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Housing safety system needs updating

Stuart Spear14/12/2017 - 11:37

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HHSRS struggles to tackle excess cold
HHSRS struggles to tackle excess cold

New CIEH research has revealed an overwhelming consensus that it is time to update and review the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

The research carried out over April 2017 asked EHPs working in housing about their views on the rating system designed to assess risk to health and safety in the home.

Out of the 170 members who responded 97 per cent said the HHSRS needed updating and 90 per cent called for a review of the operating and enforcement guidance along with more relevant working examples.

First introduced in April 2006 the consensus is that over a decade on, this evidence based tool has become out of date with 71 respondents calling for a review of the underlying statistics that informs the system to ensure EHP decisions are based on up-to-date data.

Concerns were raised that decisions were being taken based on evidence gathered in the late 1990s with both housing conditions and our relationship between housing and health having changed since then.

‘The HHSRS is incredibly important to maintaining and improving housing safety and preventing ill health for tenants, and is generally seen as an improvement on the previous system,’ said Tamara Sandoul, policy manager at CIEH.

‘However, our study highlights the need for a full update and review of the rating system so that it continues to be relevant and fit for purpose. This is a key tool for taking action on poor housing and therefore needs to be kept up to date and not simply left gathering dust.’ 

Since the introduction of the risk rating system the context for private sector housing has changed with a significant increase in the subdivision of houses and flats into smaller units and an increase in dwellings above commercial businesses.

These changes along with the issues that are likely to be thrown up by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry highlight the need to review the approach taken towards fire and electrical safety in the HHSRS.

‘In the wake of Grenfell, it is more important than ever that our housing safety system supports those professionals on the ground whose job it is to keep our homes safe,’ points out Ms Sandoul. 

Another recent change has been a much tougher approach towards rogue landlords as exemplified by recent changes to enforcement powers under the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

These new powers along with legislation to combat retaliatory evictions and new smoke and carbon monoxide protections are not covered in the original guidance.

When asked which hazard was dealt with most inadequately the most common response was excess cold. Under HHSRS there is no link with Energy Performance Certificates while the guidance is unclear about EHP powers when dealing with fuel poverty.

Over a half of respondents claimed they come across hazards on dwellings that are not adequately addresses by the HHSRS operating guidance. When asked which part of the system should be updated first 66 per cent said the operating guidance.

Respondents also pointed out the urgent need to introduce a clear national standard to measure crowding and space.

In light of the findings, CIEH has called on the Government to take steps to update the housing safety system, including: 

  • A regular review of all hazard profiles within the HHSRS, to update the evidence base
  • A clarification of the definition of ‘vulnerable occupiers’
  • Improving and updating the current worked examples and sets of guidance for professionals
  • Introducing a clear national minimum space standard to combat overcrowding


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