Checking the statistics for this website, it seems one of the most frequent searches performed by my beloved visitors is whether their domestic electrical installation should have failed a condition report (periodic inspection) through the lack of an RCD on some or all circuits, so let’s have a chinwag on what's going on here.

There are various reasons why you may have commissioned an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR), formally known as a periodic inspection, on your domestic electrical installation. It’s not a legal requirement to have your electrical installation inspected, however it is considered best practice* if you’re a landlord renting out the property as it shows you performed your due diligence should your tenant subsequently suffer an electrical accident. If you’re selling a property, then it may add value if you can prove the current installation is up to par, or conversely perhaps the buyer has asked for such to ensure they’re not facing an unexpected bill for remedial works once they move in.

Maybe you've booked an inspection after experiencing issues such as nuisance tripping or malfunctioning circuits that you want to get to the bottom of, or perhaps there has been a flood or fire incident and circuits need checking before they’re re-energised. It could just be you’ve commissioned a report because your insurance requires it or simply because you want to sleep well at night knowing there aren’t any nasty electrical accidents waiting to happen. Whatever the reason, a full inspection and testing at least every ten years is recommended for domestic dwellings, however many installations are decades old and have never been inspected or tested, even when they were first installed, because the requisite test equipment and testing requirements we have today just didn’t exist back then.

Once you receive your report, you’ll look at the Observations section and notice an inspector may list items as either C1, “danger present”, C2, “dangerous in the event of a fault” or C3 “improvement recommended”. A C1 or C2 condition will result in the report deeming the installation to be unsatisfactory while a C3 is like an MOT advisory on your car; it passes, but there are issues you should be aware of which will require addressing sooner or later.

So, let’s say you fork out for an inspection and the report then states the installation is “unsatisfactory” simply because there is a C2 condition listing no RCD protection on some or all circuits. Maybe it’s accompanied by a fat quote for a replacement consumer unit which has left you feeling a little like you’ve been slapped across the face with a wet haddock.

But should your electrical installation now be deemed as wholly unsatisfactory just because you don’t have RCD protection?

The short answer is no… (probably), and I can prove it, however firstly I will have to explain a few things, starting with what an RCD is and the job it performs in a domestic setting.


A Residual Current Device is a clever little bit of kit whose job is to save you from receiving an electric shock. So long as the electric current flowing out through the brown wire matches the current flowing back down the blue wire, then the RCD is in balance. Should the return current be short by up to just 30 milliamps, the RCD will trip and cut the power within 300 milliseconds. This is because it can take as little as 50mA to stop your heart, so if that missing electrical current happens to be flowing through your body because you’re in contact with some live metalwork, you’ll be quite glad the RCD has so quickly done its job.

Actually, you likely won’t be. You may not even realise your life has just been saved, in reality you’ll just be annoyed that the damn RCD has tripped, cutting the power to your computer before you hit the save button on that 5000-word essay or interrupting your lunchtime viewing of Cash in the Attic... or something.

If the RCD has tripped, it's important to find out why, although I’ve seen installations where the RCD has been bypassed to ‘cure’ the tripping problem, which is akin to removing the battery from your smoke alarm in case it disturbs you at night. Those who want to live with their own stupidity may also die from it.

If you haven’t got an RCD on some or all of your circuits, then it’s certainly a good idea to have one fitted as your life may literally depend upon it one day, however not having one doesn’t necessarily mean your electrical installation is either dangerous, non-compliant or wholly “unsatisfactory” for one very good reason: The wiring regulations are not to be applied retrospectively.

Imagine you have a 1965 Jaguar E-Type in top condition parked in your garage. Does it fail a modern day MOT just because it lacks airbags? No. So long as it continues to comply with the Sixties safety standards Jaguar originally built into it that were in force at the time, and so long as it continues to operate safely today, i.e. the brakes work, the windscreen wipers wipe, the lights have no failed lamps, etc. then it is deemed compliant and it gets another twelve month ticket before a re-test is due. The garage does not tell you it’s an MOT failure until you bring it back with airbags, side impact bars, three-point seatbelts and ABS brakes all retrofitted to the thing.

It’s the same with your electrical installation. Let’s say you have a house built in 1975 with a BS3036 rewirable fuse box and no RCD – and there are plenty of them still out there. If the circuits in the house all test out healthily, show no signs of degredation, overheating, inadequate modification or any other signs of damage or failings, then that installation still complies with the regulatory standards that were in force at the time of installation. Just because the Regs have since moved on, and just because rewireable fuses have been superseded by better inventions such as the miniature circuit breaker and the RCD, does not mean an older installation is now suddenly unsafe or unsatisfactory. Sure, the lack of an RCD in such an installation could be interpreted as ‘dangerous in the event of a fault’ as it means a particular modern-day protective device designed to save your life isn’t present, but the job of the inspector is to make you aware that an improvement is recommended, not to fail the installation and force you to upgrade so their report can be rubber-stamped.

