The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) has been the standard assessment for property safety since 2006. Despite having been active for 15 years, the system has been criticised for its complexity. Many landlords and tenants have no idea what it is or how the system works.
Until recently, calls for a simpler and more straightforward set of quality standards for the private rented sector have been largely ignored. The system was reviewed in 2015, but changes to the HHSRS were rejected. In 2018, the government finally announced that the HHSRS would be completely reviewed.
- What is the HHSRS?
- Changes to the HHSRS 2021
- When was the HHSRS introduced – and why?
- Who carries out the HHSRS inspection?
- What properties must have an HHSRS inspection?
- What does an HHSRS inspection involve?
- How are the hazards in my home assessed?
- What happens if a property fails an HHSRS inspection?
- Preparing for HHSRS inspections
- What other safety inspections must landlords have?
What is the HHSRS?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a risk assessment tool used to determine whether a property is safe to live.
Essentially, it’s a matrix system that rates the hazards in your property depending on the likely impact it will have on the occupant’s health.
HHSRS inspections are not a regular occurrence for landlords like an electrical inspection or gas check. They typically take place during a survey of the property if a tenant complains to their local council about the health and safety of their home.
Review of the HHSRS: 2021 Changes
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have launched a two-year research project surrounding the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
This work follows the review announcement back in 2018, in which the government pledged to “make the system easier to understand for landlords and tenants, correct the disconnect between the HHSRS and other legislative standards, and facilitate the effective enforcement of housing standards by local authorities.”
This review includes a full audit of the system itself, as well as a review of assessor training and new minimum standards. Research leader RH Environmental Ltd have provided a full list of the project’s main focus points:
- Reviewing Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) Operating Guidance
- Developing an updated set of worked examples
- Reviewing HHSRS training for assessors and other stakeholders, including the introduction of a competency framework
- Developing a more straightforward means of banding HHSRS assessment results
- New recommended minimum standards
- Assessing the amalgamation or removal of existing hazard profiles
- Audit of HHSRS digital assessment tools
- Updating HHSRS Landlord’s Guidance and new introducing new guidance for tenants
- Reviewing and updating HHSRS Enforcement Guidance
- Reviewing the fire safety hazard
The review of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System will affect housing regulators, surveyors, landlords and tenants. For this reason, surveys have been launched to give landlords and tenants the opportunity to share their thoughts.
Landlord Survey – for private and social rented sector landlords
Tenant Survey – for private rented sector and housing association tenants and owner-occupiers
These surveys close on March 31st 2021.
Who carries out the HHSRS inspection?
The HHSRS inspection itself is carried out by trained housing assessors and environmental health officers from the local authorities.
The inspectors use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to determine whether any immediate action is required. If the assessment identifies some serious hazards, the landlord or property owner must arrange repairs and maintenance to improve the property’s safety.
Anyone conducting an HHSRS inspection will already have a background in property surveying, meaning they will have a strong understanding of what a safe home looks like. The inspectors undergo comprehensive training and guidance to help them deal with all types of health and safety situations.
When was the system introduced and why?
In the late sixties, the government realised that many homes in the UK were unsafe. 25% of homes lacked basic amenities, such as indoor bathrooms and toilets. Throughout the seventies and eighties, the government spent over 1 billion a year getting homes to an acceptable standard and managed to largely eradicate the problem by the nineties.
From 1990 to 2006, the base-level indicator of unfit housing was the Housing Fitness Standard. This was a “pass or fail” style system that didn’t work very well. It had to be applied by a trained professional but really boiled down to one person’s opinion rather than a measurable system.
Realising a standardised health and safety tool was required, the government created the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. It was introduced within The Housing Act 2004 and formally began in 2006.
The HHSRS is currently supported by 10 years of evidence of hazards in the home and their statistical likelihood of causing danger. This is based on years of statistics relating to housing and health, including English Housing Survey data and NHS accident reports.
From this data, a scoring system was developed in which the severity of a hazard is scored and compared against other hazards.
What properties have HHSRS inspections?
The council is responsible for monitoring housing conditions in their area. This includes private rented properties, council and housing association homes, and owner-occupied housing.
Councils may choose to conduct a HHSRS inspection at the request of a tenant, or because a survey indicated that the property may not be safe.
What does an HHSRS inspection involve?
