The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
The Housing Act 2004 (HA04) has given Local Authorities the power to take various forms of action whenever they are dealing with unacceptable housing conditions. Following an inspection of a dwelling during which the Local Authority will undertake a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment, hazards will be identified and scored for severity. The most severe and highest risk hazards are classed as Category 1 hazards.
The HA04 places a duty on the Local Authority that if a category 1 hazard is identified enforcement action shall be taken. If the hazard being dealt with is classed as category 2, then the Local Authority has the discretionary power to take enforcement action.
The HHSRS is used to assess hazards for the potential class of occupiers who are most vulnerable in respect of the hazard being assessed. For example, for damp and mould hazards the vulnerable group of persons which should be considered when undertaking the HHSRS survey assessment, are those aged fourteen years and under. This is regardless of whether anyone in this age group is actually living at the time of the assessment, or is likely to do so within the next twelve months.
When deciding which is the most appropriate course of enforcement action the officer must take into consideration the following:
- The seriousness of the hazard(s) in question
- The ability of the owner or landlord to undertake the required remedial action
- The willingness of the owner or landlord to undertake the required remedial action within an agreed time period
- When dealing with Registered Social Landlords (RSL), their programme of works
- For Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO), whether the HMO is occupied by vulnerable occupants
- The wishes of the current occupier(s)
- The Local Authority enforcement policy and HHSRS enforcement guidance
- For prohibition orders (including emergency prohibition orders) and demolition orders; that compensation payments may become relevant in accordance with the Housing Act 1985 Section 584A and Section 584B
Regardless of which of the following options are chosen the officer must complete a statement of reasons in accordance with Section 8 of the HA04. This statement must detail the reason why a particular enforcement option was selected and a copy of the statement must accompany all notices, orders, declarations and their copies.
Hazard awareness notice
A Hazard Awareness Notice (HAN) may be an appropriate response to a less serious hazard where the authority wishes to draw attention to the desirability of remedial action. A HAN can also be used as a response to a category 1 hazard provided that no management order is in place. The notice is not a local land charge and serves only to bring the presence of the hazard to the attention of the person responsible. There is no appeal against a HAN and they can be used where the responsible person has agreed to take action and the council are confident the work will be done within a reasonable period of time. A Hazard Awareness Notice is often the course of action taken with owner occupiers.
Improvement notices are used where there is a need to ensure that improvement work gets completed by the responsible party. They can be served in respect of a category 1 or 2 hazard. If an improvement notice is served in respect of a category 1 hazard, the required remedial action must as a minimum, be sufficient to reduce it to a category 2 hazard. The improvement notice will have a set time frame for the improvements to be made.
A prohibition order can be used to prohibit the use of part or all of a premises in respect of a category 1 or 2 hazard. Prohibition orders can be used where the conditions in a property present a risk to health or safety but where remedial action is considered unreasonable or impracticable.
Other uses for prohibition orders include specifying the numbers of occupants or preventing occupation by a specified group of people. Contravention of a prohibition order is an offence for which prosecution may ensue. Prohibition orders can be suspended if so desired.
Emergency remedial action
When a category 1 hazard exists and the Local Authority considers that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to health or safety of the occupier, the Local Authority may enter premises at anytime, in order to take whatever remedial action is considered necessary to remove that risk. An Emergency Remedial Action notice must be issued on the owner within 7 days of action.
Emergency prohibition order
When a category 1 hazard exists that is an imminent risk to health or safety of the occupier the Local Authority may enter premises at anytime, in order to make an Emergency Prohibition Order (EPO) prohibiting the use of all or any part of the premises with immediate effect. An Emergency Prohibition Order takes effect on the day it is served.
This option is available under Part 9 of the Housing Act 1985 as amended, and can only be used to deal with category 1 hazards. Demolition orders cannot be made on listed buildings.
Before embarking on this course of action the officer must take into consideration:
- The availability of local accommodation for re-housing purposes
- If the hazard were to be remedied, the demand for and sustainability of the accommodation
- If the site were to be cleared, its subsequent use
- The possible impact on the local environment
- Proposals which, if made, could make it possible to substitute a demolition order with a prohibition order