The HHSRS, or Housing Health and Safety Rating System to give it its full title, is a system designed to assess potential hazards in a home. Created in 2006 to help improve conditions in rental properties, the HHSRS was incorporated into the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. The HHSRS risk assessment centres around 29 potential HHSRS hazards (some more likely to occur than others!) and is carried out by local authorities.
After the assessment is carried out an HHSRS score for the property is calculated. When calculating the HHSRS score, the environmental officer will be considering:
- the chance of harm
- how serious that harm would be
- any extra risk to children or old people
The 29 Hazards identified by HHSRS
So what are the 29 hazards? As we mentioned some occur significantly more frequently than others, it’s still worth knowing what each of them are – as well as how to make sure you stay compliant for all of them.
Damp and mould growth
Under the HHSRS operating guidance there are three different types of damp (condensation, rising and penetrating) that landlords need to be aware of (as well as your common garden variety mould).
Ensuring your property is correctly ventilated, educating tenants properly and responding to issues swiftly reduce chances of damp and mould.
Excess cold in a property can exacerbate respiratory conditions like pneumonia or bronchitis and can be particularly harmful for old people and the very young.
Ensure your boiler is in good working order, the property is well-insulated and that windows and doors are properly fitted to avoid draughts.
High indoor temperatures can be just as dangerous as excess cold, increasing the chances of dehydration and cardiovascular issues.
As with excess cold, it’s important to check your heating system is working properly to reduce the chances of a build up of hot, stuffy air in the property.
Asbestos and MMF (manufactured mineral fibres)
Common in older buildings (asbestos and MMF were once used as insulation), asbestos is extremely dangerous. Not only can it do significant damage to lungs and a host of respiratory problems, asbestos also causes lung cancer.
Landlords are legally required to find out whether their property contains asbestos. If asbestos is discovered, it should be assessed then either removed or labelled and sealed, depending on its state of advancement.
Biocides in a property come about when mould growth or timber is treated with harsh chemicals, which then build up in a property. Although one of the less common HHSRS hazards, it’s important to ensure you’re complying with legislation surrounding the treatment and handling of biocides.
Any chemicals should be stored safely and carefully. Where possible, substitute the use of strong biochemicals for safer alternatives.
Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
Faulty boilers are the leading cause of excess carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisoning in properties. Left unchecked, this hazard can lead to dizziness, breathing problems and if the problem is allowed to persist, even death.
Make sure you have properly installed and functioning carbon monoxide detectors. Schedule regular maintenance of both alarms and test and certify all gas burning appliances.
Lead ingestion due to the presence of paint with a heavy lead content or lead poisoning as a result of affected water pipes are the areas around which the lead HHSRS hazard is assessed. Lead poisoning can cause mental health issues and nervous system problems as well as affecting fertility and leading to death.
Check and make sure all water pipes are inspected and well maintained. Where possible, replace or paint over lead pipe work and respond promptly in the instance that any resident raises concerns.
Radon gas, which comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, can get into a property through a basement or cellar floor in an airborne state, but also dissolved in water. Although occurrences of this hazard are rare, in extreme cases it can lead to death.
The only way to know if a building contains radon is to test it, something to consider if your property is in a Radon Affected Area. Remedies will depend on the levels of radon found but action should be taken to reduce levels if the annual average concentration is above the Action Level of 200 Bq m-3.
Uncombusted fuel gas
Uncombusted fuel gas in a property can lead to a host of individual health issues – such as suffocation and brain damage - and where flammable, also poses an extreme risk of explosion.
All gas-emitting appliances (boiler, gas stoves, wood burning fires) must be safely installed and checked annually.
Volatile organic compounds
A diverse group of organic chemicals, including formaldehyde, which are gaseous at room temperature can be found in a number of materials in the home. If encountered, they can cause nausea, dizziness and drowsiness and aggravate allergies and skin conditions.
Ensure that products like paints and glues (which could be volatile chemical compounds) are stored securely and only used in well-ventilated rooms.
Crowding and space
Crowding, inadequate space to live and sleep in can result in problems associated with poor hygiene as well as having a negative effect on the relationships among the inhabitants.
Properties should be rented on the basis that no more than 2 people share a bedroom and the layout of the rooms should not impact on the privacy of its occupants.
Entry by intruders
Providing a safe and secure home (particularly around entry and exit points) is a legal requirement for all landlords. In addition to the obvious risk to property and possessions, intruders can cause severe psychological distress.
Doors should be strong, secure and well-lit. Windows should have suitable locks and where possible burglar alarms should be fitted.
Poor lighting can lead to a number of accidents as well as causing eye strain and eye problems and increasing a resident’s chance of depression, due to the effect a lack of natural light has on our mental health.
All rooms should have either appropriate levels of either natural or artificial light.
Excessive noise in a property, due to the proximity to sources of loud carrying sound falls under the HHSRS hazards because the impact of prolonged exposure can cause both physiological and psychological problems.
There should be adequate sound insulation between different dwellings (in instances of HMOs). Properties on busy main roads would benefit from double-glazing.
Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
This relates to poor design and layout of a property, making it hard to keep clean and hygienic and encouraging the infestation of household pests (mice, rats, bedbugs or a host of other domestic nasties) that may spread illness and disease.
Adequate facilities for the storage and disposal of rubbish should be provided and all cracks, holes or voids should be blocked and sealed to avoid the entry and shelter of household pests.
