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Housing health & 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. Local authorities are required to keep housing conditions in privately owned property under review and also have a duty to inspect a property where they have reason to believe that this is appropriate to determine the presence of health and safety hazards.

The HHSRS is not a standard which the property must meet, as was the case with the previous fitness standard, but it is a system to assess the likely risk of harm that could occur from any ‘deficiency’ associated with a dwelling.

A deficiency is a variation from the ideal standard and may be due to an inherent design or manufacturing fault, or due to disrepair, deterioration or lack of maintenance. Unnecessary and avoidable hazards should not be present. It acknowledges, however, that some hazards may exist and provides a method of deciding whether or not the degree of risk is acceptable. 

The use of a formula produces a numerical score which allows comparison of all the hazards. This score is known as the Hazard Score and irrespective of the type of hazard, the higher the score, the greater the risk.

Local authority Environmental Health professionals undertake assessments and they must decide for each hazard what is:

  • The likelihood, over the next twelve months, of an occurrence e.g. falling down stairs, electrocution etc. that could result in harm to a member of the vulnerable group; and
  • The range of potential outcomes from such an occurrence e.g. death, severe injury etc

There are 29 hazards associated with the system [see Hazards below].

When an assessment is made, the current occupiers are ignored and the assessment is based on the likely affect of the hazard on the relevant vulnerable age group (except for the c'rowding and space' hazard where the actual occupants are taken into account).  For some hazards there is no relevant group, but for many hazards it may be either the young or the elderly.

>> Hazards

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. 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.

Physiological requirements:

  • Damp and mould growth
  • Excess cold
  • Excess heat
  • Asbestos and manufactured mineral fibre
  • Biocides
  • Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
  • Lead
  • Radiation
  • Uncombusted fuel gas
  • Volatile organic compounds

Psychological requirements:

  • Crowding and space
  • Entry by intruders
  • Lighting
  • Noise

Protection against infection:

  • Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
  • Food safety
  • Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
  • Water supply

Protection against accidents:

  • Falls associated with baths etc.
  • Falling on level surfaces etc.
  • Falling on stairs etc.
  • Falling between levels
  • Electrical hazards
  • Fire
  • Flames and hot surfaces etc.
  • Collision and entrapment
  • Explosions
  • Position and operability of amenities etc.
  • Structural collapse and falling elements.

>> Landlords' responsibilities

As the HHSRS is not a standard there is no model guidance available to follow, although there may be some guidance available for fire safety if you contact your local authority [see Useful contacts for landlords]. Each property will have its own hazards depending upon its location, age, construction, design, state of repair etc. but landlords must take steps to make sure that the dwelling provides both a safe and healthy environment.

For enforcement purposes the landlord is responsible for the provision, state and proper working order of:

  • The exterior and structural elements of the dwelling:
    • This includes all elements essential to the dwelling including access, amenity spaces, the common parts within the landlords control, associated outbuildings, garden, yard walls etc.
  • The installations within and associated with the dwelling for:
  • The supply and use of water, gas and electricity
  • Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
  • Food safety
  • Ventilation
  • Space heating; and Heating water

It includes fixtures and fittings, but excludes moveable appliances unless provided by the landlord.

In multi-occupied buildings the owner, or manager, is responsible for stair coverings e.g. carpets.

>> HHSRS Enforcement

If a hazard presents a severe threat to health or safety it is known as a Category 1 Hazard (hazard bands A to C). If a local housing authority considers that a category 1 hazard exists on any residential premises, they must take the appropriate enforcement action in relation to the hazard.

Less significant threats to health and safety are known as Category 2 Hazards (hazard bands D to J) and a local authority may take appropriate enforcement action to reduce the hazard to an acceptable level.

The circumstances in which local authorities will take action over Category 2 hazards will vary and will depend on the individual local authorities’ enforcement policy.

Although statutory action is mandatory for Category 1 hazards and discretionary for Category 2 hazards, the actual choice of the appropriate course of action is also up to the authority to decide and again will depend on the individual local authorities’ enforcement policy and the particular circumstances of the case.

The West of England authorities’ enforcement policies state that action will be taken on band A – C hazards (category one). However, the policies also go on to say that action will normally be taken on band D hazards (category 2) unless there is a specific reason not to take action. The West of England Authorities may still take action on Hazards of Band E or below in certain circumstances.

The authorities must however take into account the statutory enforcement guidance and the options available include:

  • Serving a hazard awareness notice, which merely advises that a hazard exists, but does not demand works are carried out
  • Serving an improvement notice requiring remedial works
  • Making a prohibition order, which closes the whole or part of a dwelling or restricts the number of permitted occupants
  • Suspending these types of notice for a period of time
  • Taking emergency action themselves
  • Demolition
  • Designating a clearance area.

>> More information on certain hazards

The hazards most likely to exist in all types of dwellings are:

  • Damp and mould growth
  • Excess cold
  • Crowding and space
  • Entry by intruders
  • Falling on level surfaces etc.
  • Falling on stairs etc.
  • Fire

However this will vary depending on, amongst other things, the location, the type, the state of maintenance and age of the property.

The following outline of certain hazards provides an insight into how the HHSRS operates and what factors are taken into account when an assessment is made by the local authority. The scoring system of the HHSRS allows all hazards to be rated against each other for importance within any dwelling. The inclusion or exclusion of any hazard in this section is not an indication of its relative importance. All 29 hazards have the potential to result in harm.

