General Health & Safety requirements

The basis of UK health and safety law is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA).

The Act sets out the general duties which employers, such as landlords, have towards employees and members of the public. These duties are qualified in the Act by the principle of "so far as is reasonably practicable" so that an employer does not have to take measures to avoid or reduce the risk if those measures are technically impossible or if the time, trouble or cost of the measures would be grossly disproportionate to the risk.

Scope

This guide covers social landlords’ general responsibilities for health and safety.

Changes to social housing regulations - Q&A

Q. What is happening with the Regulation of Social Housing in England?

A. The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) England became a standalone public body on 1st October 2018. This means it is no longer part of the Homes and Communities Agency. It has written to registered providers of social housing and others with details of this change. More information can be found on the RSH website.

Q. What does this mean for social landlords?

A. There should be little change for social landlords because they will be dealing with the same people with the same contact details. The Regulatory Standards remain unchanged and can be found at Regulatory Standards.

Legislation and statutory requirements

Under HSWA UK landlords are responsible for general health and safety in relation to the homes they provide and the businesses they operate. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 make more explicit what employers are required to do to manage health and safety under HSWA. Like HSWA, they apply to every work activity.  The main requirement on employers is to carry out a risk assessment. Employers with five or more employees need to record the significant findings of the risk assessment. Risk assessment should be straightforward in a simple workplace such as a typical office.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published a short guide on health and safety regulation that includes a list of important pieces of health and safety legislation. In addition building owners should have the necessary insurance, including public liability, in place. 

CDM Regulations

Landlords need to comply with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations) when commissioning or undertaking repair or construction work. HSE has published Managing health and safety in construction that provides guidance on complying with the CDM Regulations, including landlords’, principal designers’ and principal contractors’ duties.

Party Wall Act

The Party Wall Act extends only to England and Wales. There is no equivalent legislation in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Construction work that comes under the Party Wall etc Act 1996 is:

  • Constructing a new building on or at the boundary of two properties
  • Work to an existing party wall or party structure, including excavation below foundation level

The building owner, such as a social landlord, proposing to start work covered by the Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions in the way set down in the Act. Adjoining owners can agree or disagree with what is proposed, or if they do not comment on a party wall notice within 14 days of it being served a dispute is deemed to have arisen. The Act provides a mechanism for resolving disputes. The Government has published guidance on the Party Wall Act as well as examples of the required letters and notices.

The main types of party walls are:

  • A wall that stands on the lands of two (or more) owners and forms part of a building - this wall can be part of one building only or separate buildings belonging to different owners
  • A wall that stands on the lands of two owners but does not form part of a building, such as a garden wall but not including timber fences
  • A wall that is on one owner’s land but is used by two (or more) owners to separate their buildings

The Act also uses the expression ‘party structure’. This could be a wall or floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings in different ownership, such as in flats. 

Housing legislation

Social landlords also have to comply with specific legal requirements for housing and those relating to maintaining safe and healthy homes set out in each country’s regulatory framework (see Housing Regulators below). The relevant housing legislation for each country is set out below.

In England and Wales the Housing Act 2004 applies to individual homes, including the licensing of houses in multiple-occupation (HMO) and other residential accommodation. Risks are assessed through the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). In England all landlords (private and social) must comply with the Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018 that amended the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. While this Act does not create any new obligations for landlords, it strengthens tenants’ means of redress against landlords who do not fulfil their legal obligations to keep their properties safe. For more information see Q&A briefing. 

The relevant legislation in Scotland is the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 and for Northern Ireland main legislation is the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, with all relevant legislation listed by the Department for Social Development.

Enforcement

The HSE, with local authorities (and other enforcing authorities) is responsible for enforcing HSWA and a number of other Acts and Statutory Instruments relevant to the working environment in England, Wales and Scotland. HSE has published guidance on the specific details for enforcing health and safety legislation and also an enforcement policy statement. Separate enforcement arrangements operate in Northern Ireland, which has its own Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI). 

HHSRS under the Housing Act is enforced by local authorities, for category 1 hazards an improvement notice will be served or, in more extreme cases, a prohibition order may be served. The Act gives local authorities powers of access for the purposes of inspecting to see if a category 1 or 2 hazard exists. 

Housing Regulators

In England, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), requires registered providers to comply with its Regulatory Standards, in particular the Home Standard that requires meeting all applicable statutory requirements that provide for the health and safety of occupants in their homes.

In Wales, the Regulatory Framework for Housing Associations Registered in Wales sets out the expected standards of performance (10 delivery outcomes) and what landlords are expected to do to meet those outcomes. All social landlords are required to meet and maintain the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) as soon as possible, but in any event no later than 2020.

In Scotland, the regulatory framework is designed to safeguard and promote the interests of current and future tenants, homeless people and other people who use services provided by social landlords. It explains how the Government will regulate to protect the users of social housing. In relation to the quality of homes, social landlords are required to meet the minimum Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS) by 2015. Meeting the SHQS includes complying with Technical Guide for healthy, safe and secure homes. The Scottish Housing Regulator expects compliance with all statutory and regulatory obligations.

In Northern Ireland the Department for Social Development regulates registered housing associations under the Regulatory Framework for Registered Housing Associations in Northern Ireland 2006. Regulatory Standard 3.3 states that housing associations must develop, manage and maintain good-quality homes that seek to meet people’s needs and preferences now and in the future. This includes meeting the Decent Homes Standard. The Department inspects housing associations every three years and publishes its inspection reports, with property management being one of the five areas inspected.

Compliance - good and efficient practice

HSE’s website provides a wide range of guidance on compliance with HSWA, as does the hseni. There is also a simple guide on how to meet legal requirements for health and safety more generally. Separate guidance is available for Northern Ireland.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) publishes advice on health and safety at work designed for smaller businesses that gives an overview of health and safety requirements and a list of some key legislation. While intended for smaller businesses, the guide could be useful for landlords considering how to comply with their general health and safety responsibilities.

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