Do Landlords Need Metal Consumer Units?

by James @ ElectricBlu Contractors

Do Landlords Need Metal Consumer Units?


Introduction to Changes for Landlord Electrical Regulations

There have been some really sweeping changes in the Electrical Safety Standards for the Private Rental Sector recently.

With the introduction of the 18th edition of the wiring regulations, and also the introduction of mandatory EICRs for private rental properties, confusion over electrical installations has never been higher.

However, you may well have been wondering: Do Landlords Need Metal Consumer Units?

Do Landlords Need Metal Consumer Units?

Do Landlords Need Metal Consumer Units?
Metal Consumer units have been a requirement in 'NEW INSTALLATIONS' since Amendment 3 to the 17th edition of the wiring regulations.

This is not that new, it actually became a requirement for new consumer unit installations as of 1st Jan 2016.

I am hearing from a lot of landlords that they are having electrical safety tests completed and they are being told that they need a 'new metal consumer unit' or an '18th edition consumer unit' fitting to pass the test.

The worrying thing is I'm hearing this from landlords of properties which are only 5 years old and have modern, dual RCD or even RCBO consumer units, they are just plastic as opposed to metal.

There is no backwards compatible requirement to fit metallic consumer units instead of plastic

There are a number of other issues which may mean that consumer unit . fuse board need upgrading (hence it would need to be metal), but any modern board with RCDs for most circuits should not need replacement simply because they are plastic

Guidance on EICR coding for plastic consumer units / fuse boards

Let me be straight with you, each electrician has to use their own engineering judgement to produce an EICR.

Whilst there are guides to EICR coding, these are not 'set in concrete', different situations produce different risks and this is where a skilled and competent electrician will use their judgement.

That being said, of any guides that do exist, the one most often referred to when completing tests like this, is from 'Electrical Safety First' and is entitled 'Best Practice Guide 4 - EICR'. Electrical Safety First used to be the Electrical Safety Council, a national body promoting electrical safety.

Their guide lists a wide range of 'situations' an electrician would encounter when checking an installation, and the code that is considered to be 'best practice' to use.

Of the question of plastic boards, their advice recommends that a C3 - IMPROVEMENT RECOMMENDED code is given for a plastic board, only when it is either under wooden stairs or else in the sole means of escape from the property.

A C3 code is akin to an 'advisory' on a car MOT. It does not constitute a fail, rather a situation where safety could be improved by having the following items rectified.

Any other areas where a plastic fuse board may be located as opposed to a metal consumer unit, would not even be considered a C3 code, rather just something to note on the EICR.

So How Do I Avoid Being Sold into A Metal Consumer Unit If I Don't Need One?

This is where you need to choose a good and reliable electrician who will produce a report based on best practice and good judgement rather than using them as a tool to generate work.

Paying ridiculously cheap prices for the initial test can often be a sign of an electrician who is looking to make more profit on remedial works down the line.

A good test takes time, and needs a skilled electrician to apply their knowledge of the regulations (and other guides to them such as the Best Practice Guides).

But mainly the only way to really be sure is to speak to the electrician and see what their stance is. Ask if they would fail the EICR based on a plastic board as opposed to a metal one.

Ask: Do Landlords Need Metal Consumer Units?

An electrician with nothing to hide will provide you with an answer up front to a question like that....

James - ElectricBlu Contractors

Helping Landlords & Agents keep Electrical Compliance simple...
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  • Nancy Weeks
    24th November 2020

    Ii have recently had an electrician change my consumer box to metal and change smoke alarm in kitchen to heat alarm. However, he has not supplied me with the certificate after constant requests and he was recommended by a letting and estate agent. How do I report this and to who? It has cost me £600

    • ElectricBluContractors
      9th December 2020

      Hello Ms Weeks, thank you for getting in touch.

      It is frustrating to hear that the electrician in question has not supplied you with the relevant paperwork.

      Do you know the name of the electrician in question? If so, then the first port of call should be to check who they are registered with by going to https://www.electricalcompetentperson.co.uk/

      This site lists all the electricians in the UK who are registered with an awarding body. Once you have this information, then if the electrician fails to supply the paperwork you can report them to their trade body who will take this up with the electrician.

      I hope that was some help and you can get your certification sorted

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • john pilcher
    7th January 2021

    I am a landlord and need an electrical certificate for my property The lights are not earthed Will I need a new lighting circuit installed

    • ElectricBluContractors
      28th March 2021

      Hello Mr Pilcher, thank you for getting in touch.

