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Local authority help with disrepair - Housing Health and Safety Rating System

This advice applies to Wales

If your landlord has failed to do repair work, the local authority may be able to force them to take action. The local authority can do this if something causes a risk to your health or safety following an assessment under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

This page explains what the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is and what the local authority's duties are under it.

What is the Housing Health and Safety Rating System?

The HHSRS is a system that local authorities use to assess housing conditions. Local authorities have duties and powers to take action to deal with properties that have certain hazards. These hazards are set out in the HHSRS. In some cases, disrepair and other things in your home could amount to a hazard.

What is a hazard?

A hazard is any risk of harm to your health or safety because of a problem in your home, for example, because of how the property was built or because of repairs that haven't been done.

Health includes your physical and mental health.

Examples of hazards could include:

  • damp and mould growth
  • excess cold or heat
  • problems with asbestos, carbon dioxide or other dangerous gases
  • overcrowding
  • problems in keeping a property secure
  • excessive noise
  • inadequate natural or artificial light
  • protection against infection, for example, pests, quality of the water supply, sanitation and drainage facilities
  • protection against accidents, for example, risk of a fall, injury because of a defective electricity supply, meter, fuse, wiring, socket or switch, fire or structural collapse.

Which tenants can the local authority help under this system?

The local authority can best help tenants in private rented accommodation and housing association tenants. Local authority tenants have to use other options because a local authority can’t take action against itself.

In some cases, a private landlord may decide to evict a tenant rather than do repair work. Make sure you know whether you're at risk of eviction before asking the local authority for help.

Contacting the local authority about an inspection

If you've reported repairs to your landlord and they haven't done anything, you could contact the local authority. Except in urgent cases, it's best to send a letter giving information about the repair problem and why you think there's a risk to your health and safety.

It's usually the Environmental Health department that deals with inspections under the HHSRS. If they think that an inspection would be appropriate, they must carry one out.

The HHSRS applies to all residential accommodation. That includes ordinary homes, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and common parts of buildings which have one or more flats.

If you'd prefer your landlord not to know that you contacted the local authority, you can ask them to keep your complaint confidential. Local authorities have duties to keep the housing conditions in their area under review, so they could tell your landlord that they're carrying out an inspection on this basis.

In cases where there may be a risk to your health and safety, your landlord can't refuse access to an Environmental Health Officer (EHO). It's a criminal offence if they do refuse access.

You don't have to pay for an inspection to be carried out.

A letter is available for you to contact the local authority which you can adapt according to your circumstances.

What happens during an inspection?

An EHO will inspect your home and record any problems. The officer will work out if anything is a hazard. Inspectors use guidance produced by the government when carrying out inspections.

You can find HHSRS guidance on GOV.UK.

The local authority's responsibility to act

Hazards are rated according to how serious they are. Depending on the score given under the HHSRS inspection, a hazard will be described as either a category 1 hazard or a category 2 hazard. The highest risks and most dangerous hazards are in category 1. Less dangerous hazards are in category 2.

If there's a category 1 hazard, the local authority has a duty to take action against your landlord to try to resolve the problem.

If there's a category 2 hazard, the local authority has a power to take action.

What can the local authority do?

The local authority can deal with poor housing conditions in several different ways. These include:

  • serving a hazard awareness notice – this tells your landlord about a hazard in your home, but doesn't require them to do anything specific
  • serving an improvement notice – this requires your landlord to do certain work by a specific time
  • making a prohibition order – this stops the use of part or all of a building until work is done
  • taking emergency measures – this is emergency action taken to remove a risk of serious harm or an order that stops the use of a building until work is done
  • making a demolition order – this is an order to demolish a building because it is in such a bad state of repair
  • declaring a clearance area – this is where all buildings in an area are dangerous and need to be demolished.

It's up to the local authority to decide which course of action to take. It will take into account:

  • the nature of the risk to your health and safety and anyone who lives with you,
  • if you or anyone you live with is vulnerable,
  • your views and the views of anyone who supports you, for example, social services.

The local authority must provide a statement of reasons for its decision along with each copy of the notice or order that is served.

If you're not satisfied with the course of action the local authority decides to take, you may need some advice.

What happens if the landlord doesn't do the work?

In some cases, if the landlord doesn't do the required work, they can be prosecuted and fined. The local authority may also be able to do the work and charge the cost back to the landlord.

In England, local authorities can impose a civil penalty of up to £30,000 instead of prosecuting if the landlord has ignored:

  • an improvement notice
  • a prohibition order

In England, the local authority must consider government guidance called Civil penalties under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 Guidance for Local Housing Authorities  when issuing a penalty.

In England, landlords and agents who get a penalty can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) in England.

Applying for a rent repayment order (England only)

In England, if a landlord doesn't obey an improvement notice or prohibition order, a tenant (including a former tenant, licensee or anyone who's liable to pay the rent) or the local authority can apply for a rent repayment order. This would mean they could get back up to 12 months' rent.

A tenant or local authority must apply for a rent repayment order to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).

A tenant or local authority has 12 months to apply from the deadline for the landlord to obey the improvement notice or prohibition order. They can only apply for rent covering the period when the landlord committed the offence.

A tenant can only reclaim rent that wasn't paid by housing benefit or universal credit. They'll need to give the reason they're applying, any evidence of what the landlord did wrong, the date of the offence and any conviction, and proof that they paid the rent.

The tribunal must be satisfied 'beyond reasonable doubt' by the evidence if the landlord hasn't been convicted of the offence.

A rent repayment order should not affect a tenant's housing status - they'll still have to pay rent.

There's a risk that a landlord might try to evict an occupier if a rent repayment order is enforced. It's important to establish your client's housing status before advising them. They might need specialist housing advice.

More about seeking specialist housing advice

A local housing authority must consider government guidance called Rent repayment orders under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 when deciding whether to apply for an order.

Before a local authority applies for a rent repayment order, they must give the landlord a notice of intended proceedings within 12 months of the offence.

A notice of intended proceedings must say:

  • the local authority plans to apply for a rent repayment order and explain why
  • how much money the local housing authority is seeking
  • the landlord can respond to the local authority by a certain date (at least 28 days)

The local authority can't apply for a rent repayment order during this time and must consider any response from the landlord.

Complaining about the local authority

You may want to complain about the local authority if you don’t think it has acted properly. For example, if it refuses to carry out an inspection or is slow to carry one out.

Next steps

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