How do we assess the safety of rented homes?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (“HHSRS”) is the Government’s prescribed means of assessing housing conditions. It allows an inspector to evaluate the potential risks to health and safety from any deficiency found within a dwelling.
The HHSRS is not a standard; it is a risk-based assessment procedure. The council has regard to the statutory guidance issued by Government, which is entitled: Housing Health and Safety Rating System – Operating Guidance. It is the main document used by inspectors and can be downloaded from the GOV.UK website for free.
The underlying principle of the HHSRS is that:
“Any residential premises should provide a safe and healthy environment for any potential occupier or visitor.”
To satisfy this principle, a dwelling should be designed, constructed and maintained with non-hazardous materials and should be free from both unnecessary and avoidable hazards.
Every HHSRS assessment must be made on the basis of a whole dwelling inspection. If the dwelling concerned is a flat or bedsit, the common areas leading to the unit of accommodation must also be taken into account during the risk assessment.
There are 29 hazards that must be considered during an HHSRS inspection. These are:
A Physiological Requirements
- Damp and mould growth
- Excess cold
- Excess heat
- Asbestos (and MMF)
- Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Volatile organic compounds
B Psychological Requirements
Space, Security, Light and Noise
- Crowding and space
- Entry by intruders
C Protection Against Infection
Hygiene, Sanitation and Water Supply
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
- Food safety
- Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
- Water supply
D Protection Against Accidents
- Falls associated with baths, etc
- Falling on level surfaces, etc
- Falling on stairs, etc
- Falling between levels
Electric shocks, Fires, Burns and Scalds
- Electrical hazards
- Flames, hot surfaces, etc
Collisions, Cuts and Strains
- Collision and entrapment
- Position and operability of amenities, etc
- Structural collapse and falling elements
If an inspector identifies one of the prescribed hazards during any inspection, he/she must make a two-stage assessment.
In the first instance, he/she must consider the likelihood of something happening in the next 12 months, as a consequence of the hazard, which could cause harm. The harmful occurrence could, for example, be a period of exposure to a harmful substance or an accident. After this assessment, the inspector must then decide on the potential severity of outcomes should the harm occur.
This process can be explained by using an example for “Falls between levels”. The likelihood of a fall from a window will vary depending on the design, size, and condition of the window concerned. A sash window with a low sill height and no fastener will present more of a risk than say a casement window with a high sill height and only a top opener. The second part of the assessment, that being the severity of harm outcomes, will depend on the height of the window. Consider again the sash window with a low sill height. The consequences of a fall from such a window at ground floor level onto grass are likely to be very different to a fall from a window on a sixth floor onto a concrete path.
An HHSRS assessment will result in a numerical hazard score. This score determines the band in which the hazard sits. Hazard bands have been devised to avoid emphasis being placed on what may appear to be a precise numerical score and a precise statement of risk. A risk assessment can only be a representation of the inspector’s judgement. There are ten hazard bands, with Band J being the least hazardous and Band A being the most dangerous.
Any hazard with a banding of A, B or C is deemed to be a Category 1 hazard. Hazards with a banding of D to J are considered to be Category 2 hazards. Category 1 hazards are the most severe and have been prioritised by Government. The council is therefore duty bound to take enforcement action in respect of any Category 1 hazard identified. Where Category 2 hazards have been identified, the council has a discretionary power to take action.
An HHSRS assessment does not imply what type of enforcement action should be taken. That is a matter for the individual circumstances of each case. The HHSRS is simply a way of assessing the seriousness of the hazard(s) identified.