This article will help you as a landlord to minimise health and safety hazards in your let property, and to reduce the likelihood of enforcement action if your property is inspected by the local authority under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
The Rating system
Local authorities have a duty to keep the housing conditions in their area under review. Either as a result of a review, or for some other reason such as a complaint from a tenant or a neighbour, a local authority can inspect a property if they have reason to think that a health or safety hazard exists there.
The HHSRS is the risk assessment approach by which a local authority assesses hazards to health and safety in dwellings, and on which enforcement action can be taken if necessary. Councils have a duty to deal with hazards which are classed as 'Category 1' (serious) under the system, and discretionary powers to deal with 'Category 2' (less serious) hazards. Understanding the HHSRS will help you to assess and minimize hazards in your property.
The key principle of the system is that a dwelling, including the structure and associated outbuildings and garden, yard and/or other amenity space, and means of access, should provide a safe and healthy environment for the occupants and, by implication, for any visitors.
An inspector makes a physical survey of the dwelling, noting deficiencies. Each hazard is then judged on
- the likelihood of a dangerous occurrence as a result of the hazard
- the severity of the outcome of the occurrence
A loose flap of carpeting on a staircase would be classed a hazard because it could result in a dangerous occurrence: a fall. The likelihood of occurrence is the same no matter how high up the staircase the defect is, but the severity of a fall is much greater near the top of the staircase than the bottom. The severity could be even greater if there was a glass door at the bottom of the staircase.
Each hazard is assessed separately, and if judged to be ‘serious’, with a ‘high score’, is deemed to be a category 1 hazard. All other hazards are called category 2 hazards.
What are the hazards?
The system can deal with 29 hazards summarised as follows:
- Dampness, excess cold/heat
- Pollutants e.g. asbestos, carbon monoxide, lead
- Lack of space, security or lighting, or excessive noise
- Poor hygiene, sanitation, water supply
- Accidents – falls, electric shocks, fires, burns, scalds
- Collisions, explosions, structural collapse
Before you let your property
It's a good idea to spend some time going through your property to try and identify hazards before you let it. Remember to bear in mind vulnerable groups, and whether your tenants or their visitors are more susceptible to certain types of hazard.
Some types of hazard (e.g. structural hazards) are difficult to identify unless you are a specialist, so it is recommended that you have the property properly surveyed before tenancy commences.
The full list of 29 hazard areas is as follows:
- Damp and mould growth
- Excess cold
- Excess heat
- Asbestos and manufactured mineral fibres
- Biocides (e.g. timber treatments, pesticides etc...)
- Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
- Lead (ingestion of)
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Volatile organic compounds
- Crowding and space
- Entry by intruders
- Lighting (includes psychological effect associated with view from windows)
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
- Food safety
- Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
- Water supply
- Falls associated with baths etc...
- Falling on level surfaces (trip steps etc...)
- Falling on stairs
- Falling between levels
- Electrical hazards
- Flames, hot surfaces etc...
- Collision and entrapment (low ceilings, small gaps etc...)
- Position and operability of amenities
- Structural collapse and falling elements
What you will be judged against
Inspectors will judge hazards against the average for the type and age of building, and focus on hazards which are worse than average. They also consider the likelihood and severity of hazards for vulnerable groups. For example, cold and damp hazards pose a greater risk to the very young and very old.
Once a property is safe for the most vulnerable groups it should be safe for all. Some consideration is given as to whether vulnerable groups occupy the property. For example a serious hazard such as wide gaps in stair railings through which a child could fall may not be classed as serious if it is unlikely that a child will come into contact with the hazard. However it's a good idea when you're checking your property to make it safe for anyone who might enter it.
This is judged for the most vulnerable group over the next 12 months, and is picked from a standard range.
For example a 1 in 24 to 1 in 42 chance of a dangerous occurrence to a vulnerable group resulting from the hazard over the next 12 months.
There are four classes of harm resulting from a dangerous occurrence - 1 being the most severe (e.g. death or lung cancer) and 4 being the least severe (e.g. severe bruising, occasional pneumonia). Even the least severe classification is still harm you'd rather avoid – this gives some idea of what constitutes a hazard under the scheme.
The likelihood of each class of harm occurring is judged for the hazard. e.g. a fall from a particular hazard might cause death in 0% of cases, serious fracture in 10% of cases, serious concussion in 30% of cases and severe bruising in 60% of cases. (Note that the total is 100%, i.e. if 100 people fell, these are the proportions you'd expect in each harm class).
Likelihood and severity are then multiplied for each harm class and totalled to give a total score for the hazard, and categorized overall as serious (Category 1), or less so (Category 2).
For less serious category 2 hazards, a local authority is likely first to approach a landlord informally, but councils are compelled to take action on category 1 hazards.
These are the possible types of enforcement action, and what you need to know about them:
Hazard Awareness notice – this is essentially advice, and there is no obligation to do anything.
Improvement notice – you must make the improvements within the time-frame specified or face prosecution.
Prohibition order – prohibits the use of all or part of a dwelling. Again, you face prosecution if you don't comply.
Emergency notice – this gives the council the power to enter the property and take urgent action to deal with the hazard. Councils can then charge owners for the cost of this work, but owners have a right of appeal against the notice and the costs involved.
Emergency prohibition notice – takes effect immediately.
Further useful information and documents
We recommend you to read next our article about the responsibilities of a landlord for maintaining the property.
If you would like to buy residential tenancy documents, see our assured shorthold agreement templates.