      Whilst it is theoretically possible for the installation to pass the test without an earth (assuming that all light fittings/switches are non-metallic and there is a proper warning label fitted to the fuse board/consumer unit) you have to remember that this cable is about 50 years old now.

      There are a number of other tests/inspections (mainly the insulation resistance test) which may fail due to the age of the cable and deterioration which has occurred due to the age.

      It’s difficult to advise further on this as the installation is likely to need in depth inspection to be sure that it is safe for continued use.

      Hope that was useful?

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Shish
    11th January 2021

    As Electrician informs me I require New metal board because “there Is no roof to make it a split Board”. Does it sound like a reasonable reason to change the board?

    • ElectricBluContractors
      1st April 2021

      Hi Shish, thanks for posting the question.

      I assume auto-correct has taken over here and the issue highlighted is that there is ‘no RCD to make it a split board’?

      Not having an RCD for certain specified circuits would be a reasonable reason to change the board. The wording of the comment from your electrician is quite ambiguous, however if there is no RCD at all on the installation then yes it really should be upgraded to be fair. That being said, he does mention a ‘split board’ which is where the RCD only protects so many circuits. Perhaps it would be best to clarify exactly what the installation has failed on. If you repost here I’d be more than happy to give it a read through

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Kevin Ten
    16th January 2021

    Thank you for this concise to the point clarification.

    I’ve been victim of this where I am quoted the latest BS7671 standards that the CU needs to compliant to in order to pass an EICR inspection simply because the CU is plastic.

    Many are being ripped off as electricians bamboozle the average person with standards and jargon.

    • ElectricBluContractors
      1st April 2021

      Hello Mr Ten, thanks for posting.

      I’m glad you found the advice useful, we are seeing a number of occasions where misunderstanding of the regulations is causing confusion over these parts. For us, just because the board is plastic there is no reason to upgrade it per-se. Obviously if there are any signs of loose terminations or other damage within then that is a different matter, however assuming all is well, a plastic board should not be the reason for the installation being considered ‘unsatisfactory’

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • paul graham knight
    5th February 2021

    Hi James interesting article thank you. I am a landlord in a flats built in 2012 with plastic consumer units located in a cupboard in the hall which is the main and only exitway.however ground floor windows could be used in an emergency.
    My wiring tested ok no mention of metal fuseboard whereas a top floor flat had a c3 and a quote of £420 on a 12 way board Where can I find detailed explanation of what an inspection means and physically what has to be
    inspected tested thanks Paul

    • ElectricBluContractors
      1st April 2021

      Hello Mr Knight

      There is no outright requirement to upgrade plastic bodied consumer units to metal. However there is some guidance from Electrical Safety First on EICR coding which states that ‘plastic bodied consumer units located with the sole means of escape from a property’ should be coded a C3 – Improvement Recomended. It should be noted that this is just a reccomendation and this alone should not cause the report to be unsatisfactory.

      You can find the guidance from Electrical Safety First here, check page 16: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/media/1200/best-practice-guide-4-issue-4.pdf

      As for what is inspected, this covers the following (in a very rough overview):

    • Condition of consumer unit
    • Condition of accessories (switches/sockets/etc…)
    • Condition of meter tails
    • Condition & connection of earthing arrangement
    • Condition & connection of bonding conductors
    • Presence of RCD protection for specified circuits
    • Removal of a sample (should be most if not all within a domestic property) of accessories to check wiring within is both tight and completed correctly
    • Protection devices that are single pole should only be in the line conductor
    • Polarity (L/N/E) of cables at accessories
    • This list is by no means exhaustive! I’ll have to write another article up covering this as there is quite a lot to it!

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Tony Higham
    18th March 2021

    my rental first property is a bungalow, therefore no stairs. The consumer unit is plastic but not in the way of the only escape route, it is close to the back door of the building.

    my second rental property was built in 2004 and the consmer unit (plastic) is in the boiler cupboard which is block built, plastered and with a fire door.

    I am being told by the letting agent that both consumer units must be changed for metal ones.

    Is this correct?

    • ElectricBluContractors
      1st April 2021

      Hello Mr Higham, thanks for posing the question.