Listing an installation without an RCD as ‘dangerous in the event of a fault’ is like an MOT inspector telling the E-Type owner that the lack of airbags will be ‘dangerous in the event of a head on collision’. So long as the person who owns either the car or the electrical installation is made aware, it's up to them whether or not they accept the risk. A report should not fail an installation with the demand that the risk is removed and, if it does, then this is the point at which the inspector has overstepped their authority as it isn’t in their power to demand such; their position is to pass on their findings and their recommendations to the duty holder, i.e. the person responsible for the installation and for those who are living with it.

It's the owner of an electrical installation, presumably also the person who commissioned the report, who becomes the duty holder in law, so the choice of whether or not to act upon any recommendations and the legal liability for how they go about that rests with them. If they can’t or won’t act on any recommendations, whether that be for financial reasons or just because they can’t be bothered, that’s fine, but on their head be it. The inspector is absolved of responsibility once they've made clear what their findings are and what's needed.

Too many inspectors overstep their bounds however, and instead of making recommendations for older installations which are actually quite safe for continued use, they refuse to issue a pass without immediate improvement leaving annoyed house sellers or landlords who suddenly find themselves with an installation deemed unsatisfactory and who feel they’re now being held to ransom for remedial work running well into three or four digits.

“But..”, your inspector may say, “..a C2 coding and unsatisfactory verdict on the report is justified as the lack of an RCD would be dangerous in the event of a fault because if the RCD isn’t there to cut the power from a faulty appliance, then by its nature that would be dangerous, right?”

Well, not quite, and to see why we have to understand what the Wiring Regulations mean by the term ‘fault protection’.


When it comes to protection from shock, we have basic protection and fault protection as defined in BS7671. Basic protection concerns the… well… basics, such as the plastic insulation which covers the conductors in a cable, enclosures which cover live parts, the bonding of conductive metal parts and suchlike. It is literally defined as “protection against electric shock under fault-free conditions”.

Fault protection is protection against electric shock under single fault conditions and is achieved by low impedance earthing and devices such as fuses and circuit breakers which automatically disconnect the supply under abnormal load conditions like short circuits.

RCD’s in most domestic installations are installed for what is termed ‘Additional Protection’. Although an RCD will automatically disconnect the source of supply in the event of a fault, it is not the primary means of fault protection in most dwelling applications. That’s not to say an RCD cannot be used specifically for fault protection because it can, and one should indeed be employed in this way when the normal rules for fault protection don’t apply, e.g. those installations with an earth rod or which have a high external earth fault loop impedance where the disconnection time of a fuse or breaker cannot be guaranteed.

These two applications of RCDs, additional protection and fault protection, are listed separately on the EICR checklist, however many sparkies don’t understand the differentiation and so slap a C2/C3 or even a tick in both boxes on the checklist even though usually one box is not applicable. On the model form condition report in BS7671, the checkbox for RCD fault protection specifically refers back to Regulations 411.4.9, 411.5.2 and 531.2, however the first regulation concerns the use of an RCD where disconnection times cannot be guaranteed by fuses/breakers, the second regulation refers specifically to TT (earth rod) installations, and the final regulation concerns the specific operation of an RCD itself regardless of its application. Someone compiling a proper report should be familiar with these Regulations and whether or not they apply to your home,but in a lot of cases I come across this isn’t happening.

In the majority of domestic installations where the earthing is provided by the distributor (i.e. TN systems), the RCD will be there only for additional protection, while the fuse, breaker and low impedance earth conductor are the means of fault protection employed in that dwelling. If you have an earth rod (TT system), which may apply on an outbuilding if not the main house, then you should have an RCD specifically for fault protection because the impedance of the earth will be too high to guarantee your breaker or fuse will operate within the times defined by the Regulations, and so you’ll need something monitoring for earth leakage which can react quickly enough should a fault occur.

If you don’t have an earth rod, but your inspector has completed the “RCD for fault protection” box with anything other than “N/A”, then they may be confused by this point. If you’re not sure if you have an earth rod, the report will tell you – look where it details Supply Characteristics and Earthing Arrangements. In fact, here’s an example that landed with me this week…

This report was riddled with C2 failures, but many were simply down to the lack of an RCD on the installation. The accompanying quote for remedial work ran to about a thousand quid, however most of the issues were straightforward other than the ‘requirement’ to change out the consumer unit which, although about twenty years old, didn’t really necessitate the baby and bathwater treatment.


