Housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS)
Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is the method used by local authorities to assess housing conditions. The Housing Act 2004 Part 1 establishes the HHSRS as the current statutory assessment criterion for housing and it is based on the principle that:
- Any residential premises should provide a safe and healthy environment for any potential occupier or visitor.
The system applies to all dwellings including owner occupied, privately rented and Council and Housing Association dwellings. We are required to keep housing conditions in privately owned property under review and also have a duty to inspect a property where we have reason to believe that it is appropriate to determine the presence of health and safety hazards.
- Damp and mould growth.
- Excess cold.
- Crowding and space.
- Entry by intruders.
- Falling on level surfaces etc.
- Falling on stairs etc.
The hazards most likely to exist in all types of dwellings are:
There are 29 hazards, which need to be considered, and these have been divided into 4 groupings: Physiological, Psychological, Protection against Infection and Protection against accidents.
A hazard is any risk of harm to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier that arises from a deficiency. The system is concerned with disease, infirmity, physical injury, and al include mental disorder and distress.
The most vulnerable age group is people aged 60 years or over. There are approximately 70,000 fires each year reported to the fire authorities, but it is considered that only about 20 per cent of fires are reported. It has been estimated that fires occur in about 3 per cent of all dwellings per year. In 2005 there were 300 deaths with most deaths associated with being overcome by smoke and fumes.
The presence or absence of a fire detection and alarm system affects the level of harm suffered. The death rate from dwellings with alarms is less than half of that for non-alarmed dwellings.
The HHSRS Operating Guidance (DCLG) states that properly working alarms, connected to smoke or heat detectors are probably most effective at saving lives in the event of a fire. They provide early warning to the occupants, allowing them to escape before they are overcome by fumes or burned.
This is by far the most likely hazard to affect a dwelling. For example, the hazard score for a pre-1946 property will on average mean that a category 1 hazard exists and action by local authorities is mandatory.
It is not hypothermia, but respiratory and circulatory diseases in the elderly which is responsible for most of these deaths.
The most vulnerable group is all persons aged 65 years and over. There are 40,000 excess winter deaths in the UK each year associated with the affects of cold.
British Standards state that a minimum standard of heating is a fixed space-heating appliance to each occupied room. It should be capable of efficiently maintaining the room at a minimum temperature of 18°C, in sleeping rooms, and 21°C in living rooms, when the temperature outside is minus 1°C and it should be available at all times. The adequacy of loft insulation and cavity wall insulation is important and would be considered as part of any HHSRS assessment, as would significant draughts.
The most vulnerable group is people aged 14 years or under. One in eight children suffers with asthma in the UK. The hazard covers the health effects from house dust mites and mould or fungal growths resulting from dampness and/or high humidity. It includes threats to mental health and social well-being.
The waste from house dust mites and mould spores are both potent airborne allergens and exposure to these over a prolonged period will cause sensitisation of susceptible individuals. Deaths from all forms of asthma in the UK are around 1,500 a year, of which around 60 per cent has been attributed to dust mite allergy.
Good ventilation is normally achieved by opening windows. Current building requirements for new buildings require that in rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms, mechanical ventilation should be provided by ducting to the external air. In existing bathrooms or toilets which do not have windows, mechanical ventilation must be provided. Mechanical ventilation in bathrooms/WCs should achieve a minimum of 6 litres per second. The system is often linked to the light switch and should incorporate a minimum 15 minute over-run.
Ventilation to any room helps prevent condensation by dispersing water vapour generated by normal household activities. It helps to remove pollutants from within the accommodation and helps to control internal temperatures. Dwellings should be warm and dry with good ventilation. The dwelling should be free from rising and penetrating dampness.
Why do we inspect homes?
Most of our inspections are in the private rented sector. This is the area where occupiers have least control over the condition of their property and surveys of the stock condition show housing conditions to be poorest.
The Housing Act 2004 gives us a duty to keep the housing conditions in their area under review with a view to identifying any action that may need to be taken by us.
If we consider that it would be appropriate for any residential premises in our area to be inspected with a view to determining whether any category 1 or 2 hazard exists on those premises, then we must arrange for such an inspection to be carried out.
The purpose is to help improve property where necessary. We prefer to do this informally by giving help and advice. Housing and tenancy law is a complex area and we find that many landlords are unaware of their duties and responsibilities. They are also often unaware of their rights.
The council needs a supply of good quality privately rented accommodation suitable for the needs of its citizens. To achieve this aim the authority needs and values its good landlords. We have a common objective. A prosperous private rented sector that provides the right housing in the right areas at the right price.
We can help landlords keep within their repairing obligations, and protect them from possible litigation in the future, by identifying potential issues. We want to help encourage a supply of good quality housing in the private rented sector.
We get reports about housing with potential hazards from a number of different sources. It may be a complaint from a tenant. It may be that we have been doing surveys in an area; it may be that someone has applied to go on the housing register.
Usually we will inspect a home with the agreement of the resident, landlord or managing agent. We prefer to let the landlord know when we are visiting if possible so we can go through what we find with them.
If it is important for us to inspect a property we do have a power of entry under the Housing Act 2004. In this case unless we think certain offences have been committed we must give at least 24 hours notice in writing.
Our main reason for inspecting is to assess the home under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This is the method used by local authorities to assess housing conditions. The Housing Act 2004 Part 1 establishes the HHSRS as the current statutory assessment criterion for housing and it is based on the principle that:
Any residential premises should provide a safe and healthy environment for any potential occupier or visitor.
A hazard is any risk of harm to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier that arises from a deficiency. The system is concerned with disease, infirmity, physical injury, and also includes mental disorder and distress.
The aim of the Private Sector Housing team is to improve the housing conditions in the private sector by use of advice and education. We run a landlords' forum and are always willing to answer queries and give advice to landlords. We prefer to work with landlords where possible. We recognise that building works can take time to get organised. We also recognise that the cost of works can sometimes seem very high for the amount of return.
We offer some financial assistance to landlords in return for their agreement to continue to rent the property concerned. This is detailed in our leaflet on Landlord assistance.
However, there are occasions where these methods are not successful in improving conditions and therefore, it is necessary to consider enforcement action. There are a range of actions that we can take to get improvement made. The most common is an improvement notice.
This is a legal notice giving a schedule of works to be carried out, the reason why they need doing and a timescale. This is registered as a land charge.
Failure to comply with an improvement notice without reasonable excuse - the notice recipient commits an offence and is liable to prosecution. On summary conviction they can be fined up to level 5 on the standard scale. The obligation to carry out the remedial works continues despite the fact that the period for completion has expired.