Providing substandard facilities for the preparation and storage of food also encourages the likelihood of pests in the home. Common problems springing from this include vomiting, food poisoning and diarrhoea.
Kitchens need to have washable surfaces, decent storages and be maintained in a sanitary condition with effective ventilation. There should be space for a cooker and a fridge.
Sanitation and drainage problems
Inadequate washing, sanitation and drainage issues (problems predominantly related to the bathrooms and kitchens in properties) also increase the chance of infection and illness at a property, as well as impinging on a resident’s mental wellbeing.
Baths, sinks and toilets should be connected to a well-maintained drainage system. There should be space for a washing machine and all surfaces should be easy to keep clean.
An adequate water supply is mandatory, with cold water coming direct from the mains. Water tanks should be covered.
Falls associated with baths
Falls associated with baths on the property are common in properties rented by elderly or more vulnerable tenants. Injuries can range from cuts and scrapes to broken bones and head wounds.
Bathroom surfaces should be slip resistant and where necessary (for the elderly and vulnerable) railings should be provided.
Falls on level surfaces
Level surfaces refers to falls indoors, in gardens or on paths and walkways (including thresholds and trip steps) where the change in surface height is less than 30cm.
Floors should be well-maintained and free of trip hazards.
Falls associated with stairs and ramps
This hazard relates to both internal and external steps (any incident where the change in level was greater than 30cm). It also covers shared facilities (communal stairwells / fire escapes etc) so it’s important to conduct a comprehensive review when mitigating against this hazard.
Stairs should have even tread heights and have adequate hand-rails.
Falls between levels
This hazard refers to falls from balconies, landings or windows. Injuries can include anything from bruises to brain damage.
Guarding should be provided on balconies and landings and windows should have child locks or catches. Where necessary they should be restricted from opening too wide.
Every home has an abundance of potential electrical hazards – anything from poor wiring to faulty electrical appliances. This is one of the more common HHSRS hazards to get flagged up during an inspection.
Wiring and electrical appliances should be regularly checked and certified. All installations should be made safe with an appropriate number of well-placed sockets.
This HHSRS hazard relates to the property’s risk from fire and the necessary steps that have been taken by the property owner to reduce the risk and prevent the spread.
Again, the electrical installation must be safe and in good repair, heaters and cookers should be situated away from flammable materials and there should be doors to all rooms, especially kitchens. Smoke alarms should be fitted to give early warning in the event of a fire.
Flames, hot surfaces and materials
Injuries caused by coming into contact with hot materials or naked flames.
Radiators and pipes should be encased and cookers should be appropriately situated to reduce accidental contact.
Collision and entrapment
This covers the risk of getting various body parts stuck in parts of the building’s structural features – for example, trapping your finger in a door or window or colliding with low ceilings or narrow doorways.
Windows and doors should be well-maintained to make sure they don’t stick and properties should be well-lit to increase visibility and reduce collisions.
Risk of explosion at the property and associated injuries caused by coming into contact with it.
All appliances and flammable materials should be well-maintained and safety glass should be fitted to glazed doors to minimise the effects of a potential explosion in internal specifics of a property.
The ergonomics of the property and the physical ramifications that could have on its resident – e.g. rooms with reduced height ceilings could lead to strained necks or shoulder problems.
Windows, cupboards and appliances should be easy to reach to reduce the risk of sprains.
Structural collapse and falling elements
Inadequate maintenance of a building can lead to structural collapse, which could then result in serious physical injury of the resident.
Regular maintenance of a property will prevent tiles or slates from falling from a roof, and will prevent ceilings or kitchen cupboards from falling down.
What happens if you fail an HHSRS assessment?
After your property is assessed, its HHSRS score will be categorised into one of 10 bands, labelled from A – J. Hazard bands A to C are deemed Category One while the lower bands are deemed Category Two.
The council has a legal duty to take action where HHSRS Category One hazards are present. It will most likely issue an improvement notice, which sets out the following:
- All the hazards that require addressing
- Details of which works must be undertaken to fix them.
- A strict time frame for which the necessary works are to be completed.
Failure to comply can result in either a civil or criminal prosecution. In extreme cases the council could issue an emergency action and carry out the works arbitrarily and charge the homeowner for all costs. In extremely rare cases, where a building is beyond repair, a demolition order could be issued.
For Category Two hazards, the council can issue either an improvement notice (as above) or a Hazard Awareness Notice, which identifies the hazard and tells the landlord how to fix them but does not provide a mandatory timeline.
It’s worth noting that being served with either notice can impact on your ability to serve a Section 21 notice.
Although HHSRS isn’t a pass/fail test, as you can see from above, it’s extremely important to make sure your property is compliant. In addition to potentially having expensive works forced upon you without consent (or in rare cases seeing the demolition or clearance of your property) there are also legal ramifications for non-compliance.
Landlords and homeowners who fail to comply can face criminal prosecution. Alternatively, the council could serve them with a civil penalty of up to £30,000 per offence under the Housing Act 2004, with multiple offences leading to eye-watering fines. In 2017, one landlord was fined a total of £190,500 for letting rooms without windows or access to natural or artificial light which breached hazards 11 and 13, while another property company was fined £150,000 for endangering the lives of their tenants with faulty wiring. Agents are not exempt, with several facing civil prosecution as councils clamp down and push for prosecution as part of a new crack down on adequate living conditions.