City Hall committee urges tighter regulation to stop e-bike fires

Wreckage from an e-bike fire  (London Fire Brigade)
Wreckage from an e-bike fire (London Fire Brigade)

The rising number of fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters in London has led a City Hall committee to urgently request tighter regulation from the Government.

The London Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee said it was “very concerned” by the issue, warning that an e-bike fire is now occurring in the capital approximately once every two days.

The cross-party committee’s Labour chair, Anne Clarke, said: “E-scooters and e-bikes have the potential to offer quick travel across the city, with minimal carbon footprint.

“However, we are hugely concerned that some of the batteries in e-bike kits that are being bought online are not regulated and could be putting lives at risk.”

The Government said it takes the issue seriously and is reviewing the evidence to shape future policies.

According to data released at the start of September, London’s fire crews have in 2023 already fought 104 e-bike fires along with 19 e-scooter blazes, overtaking the 116 total fires attended in the whole of last year, making this year already a record-high for the capital.

In a letter to Lord Minto - the Government’s minister for regulatory reform - Ms Clarke noted that a total of three deaths arising from an e-bike being left on charge have so far been recorded in London this year: Sofia Duarte’s death on New Year’s Day, the second death in March in Shadwell in a flat fire, and the third death in a house fire in Kentish Town in July.

In June, the committee was told that the increasing number of fires is primarily due to faulty or poor-quality lithium-ion batteries or chargers, or from e-bike ‘conversion kits’ for pedal cycles sold online.

“A report published in September 2022 by electrical safety charity, Electrical Safety First, found nearly 60 listings on prominent [online] marketplaces… which fell below the required safety standards for sale to UK consumers,” Ms Clarke wrote.

Anne Clarke, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden (London Assembly)
Anne Clarke, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden (London Assembly)

She asked Lord Minto to set out what actions the Government will take to crack down on the regulation of e-bike products, and for an expected timeline of proposed reforms.

A spokesman at the Department for Business and Trade said: "We take all incidents of fires involving lithium batteries seriously.

“The Office for Product Safety and Standards is working closely with the fire service to review all evidence of fires involving lithium batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters to ensure the product safety issues are properly assessed and action is taken to protect users from harm.”

According to data collected by the LFB, most people injured in fires related to e-bikes and e-scooters in London are in their twenties, and these fires are often in homes where multiple adults are living together without children.

The Brigade has started a ‘Charge Safe’ campaign to raise awareness of the dangers. It has reached out directly to fast food delivery riders, who are thought to be particularly at risk from the fires.

“These riders often use conversion kits on pedal bikes to speed up their delivery times to meet targets, as well as being in the high risk demographic identified by LFB,” Ms Clarke said in her letter.

The Assembly’s concern comes as Tower Hamlets Council made its own appeal to the Government for improved regulation and more funding to tackle the issue.

The borough’s mayor, Lutfur Rahman, said: “Given that 80 per cent of homes in Tower Hamlets are flats, it’s a particular concern because of the rapid rate at which fire could spread from home to home.

Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets, is leader of the Aspire party. (PA Wire)
Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets, is leader of the Aspire party. (PA Wire)

“Doing nothing is simply not an option. We have taken steps locally to warn people of the dangers but we need the Government to take action to help prevent these fires and keep people safe.”

Between January and July this year, the LFB attended 13 reported e-bike and e-scooter fires in Tower Hamlets alone.

In his own letter to Ministers, sent in July, Mr Rahman called for improved legislation, more funding for councils to create safe charging spaces, more robust sampling and examination on the importation of lithium batteries - including a national registration body for businesses providing them - and greater research into the issue.

A response to Mr Rahman was provided by Kevin Hollinrake MP, the minister for enterprise, markets and small business.

He told the mayor that “the safety of UK consumers is a top priority for the Government” and that a cross-departmental programme of work has been started, aimed at ensuring “we get to the root of the issue, understand why incidents occur, and deliver the right regulatory activity to help prevent further occurrences”.