      Unequivically, NO your letting agent is incorrect. There are no regulations which mean that plastic boards need upgrading for metal (even if they are in the sole means of escape from a property).

      If your agent challenges this in any way then ask for the regulation which states that boards must be upgraded for metal? This only applies to ‘new’ installations.

      Hope that was of some help?

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Tony Higham
    18th March 2021

    Further to my message a few minutes ago. Both consumer units are fitted with RDCs and both properties have had full electrical inspections in the last 4 years.

  • Noel Cummins
    27th March 2021

    I’ve had an electrician inspect my rented property and carry out an EICR on a plastic dual RCD board, which has been tested about 5years ago.
    They have issued a failure on this board and I change it to a metal type board.
    The board is in a cupboard under the stairs.


    • ElectricBluContractors
      28th March 2021

      Hello Mr Cummins thank you for posting the question.

      As far as plastic consumer units are concerned, we follow the guidance in the ‘Electrical Safety First Best Practice Guide 4’. This is an industry recognised document outlining the recommended codes to give to a wide number of different issues found on an EICR.

      This particular document recommends that plastic boards, in cupboards under wooden staircases would be considered a C3 – Improvement Recommended issue. You can check this for yourself on the following link at page 15: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/media/2149/bpg4-1.pdf

      Unfortunately this guidance is not binding and it is up to the particular inspecting electrician to decide on the code required. Sadly there is little recourse other than appealing to the electrician and asking why they think this is a potential danger? Alternatively you could consider getting another electrician to complete another EICR, however I would recommend speaking to them first and asking their ‘stance’ on this particular issue to ensure that you are not going to end up with the same issue again.

      Hope that helped?

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Robert Cook
    24th April 2021

    I have looked throught the booklet “‘Best Practice Guide 4 – EICR’.” a number of times but I must be going word blind. Please could you indicate where in the document it says that C£ code need not be used in the circumstances described. Thanks.

    • ElectricBluContractors
      2nd May 2021

      Hello Mr Cook

      Thank you for getting in touch and posing the question. Despite being full of useful info, Best Practice Guide 4 can be a bit of a ‘dry’ read and it’s easy to overlook bits.

      The part in specific would be on Page 16 (top right). This section is outlining C3 codes. Here it states that:

      “Presence of a consumer unit or similar switchgear made from combustible material (IE: Plastic) that is not within a non-combustible cupboard and is either located underneath a wooden staircase or is on the sole means of escape from the premises” would be a C3.

      It further goes on to include that combustible consumer units which are NOT within the above locations do not warrant a classification code on the next page, top right of page 17,

      Hope that helped? If I can be of any more assistance please do not hesitate to reply

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Emma Jones
    21st August 2021

    Hi I’ve recently bought a Victorian 2 bed property to rent. The EICR notes a C2 for knockout on top of consumer unit missing and C2 consumer unit made from plastic under the stairs main exit. He then fitted a new consumer unit and charged me £530 and £170 for a new certificate. I’m wondering if I’ve been taken advantage of? Thanks

    • ElectricBluContractors
      22nd September 2021

      Hello Ms Jones

      Thanks for posting the question. Whilst it’s difficult to know for certain whether or not the consumer unit would have needed upgrading anyway, however I can confirm that the issues listed wouldn’t have really needed the replacement of the consumer unit.
      The issue of the plastic CU under the main stairs is under the title of ‘C3 – Improvement Recommended’ in Electrical Safety First Best Practise Guide 4 (EICR).
      The issue of the knockouts on the top of the consumer unit potentially would be a C2 issue if the hole left was large enough, however this could have been repaired by using an appropriate grommet, gland or other method of sealing the penetration to the top of the consumer unit. Sadly EICR coding is ultimately down to the issuing electrician, if they deem the risk to be sufficient then they are welcome to use an appropriate coding. There is little you can do to argue this sadly, all guidance is just that, guidance. This is why I always recommend speaking to the electrician first to gauge their views on particular issues.

      It is also a bit concerning that you were charged separately for another certificate. An EIC (Electrical Installation Certificate) should always be provided by an electrician to verify that their installation work (in this case the new consumer unit) is up to the required standard. Charging for it separately makes me think the electrician has completed another EICR (Electrical Installation Condition Report) afterwards, again something that isn’t really necessary. Indeed further guidance from Electrical Safety First verifies that it is not required to do a second, ‘clean EICR’ after the remedial work has been completed.

