The housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) is a risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and 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. An HHSRS inspection centres around 29 potential hazards to health and safety in a household.
How is an HHSRS inspection carried out?
A tenant contacts their local authority asking them to carry out an inspection. A local authority officer looks around the property for anything that could cause potential risk to its tenants. They give each hazard they identify a score based on the likelihood and potential severity of harm posed.
The officer will consider:
- The chance of harm over the next 12 months.
- How serious that harm would be.
- Any extra risk to children or old people.
Each hazard score will fall into a band from A to J. Hazards which fall into bands A to C are determined to be Category 1 hazards. Lower bands are Category 2 and not as serious. Local authorities must take action on Category 1 hazards.
What happens if a home includes Category 1 hazards?
Local authorities have a legal duty to take action where Category 1 hazards are present. They will most likely issue an improvement notice, which sets out the following:
- The hazards that require addressing.
- Details of which works must be undertaken to fix them.
- A strict time frame for when the works are to be carried out.
Failure to comply can result in either 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 2 hazards, the council can issue either an improvement notice or a hazard awareness notice, which identifies the hazards and how to fix them but does not provide a mandatory timeline.
Being served with either notice can impact your ability to serve a Section 21 notice.
What are the penalties for failing to deal with a Category 1 hazard?
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.
Multiple offences can lead 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. Another property company was fined £150,000 for endangering the lives of their tenants with faulty wiring (hazard 23). Remember that you are not exempt as an agent, as you act on the landlord’s behalf.
How will the HHSRS be changing?
On 7 September 2023, the government announced reforms to the HHSRS following a review completed in 2022. It pledged to make the following changes:
- Reduce the total number of hazards assessed from 29 to 21.
- Improve the clarity of the assessment process using colour coding and new descriptor terms (from "extreme" to "moderate").
- Publish baselines to allow an initial assessment of whether a property contains serious hazards.
- Publish new statutory operating and enforcement guidance, a comprehensive set of new case studies, and specific tailored guidance for all stakeholders.
These changes will need to be brought in via new legislation, which will be introduced once the Government has concluded its review of the Decent Homes Standard, part two of which began in Spring 2022.
What are the 29 HHSRS hazards?
Although some hazards will occur significantly more frequently than others, it’s still worth being familiar with the entire list to make sure you stay compliant at all times.
1. 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 mould and rot.
Ensuring that your property is correctly ventilated and structurally sound, tenants follow best practices, and issues are responded to quickly will swiftly reduce the chances of damp and mould occurring.
👉 Download our Tenant's Guide to Damp & Mould Customisable Flyer Template to help educate your tenants about their responsibilities in preventing damp and mould.
2. Excess cold
Excess cold in a property can exacerbate respiratory conditions like pneumonia or bronchitis and be particularly harmful to the young and the elderly.
A property should be well-insulated, with windows and doors properly fitted to avoid drafts, and the boiler in good working order. A healthy indoor temperature is 18°C to 21°C.
3. Excess heat
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 the heating system is working properly to reduce the chances of a build-up of hot, stuffy air in the property.
Other ways to prevent excess heat include installing air conditioning or ventilation systems, though this can be costly. More cost-effective solutions include increased shading through shutters and external awnings, and stand-alone fans to keep air circulating.
4. Asbestos and MMF (manufactured mineral fibres)
Commonly used in older buildings as insulation, asbestos has proven to be highly dangerous and was banned from sale in the UK in 1999.
Its danger comes from its fibres, which, if they enter the airway, can affect the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems and even lung cancer. MMF can also damage the skin and eyes.
Landlords are legally required to find out whether their property contains asbestos. If asbestos is discovered, it should be assessed by a qualified professional and either removed or labelled and sealed, depending on the level of risk.
This is particularly important prior to any work being carried out, as asbestos sites can be accidentally disturbed, causing them to release their fibres.
Biocides are chemicals used in property to treat mould growth or timber. Although one of the less common HHSRS hazards, it’s important to ensure you’re complying with legislation surrounding the treatment and handling of these chemicals.
Any biocides should be stored safely and carefully. Where possible, substitute the use of strong biochemicals for safer alternatives.
6. Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
Faulty boilers are the leading cause of excess carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisoning in homes. This highly dangerous hazard can lead to dizziness, breathing problems and even death.