You can see from the above that the inspector has stated this is a TNC-S installation with earthing supplied by the distributor and it lacks an earth rod. As the report lists the external earth fault impedance to be 0.30 Ohms, which is low enough to be within specification, and as the cut-out fuse is present and correct with modern circuit breakers to BS(EN)60898 protecting the final circuits, it seems likely no RCD is required specifically for fault protection here.


Yet “RCD provided for fault protection” has been listed as a C2 issue on the report, which later states this is coded as C2 is "because the installation lacks RCD protection". Interestingly, “RCD provided for additional protection” is listed below it as a C3, Improvement Recommended, which is correct, but we’ll come back to that shortly.


“Operation of circuit breakers and RCDs to prove disconnection” has also been coded as a C2 because the report later says there is no RCD to test, but this is another incorrect application of the tick list – you can’t fail something which isn’t there. If the installation only has circuit breakers, then the tick in this box only relates to those circuit breakers. The lack of an RCD is recorded elsewhere, all we want to know from this tickbox is whether the switchable protective devices as presently installed on site are mechanically operational.


“Provision of additional protection by an RCD..” – for socket outlets and mobile equipment, both listed here as C2 issues, but rewind a couple of pictures up and you’ll see that the lack of an RCD for additional protection back at the consumer unit was given a C3 coding, so why does it become a C2 coding downstream at the final circuits?


Just to prove our inspector here is in two minds, the lack of RCD ‘additional protection’ for circuits serving the bathroom has also been listed as C3, so when it comes to additional protection, our inspector has a C3 at the consumer unit, a C2 for sockets and mobile equipment, and a C3 in the bathroom. So which is it?

Well, unless there’s something unusual here, the lack of an RCD on an older installation providing additional protection for socket outlets, or for cables buried in walls at less than 50mm, or for circuits serving a bathroom is a C3 ‘improvement recommended’ coding and should not fail a report. Where an installation lacks an RCD for additional protection but is serving mobile equipment outdoors or a socket outlet located in a bathroom (excluding shaver sockets) then it is a valid C2 coding.

Where an older installation has recently been modified with a new circuit, new socket(s), or alterations to electrics serving the bathroom but no RCD was installed to cover the new work, then that will also be a C2 coding. Any new additions and alterations do have to comply with the latest Regulations, even if the older installation as a whole does not. If you had a new socket installed on an old circuit with no RCD, then a socket outlet with an RCD built-in is an example of one way of complying with the newer Regs without forking out for major upgrades.

rcdsktA socket outlet with a built-in RCD for those installations which lack such protection back at the consumer unit.

If you have an abnormally high earth fault loop impedance, such as with an earth rod, then the lack of an RCD for fault protection would also be a valid C2 issue.

I know, I know, I’m muddying the waters here, suffice to say that for most domestic installations, RCD’s are provided for additional protection and those installations which pre-date the requirement for an RCD do not need to be brought up to the latest standards to pass the report unless there are other issues that make the lack of RCD protection a problem such as inadequate earthing and bonding.

Personally, I would strongly recommend RCD protection and I certainly wouldn’t want to live anywhere without it, but when I inspect a property I’m not going to fail it simply for predating the requirement so long as no other factors deem it to be necessary. My coding it as C3 Improvement Recommended transfers the liability away from myself and leaves the duty holder to make an informed decision based on their budget, timescales and future plans. The ball lands in their court and it's up to them to do something with it… or not. For those bemoaning the expense of modernising their electrical installation following a report, I'd like to point out that if no money has been thrown at it for years, then investment now being needed perhaps shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. As annoying to me as inspectors coding condition reports incorrectly are landlords who haven't spent a penny on a rental property for thirty years complaining that a few hundred quid now needs investing for the safety of their tenants and the future-proofing of subsequent inspections.

The sticky situation

So if you’re (still) reading this, here’s the pickle you may be in: You commissioned a report, and it deemed your installation as unsatisfactory only because no RCD is installed. Unfortunately, you can’t proceed with the sale, rental, modifications or whatever else until you get that satisfactory report printed out and rolled up into a tube in your hands, but you’re finding that the quote for ‘making good’ is a little eye-watering.

But is the report correct, and are the upgrade costs justified?

Well, if the inspector can provide a valid explanation for why RCD protection is required, such as the need for fault protection on your particular installation for a specific reason, or because recent modifications were made which are non-compliant with the standards they should have been installed to, then I’m afraid they probably have you bang to rights.

