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Housing Health & Safety Rating System

The Housing Act 2004 introduced a way in which local authorities ("councils") assess housing conditions in England and Wales. It uses a risk assessment approach called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS); the aim is to provide a system (not a standard) to enable risks from hazards to health and safety in dwellings to be removed or minimised.

What are the hazards?

The system can deal with 29 different hazards ranging from damp and mould growth to electrical hazards.

More detailed information about these hazards can be found in the Operating Guidance issued by the Department of Communities and Local Government:

http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/hhsrsoperatingguidance

How are assessments made?

The assessment process is not just a question of spotting defects, but is all about risk assessment, outcomes and effects. When an inspector finds a hazard, two key tests are applied:

1. What is the likelihood of a dangerous occurrence as a result of this hazard?

2. If there is such an occurrence, what would be the likely outcome?

Category scores are calculated based on the level of assessed risk.The hazard score does not dictate the action to be taken, but councils have a duty under the Act to take action of some kind if they discover a Category One hazard (immediate risk to health) in a property, and a power to take action to deal with a Category Two hazard (less immediate risk). The first step should be to approach the landlord informally as recommended by the government under the Enforcement Concordat. However, the amount of leeway allowed to a landlord informally will be at the council's discretion. If the landlord does not respond, the council is most likely to move into formal action by serving an improvement notice on the owner (or agent as appropriate) requiring that the hazard(s) be removed or minimised within a set time (generally 28 days). In more serious cases, a council may serve a prohibition order prohibiting the use of all or part of a dwelling.

What are the grounds for appeal?

An owner or agent who has an improvement notice or prohibition order served on him by a local council can appeal the notice, normally within 21 days. Appeals are heard by a First-tier tribunal - Property Chamber set up under the Act; First-tier tribunal - Property Chamber has replaced the previous role of the County Court in hearing appeals against such action.

There is no restriction on the grounds of appeal but the main grounds for appeal are likely to be that :

  • The deficiency referred to in the notice does not amount to a hazard;
  • Someone else is responsible for carrying out work at the property and the notice should be served on that person; and/or
  • The works required in the notice are unreasonable/excessive etc. and alternative works should be considered

First-tier tribunal - Property Chamber can be flexible in allowing appeals and may also mediate where possible between local councils and owners/agents to try to resolve appeals without a formal hearing.

If a notice is not complied with within the time allowed (usually 28 days), prosecutions for non compliance are heard in the magistrates' court. One defence that would be considered at this stage is that the notice was incorrectly served.

Where can I get more information?

First-tier tribunal - Property Chamber,
Residential Property First floor
5 New York Street
Manchester M1 4JB

Telephone 0161 237 9491

email rpnorthern@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk

The key sources of reference can be found on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is the government department responsible for HHSRS. All the documents can be downloaded and hard copies of most can be ordered (details are on the website).