Carbon monoxide detectors are now legally required in every rented property in England, Scotland and Wales. These should be in every room that has a fixed combustion appliance. This includes gas and oil-fired boilers but excludes gas cookers. In Northern Ireland, carbon monoxide detectors are required in every room where a new fossil fuel appliance has been installed since 2012. A fossil fuel appliance is anything which burns gas, oil, kerosene, charcoal or wood.
Your carbon monoxide detectors must be correctly installed and functioning. Schedule regular maintenance of alarms and test and certify all gas-burning appliances.
👉 Make sure you fully understand smoke and carbon monoxide alarm requirements across the UK by reading our Action Guide: Changes to Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Legislation.
Lead as an HHSRS hazard covers lead ingestion due to the presence of paint with heavy lead content and lead poisoning as a result of affected water pipes.
Lead poisoning can cause mental health issues and nervous system problems, as well as affect fertility and lead to death.
Check and make sure all water pipes are inspected and well-maintained. Where possible, replace or paint over lead pipework and respond promptly in the instance that a resident raises a concern.
Radon gas, which comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, can get into a property in an airborne state through a basement or cellar floor. It can also be dissolved in water. Although occurrences of this hazard are rare, it can lead to cancer and, in extreme cases, death.
The only way to know if a building contains radon is to test it, which should be done if your property is in a known 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 Government’s Action Level of 200 Bq m-3.
9. Uncombusted fuel gas
Uncombusted fuel gas in a property can lead to a host of individual health issues, such as suffocation and brain damage. If the gas is flammable, it poses an extreme risk of explosion.
All gas-emitting appliances (boiler, gas stoves, wood burning fires) must be safely installed and checked annually to produce an up-to-date gas safety certificate.
10. Volatile organic compounds
This includes a diverse group of organic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, that are gaseous at room temperature. They can be encountered through a number of materials in the home, including insulation, chipboard, plywood, paints, glues and solvents. If encountered, these chemicals can cause nausea, dizziness and drowsiness and aggravate allergies and skin conditions.
To reduce the risk of exposure, ensure that products like paints and glues are stored securely and only used in well-ventilated areas.
11. Crowding and space
Crowding is when a home has inadequate space to live and sleep in. This can cause both physical and psychological problems.
There is an increased risk of accidents in domestic environments where there is not enough space to get around furniture. Overcrowding also increases the risk of hygiene issues and the spread of disease. Lack of privacy and personal space can affect the mental health of tenants and reduce their ability to concentrate and tolerate those they live with.
12. 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 burglar alarms should be fitted where possible.
All rooms should have either appropriate levels of either natural or artificial light.
Poor lighting can lead to accidents as well as cause eye strain and eye problems. A lack of natural light can increase the chances of depression as it plays an important part in keeping us happy and regulating our sleep cycle.
The amount of light in a property can be affected by the size of rooms and the position of windows. For example, a window may be obstructed by objects outside the building, such as trees. This hazard also takes into account artificial lighting. Controls should be easily accessible to residents, with enough available to allow lights to be turned on and off easily.
Excessive noise in a property is classed as an HHSRS hazard because the impact of prolonged exposure can affect both physical and mental health.
Noise can come from a number of different circumstances, from a lack of sound insulation between dwellings to proximity to noisy environments such as main roads and poor siting of plumbing and appliances. Wall insulation and double glazing are effective ways to reduce excessive noise.
15. Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
These problems arise if the design and layout of a property make it difficult to keep clean and maintain good hygiene. This could be if the home encourages the infestation of household pests such as mice, rats or bedbugs that can 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 stop pests from getting in.
16. Food safety
Another way that household pests can be encouraged is through substandard facilities for the preparation of storage and food. Ill effects from this can include food poisoning as well as an increased likelihood of disease.
Kitchens must have working sinks in good condition to allow food and cooking equipment to be washed adequately. Kitchen worktops must also be in good condition to allow effective cleaning after the preparation of food.
When it comes to larger properties, the size of the cooking facilities also matters. Ovens and hobs must be of an appropriate size for the number of occupants. The same goes for food and food equipment storage facilities such as cupboards and drawers.
17. Sanitation and drainage problems
This hazard is about risks to physical and mental health from poor facilities for personal hygiene, including those for personal and clothes washing.
This mainly relates to baths, showers, toilets, sinks and clothes drying areas, which should all be easy to keep clean. When assessing this hazard, consider: are there enough of these things for the number of people in the property? Do they all work and drain correctly?
18. Water supply for domestic purposes
This hazard is about the quality and adequacy of the water supply in a building for drinking, cooking, washing, cleaning and sanitation. Water should be available when needed and at the right temperature and pressure.
