Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) (DHB 14)


  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 necessary;

    —  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 working.


  1.1  The CIEH supports the aims of the Bill in its attempts to raise standards in the private sector, protect the health, safety and welfare of tenants, encourage good performance from responsible landlords and provide sanctions to address contraventions.

  1.2  The CIEH will be responding in detail to the consultation on the draft Housing Bill and has also responded to previous consultations on HMO Licensing, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, and Selective Licensing.

  1.3  This submission includes a summary of the views already submitted by the CIEH together with comments on new proposals in the draft bill. The submission does not go into much detail as that will be left to the Chartered Institute's response to the draft Bill. The CIEH will be pleased however to give more detailed oral evidence to the Select Committee if requested.


  2.1  It remains difficult for the Chartered Institute to express definitive views on the merits or otherwise of the Rating System until such time as the guidance on enforcement has been published; this has been promised by the Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Regeneration but no date for publication has been set. Research into the system, commissioned by the ODPM, has still not been published to date.

  2.2  Furthermore, it will not be possible to fully evaluate the potential effectiveness of the system until version 2 of the guidance has been published; this has been promised for early 2004.

  2.3  The CIEH supports a number of the proposals in the draft Bill but has concerns about some of the practical details. The CIEH recognises the shortcomings in the existing fitness standard.

  2.4  The CIEH is committed to the promotion and preservation of public health and therefore supports the principle of risk rating to protect the health, safety and welfare of occupants of substandard housing.

  2.5  The CIEH welcomes the guidance that has been produced relating to the identification of hazards in the domestic environment.

  2.6  In making best use of limited resources the CIEH considers it good practice to prioritise housing work on the basis of the number of occupants affected and their vulnerability.

  2.7  The HHSRS, as proposed, will entail prioritisation for action primarily on the basis of condition only. The CIEH is concerned that the proposed system considers the impact of a defect for the most vulnerable group of occupants by age but does not take into account the risk to still more vulnerable occupants who may live in the property.

  2.8  The CIEH believes that the thresholds for determining the duty for local authorities to intervene to deal with substandard housing should be set so as to increase the number of properties brought up to standard. Ultimately this should be determined by identifying the health benefits that could be achieved through a substantial improvement in housing quality.

  2.9  One issue that has been highlighted by the CIEH in the past but which appears to remain unresolved is that of the use of the system to deal with urgent issues (in advance of and separate from an assessment of a property under the system). This is regarded as a key issue by the CIEH.

  2.10  One of the policies of the CIEH is that the Decent Homes standard should not just apply to the social sector. The government's stated aim to reduce the number of vulnerable people living in non-decent homes in the private sector is acknowledged but the CIEH is concerned that the Housing Health and Safety Rating System will be ineffective if not irrelevant in securing this aim.

  2.11  The Chartered Institute believes that the system will be an ineffective tool in area renewal activity and could even be detrimental as the use of the system could inhibit the use of demolition orders.


  3.1  The CIEH broadly welcomes the proposals set out in the Draft Bill. The CIEH has campaigned for some time for measures (including licensing) to control the worst HMOs and provide local authorities (LAs) with the means to identify all the HMOs in their areas and to raise the standards for tenants so as to protect their health safety and welfare.

  3.2  The CIEH believes that the broad aims and objectives will raise standards in HMOs. The CIEH believes, however, that it is vital that LAs incorporate the control of HMOs into their overall housing strategies.

  3.3  LAs with large numbers of HMOs in their areas will inevitably take some considerable time to complete the first stage of the licensing process with current resources. The CIEH urges the government to make available resources in the form of a Supplementary Credit Allocation for which LAs can bid for "pump priming" funding to deal with the initial licensing of their HMOs.

  3.4  The proposals in the draft Bill (which were not included in the original consultation on HMO licensing) for Interim and Final Management Orders appear to be very similar to current legislative procedures for Management and Control Orders. The CIEH is concerned that LAs will not make use of the proposed powers due to their complexity and the resource implications of their use. Very few Control Orders have been made since they were enacted. It is essential that the arrangements for the proposed Management Orders are as straightforward and simple as possible to encourage their use.

