English Housing Survey – Fires and Fire Safety 2013/14

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In the last couple of weeks the government has published the latest English Housing Survey for the period 2013-14. This survey has been run every year since 2008 and is the most detailed set of information on English homes available. It is put together using survey data of over 13,000 people and physical inspections of some 6,200 houses. Amongst the many issues covered are fire and fire safety, and we thought we’d take a look at some of the key findings.

Fire Incidents

The survey has found that approximately 385,000 households (or 2% of all homes) reported a fire of some sort in the past two years. Only around a third of these were reported to the fire and rescue service and required their assistance to extinguish, with nearly half being put out by the occupier themselves. People living in private and social rented homes are significantly more likely to have a fire than those living in homes they own themselves. Nearly three-quarters of all reported fires started in the kitchen (74%) with more than half (54%) specifically caused by cooking.

Smoke Alarms

20.8 million or 92% of all English households reported having at least one smoke alarm installed at home, with 88% sure that the alarm was working when surveyed. That leaves some 2.5 million homes without a working smoke alarm or any smoke alarm at all. Those in private rented accommodation are the least likely to have a working smoke alarm at 82%, while those in housing association accommodation were most likely at 94%. This highlights the importance of the government’s plans to make smoke alarm installation compulsory in private rented accommodation – a move strongly supported by CFOA.

It is also positive to note that from 2008-09 to 2013-14, there was a 13% reduction in the number of smoke alarms that were powered by a one year ordinary battery (from 53% to 40%) and an increase in smoke alarms that were powered by a ten year battery (10% to 16%) or that were mains powered only (from 16% to 21%).

Fire Hazards

As part of the physical inspections carried out for the survey, the presence of fire hazards are taken into account, which includes issues such as lack of means of escape or a high number of ignition sources. In 2013, one million dwellings were assessed as having a ‘higher’ risk of fire. Of these, 88,000 had the most serious Category 1 fire hazards. Again, private rented accommodation was found to be over-represented within the most at risk housing. Just 77% of households who lived in higher risk homes had a working smoke alarm.

Regarding electrical safety, it was found that only 425,000 of the 1,000,000 most at risk homes had all five electrical safety features present (modern PVC wiring, modern earthing, a modern consumer unit, overload protection and personal protection). This is lower than in the housing stock at large, where 57% had all five of these safety features, which reduce the risk of fire or electric shock.

Still more to do

The survey shows a generally improving picture of fire safety in UK homes, but does highlight just how many homes remain unsafe either through a lack of detection or the presence of specific fire hazards. It therefore remains vital that fire and rescue services target these most vulnerable households to reduce their risk from fire.

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