Memorandum from The Chartered Institute
of Environmental Health (CIEH) (BDH 15)
As a professional body, we set standards
and accredit courses and qualifications for the education of our
professional members and other environmental health practitioners.
As a knowledge centre, we provide information,
evidence and policy advice to local and national government, environmental
and public health practitioners, industry and other stakeholders.
We publish books and magazines; run educational events, and commission
As an awarding body, we provide qualifications,
events, and trainer and candidate support materials on topics
relevant to health, wellbeing and safety to develop workplace
skills and best practice in volunteers, employees, business managers
and business owners.
As a campaigning organisation, we work
to push environmental health further up the public agenda and
to promote improvements in environmental and public health policy.
We are a registered charity with over
10,500 members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The original purpose of the DHS was to
better direct public investment essentially in social housing
(the private sector was something of a somewhat inadequate afterthought).
Now so far as the CIEH is concerned the key purpose for any standard
beyond the DHS should be to help address inequalities in health
and the raise standards of public health generally
The new standard should help to establish
and maintain sustainable communities
The incorporation of the Housing Health
and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) raises the question as to whether
it alone should form the basis of the DHS
Any new "Decent Homes Standard"
could require not only that a dwelling is free from Category 1 hazards
but the line could be drawn in the range of what are currently
Category 2 hazards with the addition of environmental criteria
linked to the code for sustainable homes
Several of the issues raised by the CIEH
in its evidence on the DHS to an earlier Select Committee inquiry
remain relevant today.
2.1 The CIEH gave evidence to the (then)
ODPM Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee
in 2002. There is an inevitable sense of d jà vu
as we read the Committee's report as many of the points made by
the CIEH to the previous Committee (and which were subsequently
endorsed by the Committee) were either not accepted by the government
or if accepted were not acted upon.
2.2 The key issues for the CIEH are that,
beyond the Decent Homes Standard (DHS), a system needs to be established
which ensures that the health, safety and welfare of occupiers
is properly protected, which adequately reflects the needs of
the private sector and which acknowledges the effect that adverse
environmental conditions have on occupiers. The new system should
ensure the establishment and maintenance of communities that are
2.3 The CEIH believes that the proposals
set out in this evidence to the Select Committee represent good
value for the government and focuses resources to best effect.
3.0 ISSUES REVISITED
3.1 The ODPM Select Committee Fifth Report
of Session 2003-04 on Decent Homes made a series of recommendations
and observations many of which remain valid in 2009 (and
which should be taken account of in the development of a post
DHS regime) as detailed below.
3.2 The introduction of the HHSRS has increased
the number of non-decent homes, or would if applied correctly.
It is likely that many social landlords and some consultants employed
to carry out stock condition surveys do not understand the system
adequately so that their assessment of "non-decency"
must be questionable. Funding was found to address the issue of
training of officers charged with enforcing Part 1 of the
Housing Act 2004 and the CIEH played (and continues to play)
its part in the nationwide training programme based on the original
training package. However the Committee's recommendation that
more resources were (and still are) needed to recognise the changes,
has not been acted on by Government and similar training was not
provided for social landlords, although the Government did publish
a simplified guide to the HHSRS for landlords and housing related
3.3 The inflexibility of the DHS in respect
of kitchens and bathrooms remains, as age in itself is not necessarily
a reflection of condition. It is not necessary to replace satisfactory
facilities which are older than the prescribed limit (and with
which occupiers are happy) nor is it acceptable for inadequate
facilities which are newer to remain in place.
3.4 The CIEH remains of the view that the
thermal comfort criterion in the DHS is too low and endorses the
Committee's view in 2003 that "the required levels of
thermal comfort should be in line with the building standards
in force at the time when such a target were to be set".
Indeed it is possible for a home to meet the "thermal comfort
criterion" and still have a Category 1 hazard for excess
cold under the HHSRS.
