Memorandum submitted by the Chartered
Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) (DEC 37)
Founded in 1883, the Chartered Institute of
Environmental Health (CIEH) is a professional and education body,
dedicated to the promotion of environmental health and to encouraging
the highest possible standards in the training and the work of
environmental health professionals.
The Chartered Institute has approximately 9,500
members, most of whom work for local authorities (LAs) in England,
Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as providing services and
information to its members, the Chartered Institute provides information
to government departments and evidence to them on proposed legislation
relevant to environmental health.
In 1993 the Chartered Institute became the World
Health Organisation (EURO) Collaborating Centre for Environmental
Health Management in Europe.
The charitable aim of the CIEH is to "promote
Environmental Health for the benefit of the public"; to this
end, the Chartered Institute seeks, among other things, to support
and represent the interests of those, wherever they work, engaged
in the practice of Environmental Health.
In respect of private housing this consists
of activities to secure the repair and improvement of properties
in the private rented sector and activities to secure and promote
the repair and improvement of owner occupied properties through
the administration of various forms of financial assistance. Properties
which require particular attention by Environmental Health Officers
(EHOs) are those let in multiple occupation (HMOs).
Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) employed
by local housing authorities are well placed, by virtue of their
qualifications, training and experience to address the day to
day problems raised by poor housing standards; they can bring
an holistic approach to enforcement using the following qualities:
experience in risk assessment procedures
and ability to take an holistic view of the health, safety and
welfare of occupiers alongside traditional building and means
of escape defects;
skills in tenant liaison (in addition
to dealing with the problems of bricks and mortar) which is vital
to achieve the goals in privately rented premises where the inevitable
disruption can cause severe problems for occupiers many of whom
are the most disadvantaged members of the community;
experience and training in administering
prosecutions including Court appearances when litigation becomes
control of a broad range of functions
with consequent ability to resolve conflicts between them when
they arise; and
ability to provide a central unitary
point of contact for all involved including local authority housing/rehousing
officers, rent officers, social services, housing benefits, tenancy
relations and voluntary agencies.
Other specific activities include area renewal,
clearance and demolition, compulsory purchase, the establishment
and promotion of landlords forums and wide ranging partnership
Any enquiries regarding this document should
be addressed, in the first instance to
Principal Policy Officer
Tel: 020 7827 5838
Fax: 020 7827 5831
E mail: [email protected]
The role of the CIEH in housing is to seek to
protect the health, safety and welfare of occupiers. Work undertaken
by members of the Chartered Institute is primarily associated
with the private sector and the rented sector in particular. The
comments set out in this report concentrate therefore on the Decent
Homes Standard (DHS) in respect of the target to increase the
proportion of private sector housing in decent condition occupied
by vulnerable groups.
The CIEH fully supports the aims of the Decent
Homes Standard to raise standards of domestic accommodation, but
believes that the application of the standard is weighted too
heavily in favour of the social sector.
The CIEH is on record as supporting the principles
of the proposed Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
in the draft Housing Bill, but believes that the system as currently
constituted will make very little contribution to increasing the
number of Decent Homes. Such an increase will not be achieved
without specific measures, linked to the DHS, that will enable
local housing authorities (LHAs) to require the execution of work
relevant to the standard.
More effort and resources need to applied to
address the needs of the major proportion of the housing stockthe
private sector. The CIEH believes that occupiers, tenants in particular,
in the private sector are not being treated equitably by virtue
of the disproportionate distribution of resources in favour of
the social sector. The current proposals do not represent "best
value", as the investment is not being necessarily directed
at where it could have most effect; furthermore they mitigate
against the aspirations of Best Value Performance Indicators,
particularly BVPI 62 (action to deal with unfit properties).
The CIEH believes that the DHS addresses the
appropriate issues necessary to raise standards but that the decent
homes standard needs to be amended and adjusted to reflect the
characteristics of the private sector. Statutory powers need to
be in place to enable LHAs to tackle all aspects of the standard
together with adequate funding mechanisms to enable these works
to be carried out.
The CIEH would be pleased to work with the Committee
and the Government in developing an effective and enforceable
standard to increase the number of decent homes in the private
1. The Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets
for the private sector stock were not subject to consultation
and were announced without any contextual material. There is no
explanation of how the targets have been arrived at and no projection
of how much public expenditure will be needed to meet the targets.
The CIEH can only conclude that the ODPM have made an estimate
and set the targets accordingly.
2. There is no enforcement mechanism for
achieving the decent homes standard at the level of the individual
dwellingthe minimum housing standard is one of four components
of the standard. For the standard to be attained, there should
be a mechanism for requiring the achievement of the other elements,
such as a compulsory improvement notice.
