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Concern grows about increased safety risk from faulty smoke alarms

Almost 40 per cent of battery-powered smoke alarms failed to activate in residential fires in England in the past year – a level virtually unchanged in nearly a decade, the Local Government Association has revealed.

Latest figures show a fifth of mains-powered smoke alarms failed to operate in residential fires in 2018/19 – but this “failure rate” is almost double for battery-operated alarms and has stayed between 38 and 40 per cent since 2010/11.

Battery-powered alarms are routinely found in private rental property.


The LGA, which represents councils and all fire authorities in England and Wales, is urging people to test their smoke alarms regularly, but especially during the run-up to Christmas when festive decorations, candles and lighting pose a potentially greater fire risk.

Industry figures show that one in 10 homes do not have a working smoke alarm, while more than a fifth of households never test their smoke alarm. 

This is despite experts calculating that people are around eight times more likely to die in a fire in a home with no working smoke alarm.

Missing or faulty batteries account for 20 per cent of battery-operated smoke alarms failing to activate. The main reason for a smoke alarm failing to activate is due to the fire not reaching the detector in 45 per cent of cases.

The LGA is urging people without a working smoke alarm to buy one and test it regularly to check it is working – and to do this for less able family members and neighbours, changing batteries where necessary to help keep them safe.

It is also advising people to fit more than one smoke detector in their homes, with at least one fitted on the ceiling of every floor.

Councillor Ian Stephens, chair of the LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee, says: “Smoke alarms are proven life-savers, but these worrying ‘failure’ rates are a reminder to people to test their smoke alarms regularly and change batteries where necessary.



“Smoke alarm ownership has risen over the years to more than 90 per cent, but this encouraging trend is being dangerously undermined if they don’t activate due to faulty batteries.

“With the increased potential fire risk from Christmas trees, decorations, candles and lighting, and people spending more time using heaters, open fires, and cooking hot food during the colder winter months, anyone without a smoke alarm should buy and fit one as soon as possible. They should also check the alarms of less able family members and those on their own - it may save their life.”

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    Battery smoke alarms are a stupid idea. they will never work reliably for people of a similar mind.

    There I have said something absolutely horrible. I have a number of properties let out. The only time tenants will pay attention to a smoke alarm is when they start beeping a low battery warning when the flat is cold at night. They take the battery out and go back to bed. End of any concern and they certainly won't ask the letting agent for help to put in a new battery in case there is a call out charge.

    Most people are never involved in a house fire in all their lives. It is only our emergency services that take them seriously and that is because they have to sort out the aftermath on a regular basis.

    Sadly, the only real alternative is a whole building alarm system which is mains powered and has industrial strength battery back up.

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    I have a section tenants initial to say alarm has tested ok on signing ast. I point out how to change the battery if required, and that it should be tested regular and that they are responsible to keep it operational through the tenancy they then initial that section saying they understand their responsibility. That’s my arse covered if they want to remove the battery and possibly die as a result that’s their decision and their risk.

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    If the failure rate of these alarms is so high, why don't the authorities insist on higher standards by the manufacturers? That way, LLs & tenants would both be at a lower risk of a faulty alarm...

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    I let my flat through an agent, and when they inspect they never test the smoke detector!


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