Private Sector Housing: Complaints And Improving Health Of Occupants
Complaints: Receiving and Dealing with them
The health of people is affected by the housing conditions. When the individuals have inadequate housing, it results and causes a number of injuries and diseases, which could have been prevented. These diseases and injuries include nervous and respiratory system damage, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases (CIEH, 2015). Owing to the poor construction or designing of homes, the majority of homes accidents were caused. Some of the priority issues in context of private sector housing include indoor environmental conditions, residential housing environments, comfort and energy conditions, and home safety (Islington, 2015).
To bring into perspective the need of paying heed on the matter of private housing, some figures prove to be of assistance. A survey conducted in 2007 in Salford City established that there were 25,563 dwellings in private sector which failed in meeting the decency standards. The key reason for this failure was owing to category 1 hazards. 66% of the non-decent homes failed in one of the four categories, and in these groups of non decent homes, private rented, vacant properties, pre-1919 dwellings and converted flats were included. Also, Salford had a more than the national average proportion of such non decent private dwellings (Salford City Council, 2015).
This highlights the need of bringing improvements in the private sector housing, across the nation. This discussion attempts to confer the practical implications of Housing Act, 2004. In doing so, the focus would be on provisions related to defects and disrepair under Part 1 of this act, along with the provisions covered under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. The discussion would also encompass the 3 E Concept, in terms of education, encouragement and enforcement to bring out these improvements in private sector housing.
When there is a condition of disrepair in the private sector housing, different venues can be used by the aggrieved party, based on the situation being faced by them (Law Commission, 2008). For instance, in the case of disrepair in private rented property, it is the responsibility of the landlord to make certain that the property let out by them is safe for occupation. Where an individual is a tenant and they face problems with regards to the repair work of the rented property, they have to contact the agent of the landlord, or the landlord himself and have to give them the opportunity of putting the matters right. Where the repairs continue to be pending even after a reasonable period of time, there is a need to write to the agent or the landlord and request them to carry out the necessary repairs. Where the work is still not undertaken, or a response is not give, a private sector housing team has to be contacted by the tenant. This private sector housing team would then arrange a visit to the house of the landlord, in which the tenant lives, and inspect it completely. The team can, if the need be they take out enforcement actions where the landlord can be forced to undertake the necessary repairs (Medway Council, 2018).
It is important that the matter is brought before the Private Sector Housing Team where the landlord or their agent fails in responding to the letters which had been sent. It is crucial that the complaint making party, i.e. the tenant, provides the Private Sector Housing Team with proper documents, which include the full name and the address of the property, the contact details of the complaining party, list of problems which are associated with the property. The name and address of the landlord or these details for the agent of landlord, their contact details, the date on which the landlord had been last contacted for the repairs, the copies of emails or letters sent by the tenant and that of the landlord, and the duration for which the tenant occupied the property. It is the endeavour of the Private Sector Housing Team to solve the problem of the complaining party at the earliest (Medway Council, 2018).
So, the complaints are initially made to the party with which the aggrieved party has problems, firstly orally and then in a written manner. Only when the matter remains unsolved, is the matter to be placed before the Private Sector Housing Team, who then inspects the property and takes appropriate action. In order to understand this entire process better, the details of appropriate legislation, its key features, and the role of local housing authorities need to be understood in detail (Arden and Dymond, 2012).
The private sector housing faces a number of challenges owing to the obligations placed by the government and owing to the profile of the district. The key problem is raised due to the number of properties which are present in the private sector which are deemed as being in non-decent, poor repair and deemed as serious hazard. The Housing Act, 2004 is a key piece of legislation which had been passed in the Parliament of UK (Elliott and Thomas, 2014). This legislation has major implications for the private sector housing. This act provides a range of tools in private sector, along with making various changes to the private sector housing statutory framework. Through this legislation, the mandatory licensing schemes were brought in, for the houses in multiple occupations. This legislation also started the selective licensing of private landlords in the low demand area and for the partners for leading long term empty homes in a compulsory manner. Through this legislation, new powers were introduced, which extend the introductory tenancies’ length to eighteen months, along with a tenancy deposit scheme for protection of the deposits of private tenant (Silverman, 2014).