Fire

The most vulnerable age group is all persons 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. Over 80 per cent of accidental fires in dwellings result from occupier carelessness or misuse of equipment or appliances, etc. 

Over 65 per cent of fires start in the kitchen, about 10 per cent start in bedrooms and bedsitting rooms, and 10 per cent start in living and dining rooms. Around 90 per cent of fires are confined to the rooms where they started.

There is a greater risk of a fire occurring in flats and bedsits than in houses, where there is also a higher risk of the fire resulting in harm. An adult living in either a self-contained flat or bed-sit accommodation in a three or more storey building is around 10 times more likely to die in a fire than an adult living in a two storey house.

Factors to consider include the design, layout and condition of the dwelling, which should be such to reduce the risk of fire starting carelessly, the spread of any fire and allow effective means of escape in the case of fire. The correct design, installation and maintenance of equipment and appliances, especially those provided for cooking and heating; the maintenance and presence of adequate and sufficient electrical outlets; and the use of residual electric current devices (circuit breakers).

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.

For any form of multi-occupied buildings, there should be adequate fire protection to the means of escape and between each unit of accommodation, appropriate fire detection and alarm system(s), and, as appropriate, emergency lighting, sprinkler systems or other fire fighting equipment.

For specific advice on fire safety requirements in your rented properties please contact your local Environmental Health team. [see Useful Contacts for Landlords]

Additional information can be obtained from the Department of Communities and Local Government, in particular the two guidance documents:

Further information can be obtained from local authority enforcement policies and private housing web pages, available from:

www.bristol.gov.uk/privatehousing

www.bathnes.gov.uk/BathNES/Housing/default.htm

www.n-somerset.gov.uk/Social+care/Housing/Private+housing/

www.southglos.gov.uk/NR/exeres/3583805b-cbf3-4daf-bcc1-38f38dc75ff2

Excess Cold

The most vulnerable group is all persons aged 65 years and over.

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.

There are 40,000 excess winter deaths in the UK each year associated with the affects of cold. It is not hypothermia, but respiratory and circulatory diseases in the elderly which is responsible for most of these deaths. ‘The increase in deaths from heart attacks occurs about two days following the onset of a cold spell, the delay is about five days for deaths from stroke, and about 12 days for respiratory deaths.’

Lack of heating also causes increased illness, increased risk of falls, as well as distress and discomfort. Inadequate heating is directly linked to ill health when the internal temperatures start falling below 19°C.  It is essential that occupiers be provided with adequate and controllable (preferably central) heating within their accommodation.

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.

Falling on Stairs etc.

The most vulnerable group is all persons aged 60 years or over and men are more likely to die as an outcome of this hazard than women. Although physical injury is the most likely outcome overall, death may occur several weeks or months after the initial fall injury, due to cardio-respiratory illness, including heart attack, stroke and pneumonia.

Several factors can influence the likelihood of an accident including the following:

  • Accidents are nearly twice as likely on stairs consisting of straight steps with no winders or intermediate landings
  • Accidents are more likely where the pitch of stairs is more than 42º, and the steeper the pitch, the worse the outcome
  • An accident is three times more likely to occur on stairs without carpet covering
  • The lack of any handrail doubles the likelihood of a fall, even if there is a wall to both sides of the stairs.

Damp and Mould Growth

The most vulnerable group is all persons aged 14 years or under. One in eight children suffer 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. 

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.

Good ventilation is normally achieved by opening windows. As a rough guide, the minimum level of natural ventilation would be a window with an open area equivalent to not less than one-twentieth of the floor area.

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.

The use of mechanical heat recovery ventilation (MHRV) can provide increased ventilation without the associated heat loss. Their use is recommended, as occupiers are more likely to use MHRV to control condensation as they do not result in cooling of the accommodation and they are energy efficient.

Residential Property Tribunal Service

The Residential Property Tribunal Service (RPTS) determines appeals or applications in respect of Improvement Notices, Prohibition Orders, Emergency Remedial Notices, Emergency Prohibition Orders and Demolition Orders. They also have jurisdiction in respect of HMOs, licensing, Management Orders and Empty Dwelling Management Orders.

There are five RPTS panels. They are based in Manchester (Northern), Birmingham (Midland), Cambridge (Eastern), Chichester (Southern) and London.

The Panel is usually made up of three members, a lawyer, a valuer or professional and a lay-person.

The RPTS is intended to be much less formal and intimidating than court proceedings. Professional advocates are not required. Preparation of any appeal or application must be thorough, because great attention is given to the substance and detail of cases.

The RPT Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 contain 41 regulations dealing with procedural issues. The overriding objective is “to deal fairly and justly with applications which it is to determine”.

The RPTS has equivalent status to the County Court and decisions are binding on the parties involved.

Decisions of the RPTS may be appealed to the Lands Tribunal. Appeals to the Lands Tribunal may be made on points of law and must take place within 14 days of receipt of the RPTS decision. Alternatively, if you consider that there has been a breach of the rules of natural justice, you could seek leave from the High Court to challenge the decision by judicial review.

More information on the RPTS along with appeal application forms and other literature can be found on the RPT website.

More information on the Lands Tribunal can be found on the Lands Tribunal website.

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