3.5 Like the Committee in 2003, the CIEH
believes that every household has the right to a decent homebut
this approach should be tenure neutral. The primary focus on social
landlords and public housing can only be a reflection of the impact
of policies over the past 30 years which have led to the
residualisation of such estates and public housing tainted by
The government has singularly failed to set effective targets
for the private sector and the target for the social rented sector
is unlikely to be met. The issue of "vulnerability"
should not figure in the target as this can be as much a reflection
of changing economic circumstances as changes in housing condition.
In theory the private sector target could be met by reducing the
numbers in receipt of one of the benefits without any improvements
in the homes they occupy, which could remain unsafe or unhealthy.
3.6 It will not be possible to achieve a
significant improvement in the number of decent homes (or whatever
descriptor is to be used) in the private sector unless there is
more positive leadership and involvement of communities (eg linked
to the proposed registration of all private landlords) and local
housing authorities take a more proactive and strategic approach.
The CIEH supports the view that tenants should have a statutory
right to a decent home and this right should be enforceable through
4.0 HOUSING HEALTH
4.1 Any new "Decent Home" scheme
should be more weighted towards the needs of the private sector
where there is the greatest number and proportion of "non-decent
homes as currently defined.
The CIEH therefore sees the strategic use and application of the
Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) as a key element
of the new standard.
4.2 At the time of the first inquiry by
the ODPM Committee a number of concerns were raised about the
subjective nature of judgements made using the HHSRS. In fact
the HHSRS is less subjective (although professional judgment is
required) than the fitness standard that it replaced and has been
used by local housing authorities since April 2006 when it
replaced the fitness standard. The universal application and use
of the system have served to significantly increase the consistency
of judgements and this has been further assisted by lessons learned
from decisions of Residential Property Tribunals considering appeals
against requirements of notices served under part 1 of the
Housing Act 2004.
4.3 A crucial weakness referred to above
is the lack of awareness amongst Registered Social Landlords (RSLs)
of the HHSRS. Anecdotal evidence abounds of RSLs having inadequate
plans and procedures for the use of the system in monitoring performance
and standards. However only a few employees of RSLs have benefited
from such training and there is no coherent programme of training,
which has been a matter for individual social landlords and local
housing authorities. It is known that approaches to the National
Housing Federation by Warwick University Law School (the original
developers of the HHSRS and the associated training materials)
to provide such a programme proved unsuccessful.
4.4 As an example of the ad hoc approach
but also what can happen, is in Sandwell MBC where Environmental
Health Practitioners in the Council's private sector housing service
are engaged in a programme of training for surveyors working for
the local Arms Length Management Company responsible for the social
rented housing stock. They have instituted a practical based programme
of training for a wide range of personnel, including supervisory
staff as well as maintenance operatives. It dealt with basic risk
assessment theory and the relevant matters as it relates to the
more common elements of disrepair. It also examined the connection
surrounding certain repair issues where Category 1 hazards
may have gone unrecognised in the past.
4.5 The application of the HHSRS to the
DHS has highlighted several anomalies. Reference to thermal comfort
and excess cold is made above, but where lack of adequate sound
insulation would not have made a dwelling non-decent previously
if all other amenities are modern, now if noise is a assessed
as a Category 1 hazard then the home becomes non-decent.
Also a "modern kitchen" could be dangerous by virtue
of its design leading to a potential hazard of flames, hot surfaces
etc, or operability of amenities. Other serious or potentially
serious hazards could be present in a dwelling which in themselves
do not form part of the DHS.
5.0 RAISING STANDARDS
5.1 One of the benefits of the use of the
HHSRS is that it addresses the effect of hazards in dwellings
on the health (and safety) of occupiers. The system requires the
identification of all deficiencies and an assessment of hazards
arising from these deficiencies with subsequent remediation in
order to prevent ill health or injury. It sets priorities for
investment on the basis of risks to health and safety. It is not
easy to quantify the benefits of such preventative action; however
the CIEH in its publication "Good Housing leads to Better
identified such benefits as well as examples of good practice.
The CIEH has made available a cost calculator
which is designed to provide a robust estimate of cost savings
to the NHS of a range of housing interventions using the HHSRS.
