The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a tool used to assess hazards in residential premises.
The HHSRS is risk-based and covers a range of 29 potential hazards, which are set out in Schedule 1 of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005. The HHSRS operates by evaluating the potential risk of harm to an actual or potential occupier from their living environment and is a means of rating the seriousness of any hazard identified. An HHSRS assessment does this by categorising a hazard by seriousness, generating a numerical score that falls into 1 of 10 hazard bands, with band J being the safest and band A being the most dangerous.
The HHSRS itself does not set a minimum standard, so the categorisation of hazards was introduced in order to do so. Hazards scored at bands A to C are ‘category 1’, bands D to J are ‘category 2’.
If a local council carries out an HHSRS assessment and identifies a category 1 hazard they must take enforcement action under the Housing Act 2004. The form this enforcement action should take is set out in section 6 of the Act.
The HHSRS also forms part of the Decent Homes Standard, 1 of the 4 consumer standards that registered providers of social housing must comply with. Criterion A of the Decent Homes Standard says that to be decent, a dwelling should be free from category 1 hazards.
A reviewed HHSRS that is accessible to landlords and tenants and efficient for local councils to use forms a vital part of our reforms to both the social and private rented sectors.
In our white paper, The charter for social housing residents, we committed to review the Decent Homes Standard and consider whether it needs to be updated to ensure it is delivering what is needed for safety and decency now. The first part of the Decent Homes Standard review concluded in autumn 2021. In March 2022, we brought together representatives from across both rented sectors to discuss what might be included in a revised Decent Homes Standard that applies to both sectors.
On 16 June 2022 we published our white paper, A fairer private rented sector, which sets out our plan to fundamentally reform the sector and level up housing quality in this country, delivering a private rented sector that is fit for the 21st century for 4.4 million households who call it their home. Our consultation on introducing a Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector closed on 14 October 2022 and we are considering the responses.
The second part of the Decent Homes Standard review will now consider how best to deliver on our ambition on reducing non-decent homes for both social and private rented sectors.
The HHSRS was introduced in April 2006 by the Housing Act 2004 and has remained unchanged since then. In October 2018 the government launched a scoping review to consider whether the HHSRS should be updated and, if so, to what extent. The scoping review involved a wide-ranging consultation exercise in 2019.
This exercise concluded that, while there was considerable support for the strong links between health and housing that the HHSRS provides, all stakeholders would welcome a simplification of the assessment process. Local council officers found the system complicated to apply and full assessments were resource intensive. Housing providers and tenants found it difficult to understand the outcomes of assessments and felt that there was a discrepancy between the assessment process and other housing-based regulatory regimes that applied to housing provision. There was also majority support for an approach that sets out standards that could be met in most cases, supplementing the risk assessment aspect of the HHSRS.
Following this exercise government initiated a review of the operation of the HHSRS with the aim to bring it up to date, empower landlords and tenants to engage with the system, ensure alignment with other legislative standards and systems, including the Building Safety Act, and help with the effective enforcement of housing standards. To address the support for a standards-based approach, the review also defined what have been described as ‘indicative baselines’ used to make an initial assessment of whether a property contains serious hazards, and also investigated barriers to the use of digital technology to support assessments.
External researchers RH Environmental (RHE) were contracted to undertake the 2-year review, which concluded in 2022. RHE sourced the expertise to explore, assist and challenge their findings, and worked with academics from Cardiff Metropolitan University, Middlesex University and the University of Bristol.
Legislation and guidance that govern the enforcement of standards were outside the scope of the HHSRS review.
New regulations will be necessary to bring the revisions to the HHSRS into force.
Extensive stakeholder engagement was critical to the success of this review and was undertaken in the initial stages of the project along with in-depth literature reviews for each of the project outputs and workstreams. A multi-method approach to engagement, using a combination of regional online focus groups, one-to-one interviews and online surveys, was undertaken. Over 1,000 stakeholders with specialist experience and relevance to the HHSRS and housing sector contributed to the consultation.
To make it easier for landlords and tenants to understand the system, our suppliers produced a checklist that can be used to make an initial assessment (eg ‘stairs must be safe, secure, in sound condition, free of defects and projections, well maintained’).
Indicative baselines are incorporated into the revised HHSRS operating guidance (see above). These do not replace the whole risk assessment but are easier to understand. Where these baselines are met it is likely a property will be free from category 1 hazards.
The statutory HHSRS operating and enforcement guidance (section 9 of the Housing Act 2004) has been revised ensuring the guidance facilitates local councils’ effective use of the system, is more accessible to non-experts, and incorporates new thinking on assessments of high-rise residential buildings with cladding systems.
The proposed structure of the reviewed guidance consists of a suite of 3 ‘Housing Health and Safety Inspection and Assessment Manuals’:
New guidance has also been developed specifically for tenants, providing a simple overview of the way that local councils check the safety of homes using the HHSRS. This will explain how homes are checked and what happens if problems are found. This will empower tenants to understand what they should expect and better hold their landlords to account.
A comprehensive set of new case studies has been produced, encompassing the range of hazards, illustrating the utilisation of standards and incorporating a spectrum of high, medium and low risk scenarios. These will be available in digital format and, to continually refine the consistency of assessments, local councils will be able to regularly add to the case studies.
To make the assessment process more efficient for local authorities and more accessible to landlords and tenants, our suppliers produced a simpler means of banding the results of HHSRS assessments.
Our suppliers also recommended removing scoring ranges for each representative scale point to simplify the assessment process and found that colour coding and the use of descriptor terms aided both in assessment and comprehension of the scoring report by non-experts. Conclusions therefore include replacing the way the severity of a hazard is described (currently ‘Class I-IV’) with descriptor terms from ‘extreme’ to ‘moderate,’ and the use of colour coding to help convey the message around the seriousness of the hazard score, often termed a ‘traffic-light approach.’
Instructions on the final version of this simpler system have been written into the revised HHSRS operating guidance (see above).
Our suppliers have made recommendations for:
Our suppliers also carried out analysis of digital assessment, setting out how this should be interlinked with existing databases.
We will consider these recommendations in our ongoing work to support the rented sectors as part of our reform programme.
Our suppliers have recommended amalgamating and reducing the number of hazards assessed overall from 29 to 21:
To be suitable for amalgamation, hazards had to meet the reasoned criteria set out below, namely:
The revised list of hazards has been incorporated in the revised HHSRS operating guidance (see above).
To make sure the risk of fire in tall buildings can be assessed effectively (following the Grenfell tragedy), our suppliers carried out extra work on the Fire hazard and have recommended amalgamating it with ‘Explosions in Dwellings’. The ‘relevant matters affecting likelihood and harm outcome’, as listed in the operating guidance, were updated with specific minimum standards which were then field tested and found to mitigate 90% of significant fire hazards.
New regulations (an ‘affirmative Statutory Instrument’) are required to bring the conclusions of the HHSRS review into force. These will replace the existing regulations, which prescribe descriptions of hazards, the method for assessing their seriousness and the manner and extent of inspections of residential premises.
These regulations will be introduced after the conclusion of the Decent Homes Standard review.