Threats to health from contaminated water can be from bacteria, protozoa, parasites, viruses, and chemical pollutants. Contaminated water can lead to cholera or Legionnaires’ disease.
19. Falls associated with baths
This hazard covers falls from a bath, shower or similar facility. Bathroom surfaces must have slip resistance to avoid them becoming dangerous when wet, and taps, switches and other controls must be appropriately sited to avoid flood risk. Older people (those aged 60+) are particularly vulnerable to this, with injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones and head wounds. A landlord may wish to provide rails in a home with older tenants.
20. Falls on level surfaces
This hazard covers falls on level surfaces and surfaces such as steps where the change in surface height is less than 300mm (30 cm).
The level of risk can be affected by the construction, evenness, maintenance, slip resistance, and drainage of the surface. Lighting, temperature and noise distractions can also have an effect.
21. Falls associated with stairs and ramps
This hazard relates to anywhere where the change in level is greater than 300mm (30 cm). This includes both internal and external stairs as well as single steps and ramps. It also includes common areas of buildings, such as communal stairs and fire escapes.
Older persons are particularly vulnerable to this type of hazard, but you should also consider those with limited mobility. Ensure stair structures and handrails are in good condition, with even heights between steps. Consider, too, that stairs may be used in darkness; ensure there is adequate lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs to guide users to where the steps are.
22. Falls between levels
This hazard relates to falls from balconies, landings, windows or accessible roofs where the difference in height between surfaces is greater than 300mm (30 cm). Injuries can be more severe depending on the height of the fall.
This will be affected by how easily windows can be opened and the height of the window sill. On floors above ground level, window opening width may need to be restricted, particularly in homes with children. Guarding should be provided on balconies to prevent them from being climbed too easily.
23. Electrical hazards
These are some of the most common hazards due to every home having a variety of electrical appliances. Injuries from exposure to electricity can include shocks and burns. The risk of serious injury depends on the voltage of the shock.
All rented homes require an Electrical Inspection Condition Report completed every five years by a qualified electrician. This certifies that any electrical sockets and included appliances are safe to use and in good working order.
This relates to the risk of uncontrolled fire and smoke to the health of the property and its inhabitants.
Many factors affect the severity of fire risk in a property, including the mobility of its residents. Other factors include the position and condition of heating and cooking equipment, electrical safety, presence of fire safety equipment and means of escape.
Heating and cookers should be placed away from flammable materials. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms must be fitted throughout a property.
HMOs and licensed properties will also have extra fire safety requirements depending on the local authority they fall under. These include fire doors between all rooms.
👉See our Action Guide: Changes to Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Legislation for more information on fire alarm placement.
25. Flames, hot surfaces and materials
This hazard covers injuries caused by contact with hot materials or naked flames, such as gas cookers.
Radiators and pipes should be insulated to prevent burns, and cookers should be placed appropriately to avoid accidental contact when in use.
26. Collision and entrapment
This hazard covers the risk of trapping physical body parts in architectural features, such as trapping fingers in doors and windows or colliding with low ceilings and narrow doorways.
These types of injuries can happen when windows and doors are difficult to close or if the closing mechanism on a fire door, for example, is too powerful. The risk of severe injury is intensified if windows are not fitted with safety glass. Windows and doors which pivot rather than being hinged also increase this risk. Children under 5 years old are particularly vulnerable to this hazard.
This covers both explosions themselves and related effects from them, such as falling debris or structural collapse.
Extreme harm, including death, can come from explosions. All appliances and flammable materials should be well-maintained, and safety glass should be fitted to glazed doors to minimise the potential effects of this hazard.
28. Position and operability
This covers how easy it is to access a property’s rooms and amenities. Places and appliances that are not easy to reach can cause physical strain to tenants when operating or accessing them, causing back, shoulder and neck problems.
29. Structural collapse and falling elements
This hazard covers the threat of collapse of all or parts of a building, risking serious injury or even death. Collapse can be internal, threatening a property’s residents, or external, threatening members of the public, contractors, visitors, or just those passing by a property. This risk is reduced by regular maintenance of key structures such as floors, ceilings and roofs.
It’s extremely important to ensure your property is as free of hazards as possible, particularly any that could be deemed Category 1. 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, including legal and civil penalties.
Non-compliance is not worth it. Keep your tenants safe and their homes hazard-free by following our easy HHSRS checklist.