Sunday, September 1, 2013

Housing Health & Safety - HHSRS and why do we need it? – Part 1

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.  This clearly demonstrates a need to consider, not just habitation issues but wider health & safety issues in the home

I am regularly contacted by people who experience difficulty, sometimes silence when contacting their landlord to carry out repairs.  In nearly all cases this involves private sector Landlords who for some reason think that if they ignore their tenants for long enough then they will just go away.  The issue of course is that the Tenant has rights and the Landlord has responsibilities under a whole raft of legislation (and vice versa). In the event that a Landlord fails to carry out repairs for which he/she is responsible, a tenant can take action to remedy the situation. The problem becomes magnified if the repair that is necessary is something that may be dangerous or posing a health risk to the occupants

In my early career as a Building Surveyor I undertook a number inspections on behalf of Solicitors who had been appointed by Tenants where complaints had been made about living conditions and in particular habitation standards in their homes.  In those days (prior to HHSRS), a Surveyors report would be used as evidence that a landlord had breached their duty under legislation such as section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 or Public Health Acts such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or others.  In order to assess fitness for habitation at the time a Surveyor would consider the requirements of something known as the ‘fitness standard’ under section 604 of the Housing Act 1985.  From an inspection point of view the criteria for assessment was fairly straightforward where fundamentally a yes or no, pass or fail was considered under the following criteria: 

·         Be structurally stable;
·         Free from serious disrepair;
·         Free from dampness prejudicial to the health of the occupants (if any);
·         Have adequate provision for lighting, heating and ventilation;
·         Have an adequate piped supply of wholesome water;
·         Have satisfactory facilities in the house for the preparation and cooking of food, including a sink with a satisfactory supply of hot and cold water;
·         Have a suitably located water-closet for the exclusive use of the occupants (if any);
·         Have a suitably located fixed bath or shower and wash-hand basin each of which is provided with a satisfactory supply of hot and cold water, for the exclusive use of the occupants (if any); and
·         Have an effective system for the draining of foul, waste and surface water

A failure of an individual requirement or a combination of requirements would bring into question the habitability of a dwelling and provide occupants with potential grounds for action.

Source: Author's own
Over time it became clear that assessment of a dwelling under the fitness standard was limited to habitation only and did not take into account wider health & safety issues.  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.  This clearly demonstrated a need to consider, not just habitation issues but wider health & safety issues in the home, something that the fitness standard was incapable of achieving due to its restricted nature. Also, the fitness standard did not provide for degrees of unfitness, it was black or white pass or fail, so there was no way of assessing how significant or serious a particular problem may be. In addition the fitness standard only considered the dwelling and did not take account of the wider site, such as gardens, access to the dwelling, boundaries etc.  The statistics stated above highlight the fact that the home can be and is a dangerous place and in order for us to make it as safe as possible there was a need for a review of the way we assessed and inspected our homes.

On 6th April 2006 this all changed with the introduction of the Housing, Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS):
‘The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in dwellings. It was introduced under the Housing Act 2004 and applies to residential properties in England and Wales.
The HHSRS assesses 29 categories of housing hazard. Each hazard has a weighting which will help determine whether the property is rated as having category 1 (serious) or category 2 (other)’  Source:
This new system is set out in part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 and was introduced to address the short comings previously discussed within the fitness standard. Instead of the previous pass or fail criteria, HHSRS is structured around an evidence based risk assessment. Many people are surprised to learn that HHSRS covers ALL housing, not just rented accommodation.  A Local Authority therefore has enforcement powers under HHSRS to ensure that category 1 hazards (to be explained later), are dealt with urgently whether the property is privately owned or rented.
The purpose of HHSRS enables hazards to health and safety to be identified in dwellings. A hazard is then quantified with the allocation of a rating score for each hazard and then used to decide what, if any, action needs to be taken to make a property safe.
When HHSRS was first introduced in 2006 there was a lot of confusion at the time from many in the housing sector, particularly social housing, on the likely impact of HHSRS.  Concerns were raised about how quickly and how many assessments would be required, how much would the assessments cost? How would identified hazards be dealt with and what would be the cost implications of this in terms of identified works.  I carried out a range of pilot surveys under HHSRS for a number of RSL’s and was able to provide them with some general guidance to answer some of these questions.  From an inspection point of view the process was very different from other types of surveys I had previously carried out and requires a good knowledge of HHSRS and especially a good understanding of the 29 hazard categories. 
In next week’s article I will discuss the inspection process in more detail and provide some examples which will demonstrate how the scope of HHSRS is much wider than the previous fitness standard.  I will also explain what a category 1 and a category 2 hazard is and how an inspector will arrive at an appropriate score for identified hazards.
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  1. The problem with HHSRS is the way in which it is used. An under qualified EHO will go into a property and will want to find something - so suddenly not having a fixed heater in a small kitchen that already has a boiler and a cooker is a category 1 'excess cold' hazard in a centrally heated house. Similarly, we have had instances of private landlords being asked to repave their gardens as they are not flat and could be a trip hazard - as a check and balance, we checked and our local housing standards manager, our councillor responsible for housing and the leader of our council all had category 1 hazards in their perfectly safe and normal privately owned houses.

    1. In my property which I own I have severe damp caused by a neighbouring property which is owned by a housing association. The environmental health department is refusing to take action and I believe is deliberately finding a small score o the HHSRS. One of the officials is saying that the hazard is a category 3 which does not actually exist.