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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Housing Rights calls for a new fitness standard

Last year, advisers at Housing Rights dealt with almost 3,000 issues relating to housing conditions. Of those people contacting us for assistance on dealing with poor housing:

  • 71% were living in the private rented sector
  • 14% were living in the social rented sector
  • 10% did not specify their tenure
  • 4% were owner occupiers and
  • 1% were homeless or were living in temporary accommodation. 

The figures for the private rented sector are especially worrying considering that the sector is continuing to grow in importance, with 1 in 5 households now living in the sector and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive increasingly using the sector when discharging its statutory duties to homeless persons. Housing Rights believes that the opportunity presented by the review of the role and regulation of the private rented sector, aligned with changes to the fitness standard, has the potential to yield maximum improvements to housing conditions in this sector

Why Northern Ireland needs a new fitness standard

In our response to the Department for Communities’ (DfC) ‘Review of the Statutory Minimum Housing Fitness Standard for all Tenures of Dwelling’, Housing Rights calls for the current housing fitness standard, which dates from 1981, to be replaced with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

Unlike the current fitness standard, which looks only at the bricks and mortar of a dwelling and is essentially a pass or fail test, the HHSRS provides a much more holistic and rounded assessment of a dwelling and of the risks it poses to occupants, especially older people and children. The HHSRS has already been operating in England and Wales for a number of years and has also been adopted by the United States.

Links between poor housing and poor health

The link between poor housing and poor health is well documented. It is estimated that unfit dwellings costs the NHS in NI about £33m per year. Replacing the current fitness standard with the HHSRS, which looks at the direct link between standards and the impact on people’s health and wellbeing, could lead to substantial savings to the NHS.

The implementation of the HHSRS is also particularly relevant to the Draft Programme for Government Framework 2016-21, currently out for consultation. If adopted, the HHSRS would link well with and assist in delivering on some of the outcomes and measures proposed in the draft programme, notably:

  • enjoying long, healthy, active lives
  • having a more equal society
  • giving children and young people the best start in life
  • reducing health inequality
  • reducing preventable deaths

The cost of poor housing is also being looked at  by the Department of Health at Westminster as part of the UK government's attempts to assess the financial impact of poor housing on health bodies and local authorities.

Read our response to the review of the statutory minimum housing fitness standard for all tenures of dwelling

Tagged In

Fitness, Policy


Sharon Geary

This article was written on 14 June 2016. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.