Protecting all renters from the silent killer

When I first joined Energy UK back in 2017 I have to admit that I didn’t know much about carbon monoxide poisoning, and I still remember the cold chill running through me when I realised that my family at home could be at risk at that very moment because I had no idea if we had a carbon monoxide alarm.

Since then, through Energy UK’s ‘CO Be Alarmed!’ campaign, I have discovered the everyday danger posed by carbon monoxide (CO) which is known as a silent killer because you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. That is why it is critical for every home to have an audible carbon monoxide alarm at home.

If CO is present in a home everyone is at risk, with children and pets often the first to be affected. The symptoms of CO poisoning – which include headaches, nausea, dizziness and breathlessness – can be very easily mistaken for a cold or the flu, which is one of the reasons CO incidents are underreported.

Carbon monoxide can be omitted from everyday household appliances, such as a poorly maintained or faulty boilers or gas cookers. An estimated 30 people die and a further 4,000 are hospitalised every year from carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK.

Energy UK’s ‘Carbon Monoxide Be Alarmed!’ campaign has been raising awareness of the risk of CO poisoning and the importance of installing a CO alarm for over 10 years now.

Since 2017 we have also been campaigning for better protection for people living in rented accommodation. I wasn’t alone in my lack of awareness of the dangers of CO with research for the CO Be Alarmed campaign finding that one in three renters don’t have a life-saving carbon monoxide alarm, and 90% of them think it is their landlords’ responsibility to provide one – it isn’t and that’s why we want the regulations to be changed.

The current regulations in England & Wales only require a landlord to provide a CO alarm if there is a solid fuel burning appliance – like a log fire or wood-burning stove. In practice, this is only around 8% of rented properties leaving the vast majority of renters unprotected.

CO alarms cost as little as £15 but they save lives so we want to see these regulations extended to protect all renters, regardless of what type of fuel appliance they have. This is already the case in Scotland where landlords are legally required to provide CO alarms in all rented properties.

And the landlords are on side too – the Housing Landlords Association has echoed our calls for changes to the regulations along with the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) who have set out the case for change in their report ‘Carbon monoxide alarms: Tenants safe and secure in their homes’ published in 2017.

Last year there were two very positive developments. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee published a report on the private rented sector which agreed with our recommendation to extend the regulations. Following this, and work by Eddie Hughes MP on his ‘Silent Killer Bill’ (now withdrawn), the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that they will be launching a review of the CO alarm regulations.

We are now awaiting the Government’s decision which is expected to be published alongside its response to the Social Housing Green Paper – originally scheduled for spring 2019. As time ticks on, millions in rented accommodation remain at risk.

We hope the Government will act to protect all renters from this silent killer.

Abbie Sampson,
Director of External Affairs, Energy UK

Exclusively written for House Magazine – available to read here (page 17).