Through this act, the earlier fitness standard had been replaced with the Housing and Safety Rating System, which is also referred to as HHSRS. This system also replaced the earlier focus on conditioning of bricks and mortar. A comprehensive assessment of the effects on occupants of the housing conditions, on their assessing basic decency standards and on their health, is required through the HHSRS (Carr, 2005). The HHSRS also sets out the minimum decency standards and it is set as the duty of council in taking the necessary action, when any category 1 hazard is uncovered. Along with this, the legislation also brought out the enforcement regime which was designed to improve the standards in the private sector. Where such happens that the private sector housing team has the reasons for entering any property, they would undertake the inspection of whole property and rate it on the HHSRS (Gruis, Tsenkova and Nieboer, 2009).
The focus of the private sector housing team is on improving the housing conditions by use of education and advice in the private sector. This can be done through forum of landlords and are this forum answers the queries and also provides the landlords with necessary advice. The enforcement tools which are given through this legislation include the following:
- Improvement notices: This is made use of when there is a possibility of reducing the hazard in a sufficient manner through reasonable remedial works.
- Prohibition orders: Through this order, there is a prohibition placed on using any or all of the premises for all or certain purposes or occupation by certain description or particularly number of people. This order is deemed as appropriate in such cases where the conditions pose a threat but the remedial action is impractical or unreasonable.
- Hazard Awareness Notices: Such notices are made use of when the hazard has been identified, but the same is not of serious nature which could require a formal action to be taken. The need here is of bringing the notice on the requirement for remedial action. There is no requirement of putting this notice as land charge and there is no procedure for appealing.
- Emergency Remedial Action: There is a single acceptable use when there is imminent risk of harm, and there is a requirement to be rated as hazard in first category.
- Emergency Protection Order: This order is made use of only in the imminent serious harm risk cases, and where the hazard is rated under no. 1 category in such a manner that it becomes impractical to carry the remedial work.
- Demolition Oder: In response to first category hazards, this order can be used, but the building cannot be listed in such cases.
- Clearance Area: All of the residential buildings in the prescribed region need to have a minimum of one first category hazard.
- Prohibition order or Suspend Improvement Notices: There is a possibility of suspending such notices in such cases where the enforcement action can be postponed till a specified time or event in a safe manner (Wiltshire Council, 2017).
Part I of the Housing Act 2004 covers the provisions related to dealing with the housing conditions. The key provision of this part of the legislation is HHSRS which brings with it a risk assessment system regarding the housing conditions’ effect over the health of the occupiers. The scoring for every hazard is ranked on the basis of bands. The hazards which fall in Band A to Banc C are quite serious in nature. Due to these reasons, they are classed under Category 1. Category 2 covers the less serious hazards which fall under the bands of D to J. The local councils have the duty of taking the most appropriate action regarding the first category hazards, and there is discretion in exercising the powers in context of hazards covered under Category 2 (Bolton, 2006).
The first category hazards are raised where a hazard gets to a scope of thousand or over it under the HHSRS, and the second category hazards are raised where the hazard gets to a significant score up to 999 under the HHSRS (Bedford Borough Council, 2018). The HHSRS covers 29 hazards and these include dampness, excess heat/ cold; poor hygiene, water supply and sanitation; explosions, structural collapse, collisions; pollutants like lead, asbestos and carbon monoxide; accidents like scalds, burns, fires, falls and electric shocks; lack of space, excessive noise, and lighting or security (Asset Skills, 2006).
Relevant Duties of Local Authorities
The local housing authorities had for over eight years held the power of dealing with the poor quality housing. The earlier provisions which had been covered under Housing Act 1985 were changed through Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004. With this, the HHSRS was brought (Medway, 2018). It placed the emphasis over the effects on occupiers instead the same being placed on the buildings itself. Under the HHSR system, the local housing authorities assess the rating of the hazards in any building and they make use of this for assessing the actions which are required to be adopted. There have been new enforcement powers like prohibition notices and improvement notices, along with the powers of dealing with emergencies where the cases of urgent hazards are present. Through the HHSRS, the local authorities assess housing conditions and make decision on the actions which are required to be undertaken for dealing with the poor housing (Driscoll, 2004).
The score in HHSRS is based upon the potential occupant’s risks that are in the age group of the most vulnerable in context of that hazard. Though, when it has to be determined on what action has to be taken, the local council does not only consider the score but also that whether it is the discretion or duty of the council in acting, the track record of the owners, the views of occupiers, the presence of other major hazard on property, risk of social exclusion of groups which are vulnerable from the private rented sector, and the risk to the present and possible future occupiers and the regular visitors. The local housing authorities can serve a formal notice on the landlord where they are required to carry out the work needed for eliminating or reducing the hazards. Upon the notice becoming an operative failure in compliance with notice, without any reasonable excuse, it becomes an offence. When such happens, the local housing authority can prosecute or carry out the works in default (Rother District Council, 2016).
