The Housing Act 2004 places a statutory duty on local authorities to identify hazards and to assess tenants’ risks to health and safety. Local authorities are required to use a system called the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to identify and assess risks. Section 3(1) of the Act states:
‘A local housing authority must keep the housing conditions in their area under review with a view to identifying any action that may need to be taken by them under any of the provisions mentioned in subsection (2).’
The underlying principle of the HHSRS is that any residential premises should provide a reasonably safe and healthy environment for any potential occupier or visitor. Some hazards, however, are necessary or unavoidable, and others are considered desirable or expected because the perceived benefits outweigh the risks. For example, electricity is hazardous but considered necessary; stairs (however well designed) are hazardous but necessary in any multi-storey dwelling. For such hazards, the design, construction and maintenance should be such as to reduce to a minimum the probability of an occurrence which could result in harm and of the potential harm that could result.
Depending on the seriousness of risk, local authorities assess hazards as either category 1 or category 2 hazards. Where a category 1 hazard is found, the local authority must take some action (see later). Where a category 2 hazard is found, the local authority may take some action.
In practice, how local authorities discharge their duty under section 3(1) varies. In some cases local authorities are proactive in carrying out an assessment of the private rented sector stock in their areas but others are now only able to offer a reactive service, responding to requests for assistance from both tenants and landlords.
Where a local authority decide to inspect after a complaint, the assessor will not just look at the particular hazard complained of but will look for all potential hazards under the HHSRS both internally and externally.
Although not a general legal obligation, it is useful for landlords to be able to identify and risk-assess health and safety hazards at their properties and take remedial action where necessary. Most local authorities are keen to work with landlord groups in their area to make sure landlords are aware of the local authority’s responsibilities, powers and duties under the Act and a prudent landlord will be proactive in seeking to ensure that their properties are of a standard that does not attract the interest of the local housing authority.
The HHSRS lists 29 hazards that landlords need to be aware of.
The HHSRS is a technical system and is best used by persons with a technical health and safety or building construction background.
The HHSRS statutory guidance is available at:
There are a number of landlord guides to the HHSRS available through the internet that provide an understanding of HHSRS without going into its full details.
One such guide provided by the Government, is entitled Housing Health and Safety Rating System – Guidance for Landlords and Property-related Professionals available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/housing-health-and-safetyrating-system-guidance-for-landlords-and-property-related-professionals.
In practice it is very challenging for landlords to acquire the skills necessary to use the HHSRS to accurately risk-assess hazards as category 1 or 2.
To help landlords to identify potential category 1 hazards and prioritise them for action a simple guide to risk-assessing hazards is provided below:
The risk from a hazard is a combination of:
the likelihood of a hazard, over a 12-month period, causing harm sufficient to require some medical attention and the potential seriousness of harm from that hazard, should harm occur.
A risk assessment of a hazard that indicates high likelihood of harm, and high potential seriousness of that harm, means that the hazard may potentially be high risk and therefore in need of remedial action to reduce the risk to a more acceptable level.
Step 1 Familiarise yourself with the 29 HHSRS hazards, especially the most commonly occurring.
Step 2 Ask yourself whether the likelihood of harm occurring over a 12-month period from an identified hazard is high.
Step 3 Ask yourself whether the potential seriousness of that harm would be high.
If the answers to steps 2 and 3 are YES, then the hazard is a high-risk hazard.
Assessing the risk of falling down a stair.
If a stair is long, steep, in disrepair, has a loose worn covering, has varying sizes of treads and risers, does not have a handrail or adequate artificial lighting along its length, then the likelihood over a 12-month period of someone falling will be high.
If at the bottom of the stair there is a hard floor surface, a wall mounted radiator with sharp corners and a non-safety glazed door, then the seriousness of a fall is likely to be high.
The combination of high likelihood of an accident and high potential seriousness of harm means that the risk of the hazard of falling down the stair is high, liable to be a category 1 hazard and in need of high priority remedial action.
Young and elderly persons are more at risk from the following hazards in particular than young able bodied adults: cold, falls, fire, hot surfaces, dampness, food safety and entry by intruders.
Landlords letting properties to elderly persons or families with young children should be particularly mindful of these hazards when carrying out risk assessments and should provide additional protective means where necessary.
Although not a legal requirement it is recommended that an inspection form is completed for each property and a copy kept on file.
In the event that a property is inspected by a housing standards enforcement officer, then providing the officer with a copy of the property inspection form will provide a strong indication that the landlord takes their health and safety responsibilities seriously.
The form provides, room by room, a list of potential defects and deficiencies that can give rise to hazards.
The seriousness of the defects and deficiencies can be scored as:
Before inspecting a property, landlords need to copy the appropriate number of pages of the inspection form that will be needed.
For example if the property has two bathrooms then two copies of the page covering bathrooms need to be printed off. It is a good idea to carry spares.
There is a Summary of Property Inspection at the end of the form to provide a summary of any hazards identified as needing remedial action.
The remedial action can be prioritised as low, medium or high.
The final page of the form is to complete as an action plan with timescales.
Local authorities have statutory duties and powers to take enforcement action to deal with properties containing hazards identified under the HHSRS. Under the HHSRS local authorities have a duty to take appropriate enforcement action in relation to category 1 hazards, and discretion to act in relation to category 2 hazards.
If a hazard presents a severe threat to health or safety it is known as a category 1 hazard.
If a local housing authority considers that a category 1 hazard exists on any residential premises, they must take the appropriate enforcement action in relation to the hazard.
Less severe threats to health and safety are known as category 2 hazards and a local authority may take appropriate enforcement action to reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. The circumstances in which local authorities will take action over category 2 hazards will vary and will depend on the individual local authority’s enforcement policy.
Although statutory action is mandatory for category 1 hazards and discretionary for category 2 hazards, the choice of what course of action is appropriate is also a matter for the local authority and it will depend on the individual local authority’s enforcement policy.
The authority must, however, take into account the statutory enforcement guidance and the options available include:
If a local authority takes some enforcement action for example an improvement notice requiring a landlord to complete certain works, the recipient of the notice has a right of appeal. There is one exception and no appeal is available against a hazard awareness notice because such a notice cannot require any of the suggested works be done, it is only making a person aware of possible hazards.
An appeal must be made to the First-tier tribunal (Property Chamber) in England or the Residential Property Tribunal Wales in Wales.
Certain time limits apply for an appeal depending on the enforcement action being taken but commonly, an appeal must be made within 21 or 28 days depending on the circumstances.