these legislative discrepancies, many social landlords have already taken action and installed CO alarms in rooms with both solid fuel burning and gas appliances.

Building Regulations Part J

What this stipulates:

  • Carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in the room where a new or replacement fixed solid fuel appliance is installed in a dwelling

However, this does exclude social housing premises that already have a fuel-burning appliance installed, which is somewhat alarming as older appliances are likely to pose a greater risk to tenants. In recognition of this, the 2015 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) recommended that “Building Regulations should be amended to require social housing providers to fit and maintain standard compliant carbon monoxide alarms wherever a fuel burning appliance is installed.”

Best practice

As outlined in FireAngel’s overview of Carbon Monoxide Regulations In The UK, Scotland is leading the way with fire and CO legislation, although this is yet to place social housing and private rented accommodation on the same level of legislative compliance.

As outlined in the Scottish Technical Handbook, certified carbon monoxide alarms need to be fitted when any new or replacement fixed combustion appliance is installed, which therefore includes all gas appliances, as well as oil, coal and wood.

The Technical Handbook recommends that CO alarms be installed in:

  • The room with the appliance or, if it is an enclosed boiler, just outside the enclosure
  • Any room that has a flue running through it

Advances in carbon monoxide technology

Social landlords can benefit from new technology, particularly when preventing CO poisoning. Advances in technology are making it easier – and possibly cheaper in the long run for landlords to offer a higher standard of care to tenants, whilst simultaneously managing their own liability risk.

Here are FireAngel’s top recommendations when purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm:

  • Certified to BS EN50291-1:2010+A1:2012 & BS EN50291-2:2010
  • Sealed for life tamper-proof battery
  • Wi-Safe 2 – wirelessly interlink multiple alarms one alarm goes off they all go off to alert everyone throughout the property

Informing tenants

Alarmingly, the Safety Trust found that only 13 per cent of the public can identify the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning (headaches, vomiting, breathlessness, weakness, confusion, chest pain). Registered providers play a key “trusted messenger” role in social housing, and therefore have a duty of care and responsibility to educate tenants about the dangers of CO in the home, in addition to combustible gas and fire, and how best to protect themselves at home.

It is therefore recommended that landlords provide handouts such as carbon monoxide poisoning eBook or what to do in the event of fire – in addition to installing CO alarms and checking appliances.

You can see a full list of free FireAngel eBooks and resources here