When assessing a property, the environmental inspector rates each hazard within the property. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System provides individual ratings for each hazard identified, not a single rating for the entire property.
Inspectors assess the hazards in properties based on 29 different hazard categories and calculate how likely each is to happen. This is represented as a ratio – and is the most difficult part of an HHSRS inspection.
It would take too long for HHSRS inspectors to go through all 29 hazard categories in a single visit. Instead, the process is simplified by asking a few key questions:
- Does the hazard constitute something significantly worse than the average for the age and type of property being inspected?
- If the hazard is not attended to, what is the likelihood of a vulnerable person being affected by the hazard over a 12-month period?
- If the health incident did happen, what would the likely outcome be?
- Would the effect be long term and life-changing, or something that could be fixed fairly quickly?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System
The 29 categories of the HHSRS are split into four sections: physiological, psychological, protection against infection and protection from accidents.
HHSRS – Physiological requirements
Physical effects on the human body:
- Damp and mould growth
- Excessive cold
- Excessive heat
- CO and fuel combustion productions
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Volatile organic compounds
Living in a cold, damp home can cause serious complications such as circulation issues, dangerously reduced temperatures and asthma.
HHSRS – Psychological requirements
Impact on mental health:
- Crowding and space
- Entry by intruders
Overcrowding, constant noise and lack of privacy can lead to stress and sleep deprivation. Lack of natural light can also lead to depressive illnesses.
HHSRS – Protection against infection
The likelihood of an infection related to:
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
- Food safety
- Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
- Water supply
Having nowhere to prepare food safely or keep clean can present a serious infection hazard for tenants.
HHSRS – Protection against accidents
The likelihood of causing an accident in the home:
- Falls associated with baths or showers
- Falling on level surfaces
- Falling on stairs
- Falling between levels
- Electrical hazards
- Flames and hot surfaces
- Collisions and entrapment
- Position and operability of amenities
- Structural collapse and falling elements
The home is the most common location for accidents. Many of these are preventable, but often occur because of the design, condition and misuse of the property.
How are the hazards in my home assessed?
After the assessment, the ‘scores’ for each hazard are totalled. Each hazard will be given a rating from A through to J.
Ratings in bands A-C are known as Category 1 hazards. This means the property presents a risk of serious danger – such as the risk of electrocution or fire.
Bands D-J are Category 2 hazards and present a lower risk of injury.
Read more: Legionella Risk Assessments for Landlords
What happens if my property fails a health and safety inspection?
For most landlords, keeping on top of legally required inspections and tending to repairs will mean your property is perfectly fine. However, if the assessor deems the property unsafe, the local authorities can take action.
Typically, the first step taken is serving an improvement notice. This instructs the landlord or property owner to carry out any remedial work needed. The local authorities can also:
- Make a prohibition order (either closing the whole or part of a building or restricting the number of permitted occupants)
- Take emergency action
- Serve a hazard awareness notice
- Make a demolition order
- Declare a clearance area
Where an improvement of hazard awareness notice has been served in relation to an HHSRS matter, the landlord will not be able to issue a Section 21 notice for six months. If they do, it will not be enforceable.
What can I do to prepare for an HHSRS inspection?
All landlords have a duty of care to their tenant. This includes making sure their rental property is a safe and comfortable place to live. To uphold these health and safety responsibilities, landlords should ensure their property is completely safe before the tenant moves in. This includes checking things like:
- The heating and boiler system
- Windows, doors and insulation
- Walls and floors (for signs of damp, mould or infestation)
- Wiring and plug sockets
- Portable appliances
- Any supplied furniture
- Carpets, stairs and other possible trip hazards
Once the tenancy has begun, landlords can carry out mid-term inspections to check their property is in good condition and address any concerns tenants may have. Keeping an open line of communication is key. If your tenant has any worries about the safety or condition of the property, they can contact you and you can sort it before it escalates.
What other inspections do landlords need to be aware of?
Landlords in England Scotland must have an electrical inspection every five years. On April 1st 2021, it became a mandatory requirement for all landlords in England to have a valid Electrical Installation Condition Report.
Gas safety inspections are required once a year and tenants must be shown a copy of the certificate when they move in, or once the inspection is complete.
Organise your electrical inspection, gas check and more with LettingaProperty.com.