Under the Housing Act 2004, a new way for Local Housing Authorities to assess housing conditions has been introduced. This replaces the old ‘unfitness’ standard. It looks at the effect that deficiencies in the home can have on the health and safety of occupants and visitors by using a risk assessment approach called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The aim of individual risk assessment is to reduce or eliminate hazards to health and safety in domestic accommodation.
Potentially there are 29 hazards and each hazard is assessed separately and rated according to how serious likelihood of harm. For the first time the hazard of ‘Fire’ has been recognised as applying across all tenures. This change has brought housing enforcement powers into line with modern Building Regulations which has recognised mains operated smoke detection as the minimum standard for all new houses or new conversions since 1991.
The risk assessment calculates hazards bands which are then ranked as category 1 or 2 hazards. Category 1 hazards trigger action by the Local Housing Authority and will result in enforcement action, depending on the nature of the hazard and the works required. Emergency action may need to be taken.
Fire safety assessment
Fire safety is assessed according to certain risk factors:
- Number of storeys
- Travel distance from farthest point in the house to the final exit
- Number of occupiers
- Type of occupation
- Layout of house
- Current structural fire precautions already provided
- Current detection/alarm systems provided.
Fire safety officer
For high risk houses the Fire Safety Officer (Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service) is consulted on each case to ensure the risk assessment and any proposed works are designed to make the house and the occupants as safe as possible. The Fire Safety Officer works closely with the housing enforcement team to identify and take action on rented houses where fire safety precautions are dangerous or below standard.
Emergency measures can include:
- prohibition of all or part of the property which results in the closure of the property
- emergency fire safety works to help occupiers stay put until more permanent works are done
If more general works are required, but occupiers are not in imminent danger, then Improvement Notices are served which set out the works to be done and the appropriate timescale. Landlords who are improving vacant property or buying property for renting can get advice from the housing team on what measures are suitable for their individual property.
Fire safety standards
Bedford Borough Council and Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service have produced a comprehensive guidance document. It is aimed at both specifiers and landlords with emphasis on both the social sector (housing associations) and private landlords.
GOV.UK has a collection of guidance relating to fire safety.
It is important for tenants to be instructed in the action to be taken in the event of fire. A suitable fire notice (PDF example) should be printed out and displayed in a prominent position on each landing level of the staircase and also fixed to the inside face of each bedroom door.
The Council has also developed specifications and guidance on fire doors, alarm systems and testing. These documents are aimed at landlords, builders, electricians and specifiers.
- Fire Alarm Grade D Spec (PDF)
- Fire Alarm Grade A Spec (PDF)
- Fire Alarm Testing (PDF)
- Fire Door Spec (PDF)
If you are concerned that your house does not have the right fire safety measures for the category of house and/or occupiers please contact the housing team to arrange for an inspection and advice on the works required on 01234 718099 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.