The HHSRS is a risk based assessment tool which is used by environmental health officers to assess the risk (the likelihood and severity) of a hazard in residential housing to the health and safety of occupants or visitors. The Government commissioned a review of the HHSRS at the end of 2018. On 11 July 2019, the outcome of this scoping exercise was announced - there is an intention to carry out further work to update the system and make it easier to understand. This paper provides an overview of the HHSRS and considers some reviews and reports on its operation.
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What is the HHSRS?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) was introduced by the Housing Act 2004 and has been in force since April 2006. It is the main system for assessing and enforcing housing standards in England and Wales. It replaced a pass or fail Housing Fitness Standard which had been in place since April 1990 and which had been identified as having some significant failings. For example, it was felt not to distinguish between defective dwellings and genuine health and safety hazards.
The HHSRS is a risk based assessment tool which is used by environmental health officers to assess the risk (the likelihood and severity) of a hazard in residential housing to the health and safety of occupants or visitors. The HHSRS is tenure neutral; it can be used to assess hazards in private and social rented housing and also in owner occupied housing.
The vast majority of HHSRS work is carried out in relation to private rented housing as this is the sector with the poorest housing standards. The HHSRS has attracted criticism on the basis that knowledge of its existence, and understanding of how it works, is limited amongst landlords and tenants. There have been calls for the introduction of a simpler and more straightforward set of quality standards, particularly with reference to the private rented sector.
The effectiveness of the HHSRS
The Coalition Government conducted a review of the HHSRS the outcome of which was published in March 2015: Review of property conditions in the private rented sector: Government Response, Changes to the HHSRS were rejected, instead the Government opted to produce a layperson’s guide to health and safety hazards in the home: Renting a safe home: a guide for tenants (now archived). This has been replaced by How to rent a safe home (June 2018). Measures were included in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to strengthen the action that can be taken to tackle landlords that fail to tackle poor housing conditions, such as civil penalty notices, banning orders, and the extension of rent repayment orders.
Further reviews of the HHSRS by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (2017) and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee as part of its wider inquiry into the private rented sector over 2017-18, concluded that there were grounds for updating the guidance. At the time (June 2018), the Government said they would consider updating the guidance but rejected the introduction of quality standards.
Reviewing the HHSRS
On 26 October 2018 the Minister, Heather Wheeler, announced that the HHSRS would be reviewed:
The review will also look at whether to introduce minimum standards for common health and safety problems in rental accommodation in order to keep renters safe.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) commissioned RHE Global to identify the extent to which the HHSRS needed to be updated and revised, including exploring the scope for setting minimum standards as part of the HHSRS framework. Responses to an online questionnaire had to be submitted by 24 February 2019. The Government said the outputs from the questionnaire “will be used to develop a specification for any actual review of the HHSRS.”
On 11 July 2019, the MHCLG announced the outcome of the scoping exercise. There is an intention to carry out further work 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.”