5.2 The calculator is being widely used
not only by CIEH members in local authorities but also by Primary
Care Trustsfor example the Joint Annual Public Health Report
for Kingston 2008
5.3 The CIEH also refers the Committee to
the report "Decent Homes Better Health"
(Sheffield Decent Homes Health Impact Assessment).
6.0 A STRATEGIC
6.1 It is clear in the CIEH view that local
housing authorities (LHAs) should first and foremost take a strategic
approach in dealing with the private rented sector (PRS). A crucial
part of this is to ensure that LHAs undertake their statutory
duties under Section 3 of the Housing Act 2004. Such an approach
should be based on local evidence with a combination of enforcement
and incentive with effective consultation through accreditation
schemes. CLG should give statutory guidance on what full meeting
of these duties comprises, and give direction on what records
should be kept and reported.
6.2 Reactive services (ie responding primarily
to tenants' complaints) do not address priorities. Complaints
are generally not made by transient or vulnerable tenants (who
frequently occupy high risk properties in multiple occupation)
and from tenants who, justifiably or not, fear retaliatory eviction.
6.3 However it is clear that too few LHAs
meet fully their statutory obligations under Section 3 of
the Housing Act 2004.
7.0 BEYOND THE
7.1 The vision of the CIEH for a standard
beyond the DHS can be summarised as "HHSRS plus" adding
environmental criteria namely: access to green space, freedom
from antisocial behaviour and adequate sound insulation.
7.2 Targets should not be set relating to
vulnerability of occupants.
8.0 SOUND INSULATION
8.1 Though more households may be affected
by ambient noise sources, many more complaints are generated by
neighbour noise. Numbers of these continue to run at historically
high levels and they appear to come disproportionately from the
social housing stock. A substantial proportion of those affected
attribute the problem, at least in part, to poor sound insulation
between dwellings and there is some objective evidence to support
8.2 Acknowledging this, changes have recently
been made to the standards of constructions between dwellings
in the Building Regulations and an new DH standard could reasonably
be expected to match that so far as is practicable. (However as
there is still no requirement under these Regulations for "end-testing",
it is unclear how often the right level of sound attenuation is
actually achieved, as even minor construction defects can undermine
this.) Given some evidence that occupiers value peace above other
improvements, currently the Decent Homes approach runs the risk
of continuing, and even increasing, dissatisfaction with dwellings
made nominally decent while continuing to expose landlords to
9.0 FIRE SAFETY
9.1 The interim report on the fire in the
block in Camberwell questions the relationship with fire requirements
and the DHS. It is acknowledged that this can be addressed under
part A but a separate section for fire safety (or its incorporation
into part C) would serve to highlight more effectively the importance
of the issue.
5 James Gregory, In the Mix-narrowing the gap between
public and private housing, Fabian Society, Policy Report
62, 2009. Back
CLG, English House Condition Survey 2007 Headline Report-http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/statistics/pdf/1133548.pdf
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health-Better Housing
leads to Better Health-http://www.cieh.org/library/Policy/Publications<_>and<_>information<_>services/Policy<_>publications/Good<_>Housing<_>Leads<_>to<_>Good<_>Health<_>2008.pdf Back
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health cost calculator-http://www.cieh.org/library/Knowledge/Housing/HHSRS<_>cost<_>calculator.xls Back
"Health begins at Home"-Joint Annual Public Health
Report for Kingston 2008-http://www.kingstonpct.nhs.uk/<_>assets/documents/Public%20Health%20Annual%20Report08FINAL%20(2).pdf Back
"Decent Homes Better Health" (Sheffield Decent Homes
Health Impact Assessment)- http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/research/centres/whocc/sdh<_>hia<_>report.pdf Back
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Survey of Local
Authority Regulatory Activity under the Housing Act 2004, 2008-http://www.cieh.org/library/Knowledge/Housing/Housing%20survey.pdf Back
Under the HHSRS, if a neighbour noise is the result of inadequate
sound insulation, the noise is rateable under the HHSRS ie if
normal domestic noise can be heard because of a lack of sound
insulation it could be a Category 1 hazard. Back