If the failed report is just down to the basic lack of an RCD for additional protection because of the age of the installation but things are otherwise in good nick, you can question your inspector on why this has been coded as a C2 while pointing out that the Regulations don’t apply retrospectively. In fact, it says that at the start of BS7671: "Existing installations may have been designed and installed to conform to the standards set by earlier editions of BS7671 or the IEE Wiring Regulations. This does not mean that they will fail to achieve conformity with the relevant parts of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989." This is backed up on the report paperwork itself under "Notes for the person producing the report" which says "An installation which was designed to an earlier edition of the Regulations and which does not fully comply with the current edition is not necessarily unsafe for continued use, or requires upgrading. Only damage, deterioration, defects, dangerous conditions and non-compliance with the requirements of the Regulations, which may give rise to danger, should be recorded."**

This is all further backed up by Electrical Safety First Best Practice Guide 4 which, at the time of writing, concurs that the lack of an RCD for additional protection is a C3 coding unless mobile equipment is being served outdoors or there is a socket outlet in a bathroom.

If the inspector argues you might go and plug in an extension lead and throw it out of the window to serve mobile equipment outdoors (and yes, I have heard that one before), then the inspector should be focussed on the fixed wiring installation as present on the day of inspection and not on what someone ‘might’ do in just the same way as your garage won’t fail your vehicle MOT because you ‘might’ decide to drive the thing on flat tyres sometime in the future. If it’s good on the day, it can be signed off on the day, and woe betide you if you decide to do something daft after the fact.

If, even after being told otherwise, the inspector refuses to budge, then maybe it’s time to question the validity of the report. Believe it or not, many reports are written by people who aren’t sufficiently qualified or experienced to author them in the first place. Someone can be an excellent installation electrician, but if they lack the training or experience for verification, inspection and testing procedures, then mistakes will be made and we’ve seen it here before in Cowboy Competition #1, Cowboy Competition #4 and Cowboy Competition #5 where inspection and testing, either for a condition report or for certification of new work, has been performed by people who showed a lack of understanding of how to complete the paperwork. In the case of the #1 and #5 articles, they advertised themselves for inspection and testing to the public even though they weren’t accredited for such work through their own Competent Persons Schemes.

In order for a sparky to be accredited for condition reporting, their CPS needs to be satisfied they are sufficiently skilled. Skill comes through training and experience and, in the case of the former, a valid path may be the City & Guilds 2391 or the 2394 and 2395 electrical Level 3 courses with their associated exams. These courses have a 40% pass rate – that is to say sixty out of every hundred electricians who take these courses fail them. That’s because verification, testing and inspecting is a different beast to installation electrics and, while someone may be very good on the tools, when it comes to knowing what to look for in a verification and/or inspection and when it comes to applying testing procedures, interpreting the results and correctly completing the paperwork in compliance with British Standard 7671, a lot of sparkies simply don’t cut the ketchup, let alone the mustard.

So, does the person who has just performed your inspection make the grade, or do they simply offer it as a paid service without the training, qualifications, insurance or approval from their accrediting competent persons scheme if they're even registered with such?

Well, you can find out by contacting the CPS your sparkie is registered with, be it NICEIC, NAPIT, Elecsa, Stroma or whoever***. Ask the CPS via their customer phone line or website whether their member, your chosen sparkie, is fit and proper to undertake such work. If they say no, then your report may be worthless anyway, in which case you might want to seek a refund. If the CPS does confirm their member is fit for purpose, then you can still use the CPS as a third party arbitrator if you disagree with the results of the inspection. The CPS might not be willing to weigh in too much, after all, an inspection undertaken by someone they consider to be a valid inspector may be something they don’t want to interfere in, but if the inspector is calling out your installation as unsatisfactory for having no RCD simply because it’s old, then in my opinion, it should be clear to all parties that the Regs don’t apply retrospectively and that a C3 advisory is the correct coding to issue. That position is backed up by Electrical Safety First and is likely also the position of the CPS should push come to shove. It would certainly be difficult for someone to argue otherwise.

And finally, no I don't want to weigh in on whether any given report is right or wrong. I regularly get sent reports people want me to look over after finding my online moanings, but I don't offer a free arbitration or review service. Seeing what others are mis-reporting genuinely depresses me and I've done what I can via this website and my video channels to try and raise awareness and standards, but I can't police all the iffy actions out there and I'm no authority anyway, merely a working stiff trying to do things right.

*From 2020, it became law in England for landlords to have the electrical installations of their properties inspected and passed.
**This was further bolstered when 18th Edition was released in 2018 by the inclusion of new regulation 651.2 note 2 which largely says the same thing but now within a regulation itself as opposed to just being written on the rear of the reporting form.
***From 2020, the Electrical Competent Persons register introduced a search option whereby you can verify electricians who are accredited for inspection and testing work or 'safety reports' as they call them.