3. The use of powers in the Regulatory Reform
Act 2003, set in the context of Government policy in respect of
cash-poor, equity-rich owner-occupiers does not lend itself to
the achievement of the standard. Owners releasing equity will
choose to spend the money as they see fit with no regard to the
decent homes standard, unless they receive considerable public
4. If the ODPM is planning to monitor progress
towards the private sector decent homes standard through the English
House Condition Survey (EHCS), the proposed Housing Health and
Safety Rating System (HHSRS) will need to be used in the EHCS
in anticipation of this being part of the decent homes standard.
5. It is likely that many properties in
the private sector will fail on the age of the kitchen and bathroom
and possibly insulation against noise (the issue of sound insulation
needs to be properly addressed in the DHS). It is unclear how
these issues will be addressed. For rented property there are
no powers to require the replacement of a kitchen or bathroom
because it is old. Owner occupiers will be reluctant to up date
these facilities against their will and it is unlikely that there
will be grant aid to cover this sort of work.
6. It is the experience of local housing
authorities that many of their tenants are concerned with the
common parts of the buildings they live inlifts, stairwells,
corridors (including issues relating to lighting and means of
escape from fire). The Decent Homes Standard (DHS) does not address
7. It appears that the order of priorities
under the Sustainable Communities plan in practice is:
Decent homes in the social housing
Decent homes in the private sector.
The CIEH believes that these priorities are
wrong and that little or no work has been done to establish the
need issues between the private and public sector. In many areas
of the country, the condition of the public stock is significantly
better than the private stock in terms of repair, unfitness and
decent homes. There seems to be an almost unspoken assumption
that the public sector requires and deserves more resources than
the private sector and this has been reflected in grant allocations
over the last few years.
8. The CIEH believes that there is insufficient
funding available to meet all three of the issues in paragraph
seven above, and the Government should be more realistic in stating
what the planned expenditure will achieve.
9. The thermal comfort criteria are low
when set against Building Regulations requirements. It may not
be appropriate for LHAs to require the provision of a full heating
system in private sector properties. There is a need for guidance
on what can be done. Full account needs to be taken of the issue
of fuel poverty in determining the decency of homes.
9.1. The Decent Homes Standard has been
successful in raising the profile of energy efficiency within
investment strategies, particularly affecting the public sector
stock. However there are some problems that are the product of
the phrasing of the standard viz:-
9.1.1. Uncertainty as to what the objectives
of the standard are. Is it:-
To identify cost effective measures
that are easy to install to generally improve domestic energy
To reaffirm the government policy
to combat fuel poverty
9.1.2. If it is the latter there is a significant
chance that households will not escape from fuel poverty even
if all of the stated measures are provided
9.1.3. The definitions are very vague and
are open to different interpretations. Probably the most notable
exception is whether those, often very large numbers of individual
residential units served by a central boiler plant can be viewed
as possessing programmable heating. The variety of central boiler
plants in existence nationally will vary in their thermal efficiency
and costs to individual households.
9.1.4. Can and should a home be deemed decent
just because of the difficulties in remedial action. An exception
is an unfilled cavity wall (U value 1.7) not meeting the standard
but solid wall (U value 2.5) achieving it.
9.1.5. 50mm of loft insulation is an extremely
low specification when current standards are in excess of 250mm,
including the governments own Warm Front scheme. This only serves
to send a mixed message about the importance of loft insulation
as a cost effective measure.
9.1.6. There are examples of masonry cavity
walls where it is not deemed to be good practice to cavity fill
with insulation so they are deemed to fail the standard. One example
is black ash mortar where cavity insulation should only be undertaken
in conjunction with wall tie replacement.
9.1.7. If the DHS is altered in the future,
it must be remembered that alterations can radically affect monitoring
and cause difficulties in revisiting historic data for updates.
10. The CIEH is concerned that it could
be difficult for local housing authorities to require the replacement
of components that are old and need replacing (under the DHS)
but which do not cause a hazard under the HHSRS, in the absence
of specific powers to deal with disrepair.
11. Stock condition surveys undertaken by
many LHAs have shown that a large proportion of their stock would
fail the DHS. Funds for grant aid are rapidly diminishing and
equity release is suitable only for older home owners. This will
represent an enormous challenge to LHAs.
12. Stock condition surveys have shown that
the lack of modern facilities and thermal comfort are the principal
reasons why dwellings are classified as non decent. It is in precisely
these areas that LHAs have few powers to intervene.
