Tackling Fuel Poverty in the Private Rented Sector Using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

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Date: 2011
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Rationale

Local authorities possess significant powers of inspection and enforcement over rented accommodation within their boundaries, which have been enhanced by legislation over the past 20 years (e.g. the Housing Act 2004). At the same time, tackling fuel poverty has become an important agenda for councils. It is known that fuel poverty is disproportionately present in the private rented sector (PRS), which is mainly due to substandard energy efficiency and heating within many properties. Earlier studies have shown that the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) has been an effective mechanism for reducing fuel poverty in PRS housing. However, this system has not been widely adopted by local authorities. 





Key research Question

To examine whether uptake of the HHSRS had increased in the intervening period and understand the reasons for any change, with a view to developing a best-practice resource to encourage greater interest in, and commitment to, the system. 



Summary of activity

The project involved a literature review of the policy context with regard to fuel poverty and housing standards and the relevant duties, regulations and guidance. Then a workshop was held with stakeholders with expertise in the areas of fuel poverty and the PRS. In addition, data were collected via interviews with a range of stakeholders in housing and health, including local authority environmental health practitioners, in order to ascertain how the HHSRS was being used and where. The evidence gathered was used to develop case studies focusing on local authorities that have employed the HHSRS to address fuel poverty. A toolkit was produced that offered guidance to local government on the HHSRS and its potential for promoting energy efficiency in the PRS. It also included case studies and other relevant information. 





Findings

The interviews found that, while uptake of the HHSRS was increasing, it was still not universally employed by local authorities, despite their duty under the Housing Act 2004 to handle referrals, utilise the HHSRS more effectively and undertake systematic reviews of the housing stock to assess Category 1 and 2 hazards. 

Many of the barriers identified in an earlier study (see ‘Linked projects’ below) remained in existence at local authorities. These included insufficient resources to implement the HHSRS, a lack of clarity regarding proper assessment and enforcement, and inadequate responses to complaints, referrals and requests. 

Important lessons were obtained from the piloting of the toolkit. Specific lessons were as follows: improved collaboration between council departments enabled the local authority to target a greater number of properties, working with neighbouring authorities increased regional capacity, and more awareness-raising with frontline staff offered opportunities for increases in referrals.  



Recommendations

  • For national government, the report advocated that the HHSRS must retain its statutory backing and monitoring of local authorities’ compliance should be implemented. Improved guidance is needed for local authorities on assessing housing conditions and tackling examples of poor housing, and Energy Performance Certificate data must be shared more widely with local government. Better liaison with landlord bodies is needed to drive up standards, and consideration should be given to how the implementation of Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 will be funded. 

  • Local government must ensure proactive use of the HHSRS in the PRS and that there are the resources to do this. The HHSRS should be incorporated into appropriate strategies, and a full audit of housing stock is needed to comply with the Housing Act 2004. More work with landlords and tenants is needed in terms of their duties and rights with regard to housing standards and the energy efficiency schemes they can benefit from. 



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