This is an overview of the legislation that applies to housing.
The Housing Act 2004
The main provisions of the Housing Act 2004:
- The housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS).
- Enforcement of housing standards including emergency measures.
- Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation.
- Empty homes.
- Home information packs.
The housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS)
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 the likelihood of harm.
- Damp and mould growth
- Crowding and space
- Falling on stairs etc
- Excess cold
- Entry by intruders
- Falling between levels
- Excess heat
- Electrical hazards
- Domestic hygiene
- Hot surfaces
- Carbon monoxide
- Food safety
- Personal hygiene
- Water supply
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Structural collapse
- Volatile compounds
- Falls on level
The assessment process is not just a question of examining defects to a property, but it comprises risk assessment, probable outcomes and the resulting effects on the occupier’s health, safety and welfare.
Two key tests are applied:
- The likelihood of an occurrence (such as an accident or ill health) as a direct result of this deficiency in the house;
- The likely outcomes in terms of injury or ill health (physical and mental) arising from the deficiency.
The final score is divided into bands ranging from A – J. Councils have a duty to take action to remedy hazards which fall into bands A – C. These are termed category 1 hazards.
Category 2 hazards are also subject to enforcement powers by Councils. Each case is individual and the appropriate enforcement action will be chosen which reflects the circumstances concerned.
Enforcement of housing standards including emergency measures
Enforcement action will be the result of a process of determination whereby the most appropriate course of action is taken. A ‘statement of reasons’ is prepared to support the enforcement action. In the case of imminent risk to the health, safety and welfare of occupiers the Council can carry out emergency remedial works or emergency prohibition action. Serious and life threatening hazards can be dealt with immediately using these powers. The Council arranges for works to be carried out and the costs are recharged to the owner(s) of the property.
Examples might include dangerous electrical installations, structural collapse or serious fire safety risks. Emergency prohibition has immediate effect. Examples would be in case of fire or flood which would make the house uninhabitable. Council officers must ensure occupiers are advised of their rights regarding homelessness and referred on the appropriate agencies to arrange temporary accommodation.
Improvement notices prescribe works which must be carried out to remedy deficiencies in the property. A time scale is set out in the notice for landlords to work to with their builders. Failure to carry out the works within the timescale or failure to make progress can result in works in default where the Council can step in and organise the works in place of the landlord. All the costs, including the administration costs associated with organising the works, will be recharged.
There is an appeal process for all these enforcement procedures. The local Residential Property Tribunal hears appeals against notices or emergency works. Details of the appeals procedures are sent out with the notices. The main grounds for appeal would be: The deficiency does not amount to a hazard Someone else is responsible for carrying out the works The works are unreasonable or excessive and alternative works should be considered.
Houses in multiple occupation licensing
From 6th April 2006 certain large HMOs are subject to further regulation. The new Housing Act 2004 prescribes a compulsory licensing scheme that applies to all HMOs that fall into the following categories:
- Houses with three or more storeys, including basements and HMOs with shops underneath
- Houses where there is material sharing of an amenity, such as a bathroom, kitchen or toilet facilities
- Houses that have five or more occupants
Every HMO that fulfils all three of these criteria will require a licence. There are strict penalties for landlords who do not or will not comply. Licences will be granted subject to: Receipt of the completed application form plus the licence fee. The landlord or manager has to be a “fit and proper person”. The landlord or manager must demonstrate that proper arrangements are in place for the management of the house.
The house must be reasonably suitable for the number of occupants or proposed number of occupants. The licence will be held by the licence holder, this may be the owner, manager or agent, but must be the most appropriate person to hold the licence. The licence holder must be a ‘fit and proper person’. More information can be found on the HMO licensing page
The Council has a proactive approach to bringing empty properties back into use as accommodation. New provisions in the Housing Act support action by introducing the sanction of empty dwelling management orders which allow Councils, under certain prescribed circumstances, to take control of an empty property with the long term aim of bringing it back into use. Bedford Borough Council encourages owners to improve empty properties with a package of grant aid and support with finding tenants so that the policies assist with satisfying local housing need. Link to empty homes page
Home Information Packs (HIPs)
The introduction of the full home information packs has been delayed while additional research and consultation takes place. The revised pack consisting of: important information about the property (which is required for a sale to proceed); and energy efficiency information is now law from summer 2007. More information on all aspects of HIPs can be found on the Communities website - Housing pages
All recent legislation can be viewed at the website of the Office of Public Sector Information OPSI