The Housing Health and Safety Rating System – is here! It came into force on 6th April. It is probable that the majority of the population in the UK didn’t notice. It is also probable that clued-up professionals in the housing sector have been noticing for some time, and have experienced some anxiety about it. Which leads me to the two key statements about HHSRS, or “the Rating System” as those in the know refer to it.
Firstly – it’s a quiet revolution. It is a complete, fundamental and ground-breaking change to the assessment of fitness in housing, that has been in preparation for a decade.
The second statement is – don’t panic. It is complex. But social landlords are in the business of maintaining property; and it fits with the ethos and the motivation of the sector that tenants should be as safe as they reasonably can be in their homes. We hope that there shouldn’t be too many surprises. And because it’s a change of approach, some of the things that undoubtedly will be found, will be relatively simple to remedy.
This view is reinforced by the guidance produced by ODPM (now DCLG). This recognises the nature of social landlords’ business and operating environment. It advises Local Authorities that they should take account of Housing Associations’ work programmes in enforcing the HHSRS.
This article outlines the key facts about HHSRS; what Housing Associations should be doing; and where to look for help and advice.
In 2001, the Government introduced the requirement that all social housing should meet the Decent Home Standard by 2010. The first of the four criteria of the Standard is that homes should comply with the Fitness Standard set out in the 1985 Housing Act and updated by the 1989 Housing Act. Under the Housing Act 2004, the Fitness Standard criterion is replaced by The Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
For the definitive definition of the Decent Home Standard, refer to Public Sector Agreement Target 7, Decent Homes, on the DCLG website, as well as A Decent Home the definition and guidance for implementation . PSA 7 was revised in 2004. It now states that homes which do not meet the Standard because tenants do not wish work to be carried out should not be counted as non-decent.
The 2004 Housing Act replaced the Fitness Standard with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS, the Rating System). The Rating System represents a fundamental change of approach from a check list system to one based on risk assessment. The HHSRS is a calculation methodology.
It comes into force on 6 April 2006.
The system identifies 29 possible hazards that could occur in a property (see annex A). The hazards are analysed into four groups: Physiological, Psychological, Infection and Accidents.
Local Authority Environmental Health Officers are enforcement officers for the HHSRS. They will respond to complaints by inspecting properties. They will assess the likelihood of harm arising from a hazard, and the degree of harm that may occur.
From this, they use the HHSRS to calculate a score, which will fall on a scale of A (highest) to J (lowest). Hazards in categories A to C constitute Category 1 hazards, those in Categories D to J are Category 2 hazards. The Decent Home Standard requires homes to be free from Category 1 hazards.
The Rating System identifies those categories of people most at risk from each hazard. Categories include: all people, children under 14, children under 5, older people over 65. The hazard score is calculated in respect of the most vulnerable potential occupier (whether or not such a person is resident at the property).
Local Authorities have a range of enforcement options. These include serving a Hazard Awareness Notice, an Improvement Notice, a Prohibition Order, and (for Category 1 hazards only), a Clearance Declaration, a Demolition Order, or taking Emergency Action (where there is imminent risk of serious harm).
In determining what enforcement action to take, the Local Authority will take account of the degree of vulnerability in respect of the hazard in question of the actual occupants of the property.
In addition, in respect of RSLs, the Statutory Guidance issued by ODPM  requires Local Authorities to take account of programmes of work that RSLs may have in place that will deal with identified hazards.
What should associations be doing?
At the end of November 2005, ODPM wrote to the Chief Executives of Local Authorities and Housing Associations with guidance about the implementation of the HHSRS. This document together with a covering letter from the Housing Corporation is on the Housing Corporation website. In March 2005, the Housing Corporation placed a “Resource Summary” of useful website addresses on our website. The HHSRS will be operated, like the fitness standard, by Local Authority Environmental Health Officers. ODPM through IDeA have provided training for all Local Authority Environmental Health Departments. Some Local Authorities have provided training for Associations operating in their areas (Manchester, Southampton). Some Local Authorities are developing protocols with Associations (Newham).
Sources of Information
The following are sources of information about HHSRS.
The Guidance: http://www.dclg.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1152190
Public Service Target 7: http://www.dclg.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1123011
Housing Health and Safety Rating System
The regulations (etc) have been approved by Parliament and the following documentation is now finalised:
· HHSRS Operating Guidance
Housing Act 2004 Guidance about inspections and assessment of hazards given under Section 9. Published
See the Resource Summary on the Housing Corporations website
Contacts at the Housing Corporation: Alison Mathias.