Focus On – Housing Health and Safety Rating System

Landlords have a legal requirement to ensure that a property is safe before letting it to a new tenant and local authorities have a statutory duty to keep the housing conditions in their area under review. It is now almost thirteen years since the introduction of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Introduced under the Housing Act 2004 and implemented in April 2006, it is the approach used to assess risks to health and safety in the home.

The rationale for its introduction was to standardise the way Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP) rated the risk to health and safety to occupants of dwellings and in doing so, replaced the more basic housing fitness standard assessment tool, introduced in the Housing Act 1985, which was based on whether the conditions in a property met a defined minimum level.

The new system was designed to be more comprehensive, and a range of different issues are now banded under a set of 29 categories which range from the more serious Category 1 and 2 where there is a serious danger to health and safety, through a range of other problems decreasing in severity such as design that might cause sprains and strains (Category 28). Some of the hazards include:

  • Excess cold (because of increased heat loss)
  • Fire (by allowing fire and smoke to spread to other parts of the dwelling)
  • Lead (from old paint)
  • Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse (by providing access and breeding places for pests, which are a source of infections), and
  • Noise

MHCLG’s Local Authority Housing Statistics Data Return provides useful information on the presence of Category 1 hazards in each local authority area in England. The data for 2017/18 showed that out of a total of 2,676 local authority owned dwellings in England with a Category 1 hazard, only 49 could be found in the North.

The total estimated cost of removing the Category 1 hazards from these dwellings in the North amounts to £97,450 – an average of £1,989 per dwelling.

There was a total of 6,533 dwellings in the private rented sector which, following an inspection, were found to have one or more Category 1 hazards according to Local Authority Housing Statistics Data Return. In the absence of an estimated cost to remove hazards in the private sector, I have used the average cost for the local authority removal as a proxy to give an indication of costs. Using this £1,989 average above equates to an indicative cost of £12.9m to remove Category 1 hazards from private rented dwellings in the North.

Whilst tackling the most dangerous hazards is expensive, Cambridgeshire Insight carried out analysis that shows there are wider benefits to doing so. Taking one example, their analysis shows that tackling all instances of excess cold would cost some £6bn. However, this would result in savings of £848m per year to the NHS and would pay for itself in 7.14 years.

Despite the more stringent assessment system that the HHSRS introduced, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health found that the vast majority of EHPs felt that the HHSRS should be updated. Subsequently, MHCLG has now commissioned a review to identify the extent to which the HHSRS needs to be updated and revised, including exploring the scope for setting minimum standards as part of the HHSRS framework.

The MHCLG project specification sets out to:

  • Identify which parts of the HHSRS are out of date and need to be revised
  • Demonstrate whether there would be scope for introducing a sampling and cloning approach – and where this approach might be appropriate
  • Indicate whether the current penalties for non-compliance are appropriate and proportionate
  • Show whether there is a need for additional worked examples in the guidance
  • Help establish the feasibility of using digital technology to develop an app for the HHSRS, and
  • Consider whether minimum standards should be included in the framework.

In 2017/18 the total number of private sector dwellings with Category 1 hazards which were made free from hazards as a direct result of action of local authorities was 5,559 in the North and 18,582 nationally. Whatever the outcome of the review and any subsequent change to legislation, it is clear that there is an ongoing battle for EHPs and NHC members to ensure that people are safe to live in their own homes.

In 2005 the World Health Organisation estimated that in the UK over 2.7 million people were injured at home, almost twice as many as those injured at work and over eight times those injured on the road. Consideration clearly needs to be given to wider health and safety issues in the home. But how are landlords and local authorities to determine what is a safe home in future?

Bookings are now being taken for the NHC’s 4th Annual Health and Safety in Housing Conference which will be held in Leeds on 13th June. Delegates will be given an update on the HHSRS from the Regulator and issues such as the implications of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2019 will be discussed. We are running a session looking specifically at the legal aspects of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2019 with our Supporter members Ward Hadaway on 7th March – you can see more details here.