In order to take action and address the complaints which the practitioners working in the Private Sector Housing Team can come across when they work in the private sector housing, it is crucial that the aforementioned details are given proper focus. Where the focus is placed in context of the local authority environmental health practitioner, it is important that the complaint process is properly followed. It is important that when the Private Sector Housing Team is presented with a complaint, a thorough analysis of the property in context is being analysed. It is also important that all the relevant documentation related to the complaint is collected, along with the evidence which is required to establish the category of hazard. Where the individuals are not aware of the required documents, they are required to be made aware of all such factors.
Another substantial point is that the investigation is not carried only on the specific complaint which has been made, but has to cover investigation on every type of defect and disrepair which would contribute towards the category based risks. In this regard, there is a need to look out for damp and mould growth which makes the children below the age of 14 vulnerable. There is a need to look out for sources of excess heat or excess cold. Being an environmental health practitioner, there is a need to be vigilant about asbestos, carbon monoxide, fuel combustion products, uncombusted fuel gas, biocides, lead, radiation, domestic hygiene, noise, explosions, fire, and other related hazards. There are specific groups of hazards made, which ease up the identification work in terms of physiological, pollutants (non-microbial), psychological requirements, protection against infection, protection against accidents, electric shocks, scalds, fires and burns, and strains, collisions and cuts (New Castle City Council, 2018). In undertaking these investigations, special equipments are made use of by the Private Sector Housing Team. For instance, moulds and damp growth can be checked without special equipments, but to check the presence of lead, there is a need of having the specialized equipments which can identify the presence of lead.
In order to bring awareness on the provisions which are covered under the Housing Act, 2004 and as have been highlighted here in this report, there is a need to adopt the 3 E approach.
In terms of education, there is a need to analyse the manner in which the people can be asked to change, and the benefits which would be attained from this. Education is the most important tool, which can help a person in knowing their rights, particularly in context of this legislation. This would allow for an individual to know that where the rented accommodation they have, or the apartment brought by them has possibilities of hazard taking place, they can ask the landlord or the apartment builder to undertake proper measures to remove such hazard. There is a need for the individuals in England and Wales to be made aware of the fact that they can take actions against the relevant individuals to get safe housing accommodation.
This is particularly true in cases of private housing, where the Housing Act, 2004 helps the individuals, particularly the vulnerable ones, from different hazards. The discussion summarized above needs to be presented before the general public, in order to know their rights, and to know the other details, like the possible hazards which would give them the right of approaching the Private Sector Housing Teams to get the defect or disrepair fixed. Educating the individuals in this context would help them in building better lives.
The education is not enough and the people have to be encouraged to change. Knowledge is not enough for the individuals to be encouraged to take actions, particularly against their own landlord. Often the individuals refrain from taking actions as they do not want to be indulged in such acts. This is a major problem as their health is threatened, in terms of lead or asbestos poisoning, radiation related cancer, poor lighting, or extreme cold or heat posing death threats. Thus, there is a need for the individuals to be encouraged to use their rights and safeguard themselves against the health threats posed due to poor condition of the apartment or accommodation. The legislation has been drawn with the purpose of protecting such individuals, and it is crucial that the proper use of this legislation is made for the purpose it was drawn.
It is not enough to educate and encourage the individuals only; there is a need to ensure that these measures are enforced in order to bring out the key benefit out of these measures. As stated earlier, not all the education provided to the individuals is actually made use of. Once the individuals have been educated and encouraged enough to protect their living conditions based on the discussion undertaken earlier, there is a need to help such individuals in enforcing such measures, and in ensuring that the individuals are able to make use of their rights given under the Housing Act, 2004 to protect their rights.
To bring this discussion to its conclusion, it is important to state here that the Housing Act, 2004 is a landmark legislation, which ensures that the rights of the individuals in the nation are protected. Even though this legislation has been present since a long time, there still continue to be conditions where the individuals are provided with poor living conditions, and the statistics put in this discussion highlight the same. The individuals have the right of making complaints and getting the matters of disrepair and damage solved; yet, these are not used as much as they should be. Thus, there is a need to adopt “3 E” approach in this context, where the people of UK are educated, encouraged and made to enforce the different provisions of the quoted legislation, particularly the one covered under Part 1 of this legislation. This would help them in steering clear from hazards in their homes and living a healthy and safe life.
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