DO I NEED GAS CENTRAL HEATING?
Local authorities frequently object to electric heating, preferring gas central heating. Clearly, if a mains gas supply is not available then the electric heating route is the most likely option anyway. The issues centre on affordability with local authorities using Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) powers to require landlords to install night storage heaters to replace electric heaters.
Liverpool City Council case
This issue has recently come to the fore following a successful appeal by Liverpool City Council to the Lands Chamber (formerly the Lands Tribunal). The property concerned was a one-bedroomed ground floor flat in a pre-1920 terraced house with 9" solid brick walls.
Originally the property only had single glazing, although double glazing had subsequently been installed. The landlord installed a panel heating system with:
- 2 x two kilowatt wall mounted heaters in the living room and hall;
- A 1.5 kilowatt wall mounted heater in both the bedroom and the kitchen; and,
- An electric towel rail in the bathroom.
All were thermostatically controlled and had timer switches so that they could be turned on and off at particular times of the day.
The Council claimed that this system did not meet the requirements of a prohibition notice which they had served because it was more unaffordable to run. The Council wanted to replace the system with modern electric storage radiators with temperature and time controls for the individual heaters using economy 7 or economy 10 tariff rather than electrical panel radiators. The Council relied on Government HHSRS Guidance arguing that the heating should be able to be economically maintained at reasonable temperatures.
The landlord appealed to the Residential Property Tribunal (RPT), which decided that 'affordability' - ie. the cost of heating the property - should not be taken into account.
Liverpool City Council appealed.
The Council argued on the appeal that if the heating system was prohibitively expensive to use the occupier would not use it or would restrict its use, thus resulting in the effects of excess cold which HHSRS was designed to address.
Land Chamber's decision
The Land Chamber decided that affordability was a relevant consideration.
When it came to deciding on what enforcement action to take the financial means of the occupiers - actual or potential - could be taken into account if it affected the likelihood of them using the heating system. Any other relevant factors, such as the occupier's wishes, should also be considered. The RPT had therefore been wrong to say that the cost of electricity was not relevant and the case was sent back to them to reconsider.
The RPT has to look at the question of whether occupiers generally over the age of 65 would be likely to use the existing panel system less than a night storage heating system. If they were just as likely to use panel system as a night storage heater that would be the end of the matter and the landlord's appeal should be allowed.
If, on the other hand, the over 65s would probably use the panel system less than a night storage system in cold weather then the RPT has to look at whether there is a risk to the tenant’s health and if the cost would be such as to create a sufficient risk leading to a Category 1 hazard. The RPT would then have to decide what enforcement action to take.
What does it mean for local authorities?
Liverpool City Council has claimed that this is a major victory for them and it sets a national precedent. However, its press department have got rather carried away with itself and does not appear to have understood what the decision really says.
In reality, all the case highlights is that:
- The cost of an electric heating system is capable of being relevant; and,
- The financial means of the occupants can be taken into account if it affects the likelihood of them using one system compared with another.
The case is certainly not a help to those who are suggesting that gas central heating must be preferred over electricity where gas is available.
Although the case was sent back to the RPT in Liverpool to decide on the outcome at a local level, the RPT has now considered the case further.
What does it mean for landlords?
Landlords clearly do need to consider not just the cost of installation but also the running costs.
For landlords it is not just about the costs of installing the system but whether or not a standard tariff might work out cheaper than an economy 7 system; particularly for tenants over the age of 65.
Some would argue that if a retired person was occupying the property the standard tariff might work out cheaper than an economy 7 system. Whilst the economy 7 works on a reduced tariff at night the remainder of the time it is costly if tenants want to “top it up”. Furthermore, storage heaters do not provide instant heat.
Arguably, the decision is also only relevant to poorly insulated properties such as the one in this case.
Briefing paper correct as of 1st April 2015.