Government urged to update HHSRS system

Government ‘refusing’ to take on key recommendations for safety in the private rented sector.

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The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has criticised the government’s response to the HCLG’s report on the private rented sector.

CIEH previously worked with the HCLG Select Committee on their inquiry, and gave evidence in February this year urging an update of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) guidance and evidence base.

It is calling for an immediate update to the baseline assumptions within the operating guidance for the HHSRS, which are now twelve years out of date.

HHSRS, introduced in the Housing Act 2004, assesses risks to health and safety in the home and looks at faults and deficiencies that could cause injury and ill-health to residents. This system is the basis of how local authorities decide on whether they can or should take formal action on poor housing.

CIEH has been campaigning for an update, and its evidence base, to ensure that it stays relevant and up to date going forward.

As a result, the HCLG Select Committee echoed this call in their final report, noting that the baseline assumptions within the operating guidance for the HHSRS is now 12 years out of date and need immediately updating.

In response, the government said it “accepts this recommendation in part. Rather than setting minimum standards, the HHSRS provides a framework for assessing whether a dwelling contains serious hazards and, where it does, the likelihood of harm occurring as a result.

“While there is some complexity involved in calculating the level of risk, we believe the overall approach is fundamentally sound and provides the right level of assurance for those professionals who use it on a day-to-day basis.

“We do however recognise the importance of others understanding the ratings and, with this in mind, separate guidance for landlords and property related professions has been published in addition to the detailed operating guidance.”

A survey of environmental health professionals, published by CIEH in December 2017 found:

  • 97% of environmental health professionals believe that the HHSRS needs updating
  • 90% called for an update of the official guidance and better working examples
  • 71 respondents called for underlying statistics of this evidence-based system to be updated
  • 53% said that they had witnessed hazards that could not be addressed with the current system.

Tamara Sandoul, housing policy manager at CIEH, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that the government has decided not to make a decision on the review and update of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System – an issue that has surfaced throughout the Select Committee inquiry into the private rented sector.

“The evidence and guidance that local authorities use to take action on dangerous housing conditions has not been reviewed or updated since it was introduced 12 years ago. Housing courts rely on this outdated guidance to make their decisions. We urge the government to commit to a full update of HHSRS and to see how it could be improved going forward.

“We are further disappointed to hear that decisions have also not been made on two other key areas of housing safety. The requirement to undertake five-yearly electrical safety inspections and the need to provide a working carbon monoxide alarm for all rented properties with a fuel-burning device have been postponed until a later date.

“This is simply not good enough and the millions of people currently in the private rented sector expected better.”

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