  3.5  The CIEH supports the proposals to place many of the definitions and other provisions in secondary legislation to enable flexibility in making amendments in the light of legal judgments but in the absence of the proposed regulations, it is difficult to comment meaningfully on the predicted effect of many of the Bill's proposals.

  3.6  The CIEH believes that the parameters set out for mandatory licensing are unduly restrictive. The power to enable LAs to extend licensing to HMOs outside the mandatory scheme is acknowledged; however there are types of accommodation which fall outside the proposed mandatory scheme but which are nevertheless widely considered to be high risk. The mandatory parameters therefore need to be widened or, at the very least, clear guidance given as to types of HMOs to which LAs are expected to extend licensing.

  3.7  There are concerns as to how enforcement action will be taken in the future in respect of self contained flats in a converted house, as the proposed definition of an HMO specifically requires the sharing of specific amenities. Houses let in multiple occupation which consist of dwellings, each of which contain their own amenities, but which consist of three or more storeys, constitute as high a risk as those in which amenities are shared, particularly in respect of escape from fire. This cannot be what the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister intends and the Chartered Institute believes this to be an error.

  3.8  The definitions concerning licensees considered to be "fit and proper" are entirely negative. The CIEH believes that the criteria should include membership of recognised organisations such as the Independent Housing Ombudsman and the ability to demonstrate competence through training.

  3.9  Matters in respect of HMO Licensing which remain unresolved include:

    3.9.1.  timescales for LAs to implement licensing

    3.9.2.  whether or not LAs are to be required to inspect a property before issuing a licence

    3.9.9.  whether or not LAs are to be required to monitor standards in licensed premises

    3.9.4.  the nature and role of the proposed approved code of practice for management standards insofar   as the code affects management regulations


  4.1  The CIEH welcomes the idea of selective licensing but believes that the selective licensing tool should be available for all LAs if they can justify its use in their areas (ie it should not be restricted to low demand areas), to enable them to tailor the scheme to their own needs; the scheme needs to be broad based. If an LA can show that selective licensing is relevant it should be available for use within the whole local authority area; landlords who are not "fit and proper" would not then be able to move outside the licensing area into another area within the same LA. LAs which are participating in low demand pathfinder projects are required by the Audit Commission to conduct an adjacency impact assessment".

  4.2  The proposals in the Bill to allow LAs to use selective licensing in areas not deemed to be "low demand" are not adequately explicit.

  4.3  Attention needs to be paid to the problem of accidental and naïve landlords to assist them out of financial difficulties where appropriate. Many landlords are in fact reluctant landlords and often cannot, for various reasons, sell their property.

  4.4  The proposals appear to target criminal landlords (who often let to anti-social tenants) but one of the key problem that needs to be addressed is former owner occupiers who do not have the necessary skills to be effective landlords.

  4.5  Selective licensing should not be seen in isolation and is not a panacea. It should be used as another tool within an authority's overall housing strategy. LAs should have the discretion to licence the owner, the person having control or the agent as appropriate.

  4.6  Registered Social Landlords frequently do not take adequate responsibility for their properties in low demand areas. RSLs need to be encouraged in areas where they have effectively given up trying to let in such areas.

  4.7  The proposals do not address the link between housing benefit and the condition of properties.

  4.8  Properties in many low demand areas are suitable only for demolition and, as the document suggests, careful consideration must be given to alternative measures before selective licensing is pursued.

  4.9  The scheme should not be too prescriptive as there is a great diversity of problems across the country and solutions will need to match local situations.

  4.10  In the context of low demand, the CIEH proposes the following definition of obsolescence: "A house is deemed to be obsolete if it cannot, by reason of design or construction (whether or not it is statutorily unfit) and the environment in which it is located, meet the housing needs of any socio-economic group and there is no demand nor need for such housing in the local market."

  4.11  Greater clarity is needed in respect of some of the conditions for the designation of areas to be subject to selective licensing, in particular the extent to which "social" conditions relate to anti-social behaviour.


  5.1  This is not seen as a key issue for the Chartered Institute but the Institute has concerns regarding amendments of the proposals insofar as they relate to low demand areas and those affected by Radon. Such amendments could adversely affect housing markets in such areas. The effectiveness of the proposed enforcement regime is also questioned.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 12 June 2003