HHSRS inspections and hazards

Whether you’re an estate agent or a landlord, the safety and wellbeing of a property’s occupants are your chief concern. Only when a property is deemed fit to live in can the marketing push to attract new renters or prospective buyers kick in. 

In light of this, being aware of the UK’s Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), and having an understanding of how the risk-based evaluation scheme works, is useful for anyone in the property industry. Whether you’re concerned about a vacant property or overseeing a vast portfolio of houses, knowing the HHSRS process can help you assess health and safety hazards in any houses you intend to rent or sell.

This article defines what HHSRS is and why it has become an invaluable industry resource for people seeking reassurance that their houses meet the required standards expected to ensure a safe and habitable residence.

Understanding HHSRS 

The UK’s Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a risk-based evaluation tool. It was introduced under the Housing Act 2004 to help local authorities identify and address any potential risks or hazards across residential properties. 

Estate agents and landlords with responsibility for their occupants’ health and safety, will benefit from having an understanding of the HHSRS process and all the potential home hazards. This awareness extends across the housing spectrum, from new-builds and high-rise flats to bungalows and older properties. Understanding the HHSRS process, therefore, is as important as knowing other principal designer and CDM services

Assessing hazards

The initial step of HHSRS is assessing houses to identify and address a range of potential hazards that could pose a risk to the people living in a property and the building itself. The HHSRS involves an assessment of 29 potential housing hazards that are grouped into four main categories: physiological, psychological, protection against infection, and protection against accidents.

In addition, there are common hazards to look out for, but in general, they vary from damp issues, mould problems or excess cold to structural collapse and elevated fire risks. The HHSRS guidelines are applicable to all residential properties, including rented and owner-occupied homes. They exist to safeguard the health and security of occupants and ensure that all living conditions meet safety standards. Their ultimate aim is to make sure that people’s health is never compromised by poor or inadequate housing conditions in the UK. 

Scoring system and serious hazard awareness

In the guidelines of the HHSRS, each potential house hazard is rated according to the severity and likelihood of any risk it poses. Hazards are scored on the likelihood of an occurrence that could cause harm over 12 months. Meanwhile, the scores given to each hazard indicate the range of severity, from ‘Category 1’ (being the most serious) to ‘Category 2’. The scoring system considers both the likelihood of an incident occurring and the seriousness of the outcomes if it happens. It is worth reiterating that the HHSRS puts an onus on prevention first, with the system organised not only to address existing hazards, but to prevent them from ever taking place. 

Category 1 hazards are those that pose a serious threat to the health and safety of the occupants. These require immediate action because they are deemed a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety, such as the realistic possibility of a fire happening. According to government statistics, three fires a day are caused by faulty heaters with an average 3,800 chimney fires occurring each year. 

With this fact in mind, understanding and mitigating fire risks associated with electrical systems, structural integrity, and hazardous materials, are areas that will require immediate and ongoing attention. Other examples include excessive cold or heat, exposure to asbestos or other hazardous substances, inadequate fire safety measures, electrical hazards, and structural collapse or falling elements.

Enforcing and complying with the HHSRS 

When it comes to enforcing the HHSRS scheme, local authorities have the power to ensure landlords make any necessary improvements to their properties if a hazard is flagged up. If landlords fail to make the required changes, the authorities can carry out the work themselves and charge the landlord. If a Category 1 hazard is identified, the local authority has a duty to take appropriate action to ensure the hazard is remedied immediately. This may involve serving an Improvement Notice or a Prohibition Order, requiring the landlord or property owner to take necessary steps to address the hazard within a specified timeframe.

To maintain a safe and compliant property portfolio, therefore, estate agents and landlords would do well to adopt a proactive approach to identifying and assessing their properties. This also means regular maintenance checks and, in some cases, professional management of residential properties. If need be, landlords or property agents can benefit from seeking professional advice from qualified surveyors or housing inspectors. They can also maintain detailed records of any inspections, assessments and actions taken.

For your own peace of mind, being compliant and well-informed about the HHSRS evaluation process will help you to avoid any liabilities or recourse associated with hazardous housing conditions. With this in mind, conduct regular inspections inside houses and maintain external buildings while remaining alert to every potential hazard. 

Upcoming changes to the HHSRS 

Staying informed and on the pulse about any changes in property legislation and industry practices is important. The HHSRS is currently overhauling its scheme with proposed changes aimed at improving its effectiveness and addressing topical housing issues. Some key proposed changes include:

  • reducing the total number of hazards from 29 to 21
  • updating the hazard scoring system to better reflect current health and safety risks,
  • introducing new hazards, such as those related to modern building materials and techniques. This will include a ‘Fire’ hazard review and ‘Explosions in Dwellings’ to help mitigate fire risks in tall buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire.
  • enhancing guidance and training for inspectors to ensure consistent application of the HHSRS across local authorities. 
  • updating existing statutory operating and enforcement guidance.
  • reviewing training techniques.

With digital apps and emerging technology streamlining processes for estate agents and others, it makes sense for schemes like the HHSRS to follow suit. Already a vital tool for estate agents and landlords, suggestions to digitise the HHSRS assessment process with existing databases in local areas is a welcome advance. Upgrading to digital systems will help to speed up and improve the efficiency of such an essential set of health and safety guidelines for the property/construction sector.

Written by Agency Express guest writer Annie Button