      The price for the consumer unit is certainly reasonable at £530.

      Hope that was helpful?

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

  • Andrew Payne
    5th September 2022

    Hi, this page has been really useful to me. I have recently purchased a flat and plan to rent it out. It has a plastic consumer unit with no RCD, do new regs state that it needs updating due to no RCD protection. Thanks

    • ElectricBluContractors
      5th September 2022

      Hello Mr Payne, thanks for posting the question

      Whilst there is no specific written regulation requiring that you install an RCD, you will need an EICR (Electrical Installation Condition Report) completing in order to meet the latest regulations. Finding an electrician who will give you a satisfactory EICR on an old consumer unit without an RCD will be difficult.

      We would generally give a C2 – POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS issue for the lack of RCD protection to sockets which may be used to supply outdoor equipment. There may be other issues as it is likely that the age of the installation is quite old.

      I would recommend that you budget for replacement of the consumer unit as a minimum, however you would really need to get a local electrician to check the installation over for you.

      Hope that helps?

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

      • Chris T
        4th November 2022

        Hi James,

        Asked an electrician about producing a certificate as I’m planning on renting. He took one look at the consumer unit and said its not up to regulation because its plastic and doesn’t have a main switch. It looks like it has a main switch to me and after reading your article it doesn’t sound like its regulation to swap it out just because its plastic. here’s a photo of the unit, can you confirm he is correct or is he erring on the side of caution to replace https://imgur.com/a/YBEZNcV

        • ElectricBluContractors
          28th January 2023

          Hello Chris

          Apologies for the late reply. This is quite concerning, firstly there is no need to upgrade the enclosure to metal to pass an EICR. However, more worryingly is that the main switch *IS* a BS4293 30mA RCD main switch! He’s either really new (these are quite old, but still perfectly acceptable) or just doesn’t know his stuff at all. To put it in perspective, I’m 38, these are well before the time when I was a practising electrician, yet still know it’s a perfectly acceptable main switch.

          Definitely, definitely get another electrician to take a look.

          Kind regards
          James – ElectricBlu Contractors

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  • Sarah Marshall
    26th January 2023

    Hi James VERY useful infoThe EICR report on a one bed flat I’ve restored for letting has failed solely on the old, approx 30 year, consumer unit not having RCD and being high to reach ie 6’ Recommendation obviously a new CU. I would like to know if this CU is actually illegal or is it in reality just advisory? If just advisory then surely an EICR REPORT should state pass with recommendation. My electrician has also quoted for a surge protection devise. Is that also a legal requirement?

    • ElectricBluContractors
      28th January 2023

      Hello Sarah

      Thanks for the getting in touch with the question.

      Unfortunately the concept of ‘illegal’ doesn’t really apply to electrical installations would you believe. However, the installation needs to be classed as satisfactory such that the installation is considered safe for continued use, both by your building insurance and also the local building control.

      Personally, I would be classing an old fuse board with no RCD as Unsatisfactory now. You wouldn’t expect a 30 year old boiler to still be providing safe continued use and the same really applies for the electrical installation. The fact that it is 6 foot high isn’t ideal, although I wouldn’t class that as a major problem and wouldn’t be looking to relocate the board upon replacement as this would be particularly expensive.

      With regards fitting surge protection, the latest edition of the wiring regulations require that surge protective devices are fitted as standard to all new installations (remember that a new consumer unit/upgrade does count as a new installation as far as the wiring regulations are concerned). However, there is an option where you can sign a disclaimer saying that you would not like the surge protector fitting. Honestly, for the £30/£40 cost of the surge protector, compared to the cost of a new flat screen TV if there is a surge, it’s not worth trying to save the few £££. A T2 surge protector works for more than just single surges from, for example lightning. There are many very small surges across the working life of a surge protector, from overvoltage’s from rotating machinery such as washing machines and switching loads. A surge protector ‘smooths’ these out and vastly increases the life of sensitive electrics.

      Although there hasn’t been much chance yet, it is likely that in the next few years electronic manufacturers (TVs, Dishwashers, etc…) will refuse warranty claims in instances where overvoltage damage has been caused and a surge protector hasn’t been fitted.

      The inclusion of a surge protector should add very little to the cost of the installation. If it does, then seek another quote from another local electrician.

      Hope that helps?

      Kind regards
      James – ElectricBlu Contractors

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