West Sussex Coroner calls for smoke alarm law change

The Coroner for West Sussex has asked the government to make "hard-wired" smoke alarms a legal requirement for private landlords.

Penelope Schofield has written to the government after three people in the county died from house fires.

None of the victims had batteries in their smoke alarms.

The government said disproportionate regulation would force up rents and that all new dwellings already required a hard-wired smoke alarm.

Three deaths

Hard-wired smoke alarms are connected to the property's mains electricity which means they do not require batteries that need replacing.

According to the coroner the first death was in September 2010 and there were two further deaths in March 2012.

The fire victims, who were aged 64, 65 and 87, were living in private rented accommodation.

Ms Schofield said: "We've got to remember the private rented sector houses some of the most vulnerable people in society.

'Ensure safety'

"You may have people who have alcohol problems who would rather spend the money on drink than fitting a new battery; you've got elderly people suffering with dementia, they might not even realise that the battery is no longer working or that the battery has been removed.

"I think there should be some sort of responsibility on landlords to ensure their tenants are safe."

Ray Woolford, of the Residential Landlords Association, said making mains-connected smoke alarms a legal requirement of private landlords was a good idea.

But he added: "A smoke alarm would go off if people were smoking and it could actually cause further danger where people try and disconnect the wires themselves in order to stop the noise.

"It may be that the answer is heat alarms rather than smoke alarms."

The government's communities minister, Andrew Stunell, said accidental fire deaths have halved in the last 20 years.

He added: "The government's fire safety campaign, Fire Kills, promotes the importance of working smoke alarms and we also work closely with Fire and Rescue authorities and other partners to reach those most vulnerable and at risk from fire, emphasising the need to regularly check smoke alarms. "

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