Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH)

  The CIEH[1] is a professional and educational awarding body with some 10,500 members working both in the public and private sector, many of whom are at the forefront of tackling poor health and housing conditions.

  According to a recent report[2] from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) there are 3.2 million vulnerable households living in the private sector in 2005 of which 1.1 million live in non decent homes. [3]The existing Government target will still leave over 800,000 vulnerable households in non decent homes in the private sector by 2020. In contrast the target is for all social housing to be made decent by 2010. Recent research carried out on a Sheffield Decent Homes health impact assessment, "Decent Homes: Better Health",[4] has produced evidence that demonstrates the health benefits of making homes drier and warmer. A conclusion made from this is that children will be the main beneficiaries with a reduction of the likely incidences of Asthma.

  Since April 2006, the HHSRS provides a tool for local authorities to deal with conditions that include respiratory and allergic attacks. The system has used available evidence to support the approach of hazard assessment and, in this instance, it is particularly relevant for the hazards of excess cold, damp and mould and domestic hygiene, pests and refuse. Local authorities have enforcement powers to improve conditions in the private sector but whilst they use those powers when and where necessary in the private rented sector they are reluctant, for obvious reasons, to use them on owner-occupiers. Enforcement action alone cannot be expected to improve poor housing conditions and more incentive is required to encourage all home owners to repair and maintain their homes, particularly owner-occupiers. The Home Information Pack, being introduced by DCLG, provides an opportunity to improve matters but the inclusion of a house condition report is voluntary so there is still insufficient emphasis on the condition of homes compared with their value.

  The CIEH has formed a Commission on Housing Renewal and Public Health[5]. The Commission's interim report has found that the rate of replacement of very poorest areas of housing has fallen to very low levels. It is inevitable that in these poorest areas of housing there is an increased risk of exposure to allergic conditions yet the assessment of these areas lacks any specific reference to health. The Commission recommends, amongst other things, that the DCLG guidance on Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment[6] is revised to include a health impact assessment of the different options for action.

  Internationally, particularly in Europe, a great deal of work has been done on air quality and its harmful effects. In particular, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe has developed a number of projects in the last few years. One such project has been to develop indoor air quality guidelines. Another is the children's environment and health action plan for Europe (CEHAPE) which has produced a table of child specific actions for member states including indoor and outdoor exposure to allergens. They also have been developing environmental health information systems (ENHIS) which includes information on the health impacts of poor indoor air quality and suggestions for policies in relation to this.

  In America, a study[7]has confirmed that the presence of rat and mouse allergens in the home as being associated with asthma attacks. This is also a concern bearing in mind the reported increase in the rodent population in the UK in recent years. A similar study[8] has demonstrated the potential harmful effects associated with cockroach allergens.

1   Fuller information on CIEH can be found on the website Back

2   English House Condition Survey-2005 Headline Report, January 2007. Back

3   Decent home: is one that meets the following four criteria:

(a) It meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing (fitness standard for the reporting period of this survey)§.

(b) It is in a reasonable state of repair (related to the age and condition of a range of building components including walls, roofs, windows, doors, chimneys, electrics and heating systems).

(c) It has reasonably modern facilities and services (related to the age, size and layout/location of the kitchen, bathroom and WC and any common areas for blocks of flats, and to noise insulation).

(d) It provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort (related to insulation and heating efficiency).

§ From April 2006 the fitness standard was replaced by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).] The detailed definition for each of these criteria is included in A Decent Home: Definition and guidance for implementation, Communities and Local Government, June 2006. Back

4   Decent Homes: Better Health, Sheffield Hallam University, July 2006. Back

5   Fuller information on CIEH can be found on the

website Back

6   ODPM 2004, Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment: Guidance Manual, London. Back

7   Cohn R D et al (2004). National prevalence and exposure risk for mouse allergen in US households. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 113:1167-1171. Back

8   Cohn R D, et al (2006) National prevalence and exposure risk for cockroach allergen in US households, Environmental Health Perspectives 114(4): 522-6. Back

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