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Housing and Health
The Housing Act 2004 introduced licensing for housing in multiple occupation, as in this example. The Act sets out the standards of management which must be met in order for licensing to be achieved, and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a new tool which is used to assess the potential hazards present in any property. Licensing is mandatory for the type of occupation in question since it is occupied by more than five people forming more than two households. In the current state of the property it is possible that the council could refuse the property a license, which would of course be detrimental to the services which it currently supplies in the area (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2007). It is therefore important that inter-agency working is utilized to identify all potential risk areas and address them in a way which minimizes the harm to the current residents.
The following agencies should be involved in the working group to deal with the issues in this property:
Local council environmental health department
This organization would be able to consult with the hostel management in order to identify and correct any potential health problems in the property to ensure that they meet current standards
Local fire service department
The local fire service should be able to advise the management how they need to develop the property in order to meet current fire regulations
The social services department of the local council should be able to work with the hostel management to solve any problems which would adversely affect the tenants. They should form part of the working group to ensure that the rights of the current tenants are preserved with regard to any changes agreed.
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The Housing Department
These are an important member of the working group, since they make referrals to the service, and would also be able to advise on the various issues relating to building regulations and Housing Act which need to be addressed.
Council, local or district
Since the hostel is not a privately owned residence, but is funded partially through the council, they would be an important member of a working group since they would be able to advise as to funds available to meet the required changes.
Factors to be addressed
Although there were a large number of issues addressed with the property the five which are considered most important are addressed below.
Lack of adequate fire safety
This is currently the most pressing problem, since there are large numbers of lives at risk in the event of fire, and current safety measures are considered to be completely inadequate. There is currently a lack of escape apparent in the case of fire, which means that the outer doors are currently the only means of escape in the event of fire. The downstairs door next to the kitchen is currently obstructed, which is in contravention of The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006, which states that all means of escape from fire must be kept clear of obstruction. The rear exit door was found to be locked for security reasons; while the security of the property is important this is also in contravention of the given regulations.
Disrepair of ventilation in kitchen
While the report states the kitchen was found to be generally satisfactory, there are safety issues which are of importance. These are particularly important since they again affect the safety of a large number of people, and possibly ranks equally important to the issues with fire safety. It has been identified that the kitchen in the property uses a gas cooker. There is no statement made as to whether this complies with current gas testing regulations. The disrepair of the windows in the kitchen, and the nailing shut of some windows mean that there is no natural ventilation available. This means that in the event of any type of leak the gas would be unable to dissipate and would cause great risk of gas poisoning and possibly explosion. There are also issues relating to the crumbling of the chimney breast, since the manager is also required to ensure that any flues (the chimney) are kept in good repair; this is particularly important if any gas fire is installed.
Presence of dampness
The HHSRS would consider the various types of damp in the property to be causing unsuitable living conditions. The presence of damp contributes to several disorders and illnesses, particularly in children, and has an effect on psychological well-being caused by the effect of living in damp conditions. This has been ranked of slightly less importance than the fire and gas issues as there is no immediate risk to the life of the people living in the property.
There are currently major issues with space in the property; the Housing Act 2004 states that no habitable room should be occupied by more than two people, regardless of size, discounting those under 1 year old. It also states that two individuals aged ten or over of opposite sexes should not be sharing the same room under any circumstances, unless they are co-habitees. There is high risk of psychological harm in the current situation and some potential for physical harm; however the likelihood and extent of this harm ranks below the other issues above.
Provision of amenities
Since there are 24 people currently living at the property, there should be at least five bathrooms and five WCs. The previous issue highlighted that there were already too many people living in the building, however even if the numbers are reduced the Housing Act 2004 still requires that there be at least one bathroom and one WC for every five people residing in the property. While this is an important issue it ranks lower than the other issues as there is a lower risk to the well being of the occupants caused by the issue.
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Lack of adequate fire safety
All furniture and fittings should be assessed as to meet the requirements of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. Any that do not meet the requirements need to be assessed as to whether they are necessary, and replaced if this is the case; otherwise they just need to be removed from the property. The local fire department should be able to advise as to the requirements which the furniture and fittings must meet. Although this does not directly correlate to the issue of the fire escape, it is still an important factor in reducing the risk from fire.
The fire department should also be consulted as to the best means of installing a fire escape route in the property. This consultation should occur in consultation with the councils and other funding bodies in order to reach an affordable compromise for the property. This is one of the most important action points and should take precedence in proceedings.
Disrepair of ventilation in the kitchen
The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 state that all gas equipment must be maintained in good order and inspected annually by a CORGI registered engineer. The current status of the equipment needs to be checked and a schedule drawn up for planned inspections of the current equipment. With regard to the windows there are two main options available to the hostel. The first is to simply repair the windows which are in place. This would involve extensive refitting of the wood to ensure that they are fully functioning. If security is considered an option, metal fittings could be installed on the outside of the windows. This would likely be the cheaper option initially, however the option of double glazing installation should also be considered. This would ensure that the windows would last longer than wooden framed windows, especially if there are problems with damp. It would also help with safety issues, and would make the property more energy efficient; there may also be grants available in the area which could aid in the costs. This would likely be the best option to choose when considering the long term costs and benefits. Once the issues of damp are resolved in the property, an inspection should be organized by a building professional to advise on the best course of action with regard to the chimney breast.
Presence of damp
The local Environmental Health department should be invited to study the property to ascertain the extent of the problem and the best course of action. There is likely to be little choice as to a course of action since the damp appears to have reached a point at which major action is needed to correct the problem. If there are options presented which revolve around controlling the problem without extensive building work, these may be acceptable since there are other causative factors which are already being addressed. One such causative factor is the current problem with ventilation, which has been addressed above. Once this ventilation is in place it will likely help to prevent further formation of damp. There may be options presented which would need large scale building work. This may not be in the interests of the hostel both in terms of money and disruption to the people living in the house, who have nowhere else to go while the building work takes place.
There are a number of solutions to this problem. The first is to simply take fewer families, although in the current state of the accommodation this may mean that if the families taken had several children, it may only be able to accommodate one family at a time. There may be an option for the hostel to create an extension, creating extra rooms and amenities. This may be extremely costly, however it is an option if there are deemed to be funds available from the current funders. The best available option in the short term would be to look at converting the available spaces into rooms and bathrooms. There are spaces available such as the office and the cellar, and this may be less costly than building an extension. There is also a possibility that some of the present rooms may be able to be split into half, giving two smaller rooms. This will still leave limited space, and so social services will need to work with the hostel to move the present families into independent accommodation as quickly as possible. An extension could be considered as a long term plan for the future, after projects to raise the required funding.
It is not an offence for more people to be living in the property than it is suitable for, as long as the management can prove that they are in the process of resolving the issue. This means that the current occupants could continue to live in the property, but that the numbers of new occupants would need to be limited as they leave, until the suitable number is reached. Social services should work in conjunction with the hostel in order to assure that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible, in the interests of all parties.
Provision of amenities
This issue could be resolved along with the space issue as described above, through either conversion of existing space or purpose built extension.
Department for Communities and Local Government (2007) Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation in England. Available [online] at http:// http://22.214.171.124/EnvironmentalServices/housingconditions/hmo_licensing_intro.asp. [Accessed 17th May 2007].
The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (United Kingdom).
The Housing Act 2004 (England).
The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006, No. 372 (England).
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