13. A further difficulty associated with
stock condition surveys is that most surveys guarantee anonymity
for occupiers. This will necessitate further potentially resource
intensive activity in order to identify and match up vulnerable
occupiers and non-decent accommodation. The problems of establishing
baseline information should not be underestimated. Many LHAs are
experiencing a lot of difficulty in matching up information on
decent homes with vulnerable groups
14. The CIEH is concerned that the emphasis
on Decent Homes may draw attention (and resources) away from repairing
and improving the worst properties towards dealing with those
which are not in serious disrepair but which are nevertheless
non-decent under the DHS. There will be a temptation (and an imperative)
to address the latter first to the detriment of those living in
the worst properties.
15. Most LHAs prioritise action to deal
with the worst properties in their areas (usually those in multiple
occupation); such properties are often occupied by vulnerable
people on shorthold tenancies who are often the most mobile in
terms of tenancies which will further exacerbate efforts to track
the number of vulnerable people living in non-decent accommodation.
1. The definition of "decent"
1.1. Criterion a: It meets the current
statutory minimum standard for housing
1.1.1. The focus on vulnerable households
under HHSRS will be consistent with the proposed approach to applying
the Decent Homes standard to the private sector. However, there
is concern that the difference in approach between the present
fitness regime and HHSRS may obscure the assessment of progress
(or regress) in improving private sector housing conditions. Any
effects of changing to the new system will need to be fully evaluated
and clearly identified in the in the course of monitoring progress.
1.2. Criterion b: It is in a reasonable
state of repair
1.2.1. This criterion will be of particular
relevance when the HHSRS is introduced, as disrepair will be evaluated
in a totally different way.
1.3. Criterion c: It has reasonably
modern facilities and services
1.3.1. The general principles of this criterion
are supported. The CIEH believes that a dwelling with an outside
WC for example (or one that fails to provide suitable privacy),
meets an adequate standard of decency. Failure of this aspect
of Criterion c. should on its own constitute failure of the standard.
1.3.2. This criterion, and the recently
circulated draft guidance on implementation, fails to adequately
accommodate the situation encountered in houses in multiple occupation
(HMOs) in which facilities (bathroom, WCs, and in some cases kitchens)
are shared by a number of households. In such cases the provision
of dedicated bathrooms, WCs (and kitchens) of whatever age or
standard, is not a realistic prospect. Consequently, it is suggested
that the standard requires some elaboration to suitably cover
the situations found in non self-contained HMOs.
1.4. Criteria d: It provides a reasonable
degree of thermal comfort
1.4.1. The provision for a reduced standard
of 50mm loft insulation for homes with gas/oil programmable heating
is not considered to be at all adequate (particularly bearing
in mind the fact that the Building Regulations standard is shortly
to rise to 300mm). Allowing such a major trade-off might make
the difference in whether or not an occupying family is living
in fuel poverty. The requirement of a minimum of 200mm (plus cavity
wall insulation where possible) should apply to all housing.
2. The scale of the problem
2.1. In the private sector the scale of
the problem can only be reliably determined through the process
of combined house condition and housing needs surveys. Clearly,
it will be necessary for the specifications for such surveys to
include provision for the relevant data to be collected.
2.2. The various mechanisms for funding
and deliverystock transfer, PFI, Arms Length Management
Organisations and council housing
2.3. It is not clear how stock transfer
in itself can achieve any improvement in housing conditions.
2.4. None of the provisions identified appears
to have a significant bearing on private sector housing. In this
respect Private Sector Housing Renewal, plus Warm Front and Energy
Efficiency Commitment are the most relevant forms of capital subsidy.
In addition, equity release is intended to be a key element of
the Government's Private Sector Renewal Policy. However, the current
level of interest in equity release amongst householders appears
to be very low. This could result in a significant deterioration
in housing standards in the owner-occupied sector in the short
and medium term.
2.5. In the private rented sector local
authority Housing Act enforcement powers are undoubtedly the most
important factor in improving standards, although these will only
cover certain aspects of the DHS. Landlord Accreditation schemes
could have a role in securing decent homes in the private rented
sector, although this is likely to be limited.
3. The role of tenant choice
3.1. It is assumed that this issue is being
considered primarily in the context of the social housing sector.
4. The link between the decent homes target
and other parts of the Government's sustainable communities agenda
4.1. The Decent Homes provisions should
be considered in the context of the Government's priorities for
Neighbourhood Renewal, and appropriate consideration should be
given to providing relevant to local authorities when reviewing
their private sector renewal policies.
4.2. The inclusion of a low standard of
insulation for homes with more efficient heating is considered
likely to hamper the aims of the Government's Fuel Poverty Strategy
target to take all vulnerable households out of fuel poverty by
2010, and is contrary to the principles of sustainable energy
4.3. Suitable guidance should be provided
to local authorities in the implementation of private sector house
condition and housing needs surveys to measure progress in securing
decent homes in the private sector. Consideration should be given
to the need for additional Government funding to local authorities
to cover the additional cost of collecting the data necessary
for this purpose.