Decent homes standard

This section covers the implementation of the standard and its suitability to Northern Ireland.


The Decent Homes Standard was introduced in June 2004 to promote measurable improvements to housing in Northern Ireland.

The Decent Homes Standard arose from the UK Government’s Housing Green Paper – ‘Quality and Choice: A Decent Home for All’ and the standard was first published in England in April 2002. The Decent Homes Standard incorporates four main criteria:

  • the statutory minimum fitness standard for housing
  • repair
  • modern facilities and services
  • thermal comfort

Any property that does not meet all four criteria is deemed to have failed the standard. 

The 2006 House Condition Survey in Northern Ireland found that around 9 per cent of Housing Association dwellings would have failed the Decent Homes Standard, and of those that failed, 94 per cent did so on the ‘thermal comfort’ criterion.

Older dwellings were estimated to be much more likely to fail, with only 1 per cent of Housing Association dwellings built after 1980 estimated to fail.

Implementing the Decent Homes Standard

Associations are required to have a properly resourced maintenance and improvement programme to maximise the lettable life of their housing stock. This also includes major repairs and other necessary repair and replacement works. To undertake this task Associations are required to have detailed ‘profile’ knowledge of its stock and condition.

An Association needs to know the condition of its stock, including the state of repair and energy efficiency. This will involve regular survey and inspection of the stock and existing techniques may need to be modified or enhanced to ‘capture’ the state of the stock in respect of the Decent Homes Standard. Advice on stock surveys is available in the National Housing Federation publication - Stock Condition Surveys: a guide for registered social landlords (3rd edition June 2006).

For more information see Stock condition survey

The Association should monitor the total number of its dwellings that fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard. In the case of individual dwellings, where the standard cannot be met because the tenant does not want the work carried out, these will be measured separately.

Associations will need to consult Tenants, in the normal way, on any proposed work to be undertaken on their homes. Where an individual tenant does not want work carried out on their homes to bring it up to the Decent Homes Standard, then the dwelling can remain below the standard until it is vacated, at which time the necessary works can be undertaken. It is important that Associations maintain records of all such instances.  The exception to this is where works are required to maintain the structural integrity of the dwelling or to prevent other components within the dwelling from deteriorating.

Grants for energy conservation works to existing dwellings may be available to Associations from a number of sources. In order to access these grants, the Association may have to make a case for funding and pay a proportion of the cost of any measures undertaken. 

The Decent Homes Standard applicable to Northern Ireland

In April 2006 the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS) replaced the Housing Fitness Standard in England and Wales.  Under HHSRS criteria, to be defined as decent a home should be free of Category 1 hazards.

Subsequently current NI decent homes standard is not comparable with England & Wales due to the different fitness standard applied.  The current fitness standard will continue to be used as the minimum benchmark for housing in Northern Ireland; however this may be reviewed under future legislation.  

In order to meet the Decent Homes Standard applicable to Northern Ireland, a dwelling must:

(a) meet the current statutory minimum fitness standard for housing - the fitness standard is set out in Article 46 of the Housing (NI) Order 1981. Under the fitness standard, a dwelling is fit for human habitation unless, in the opinion of the relevant Authority, it fails to meet one or more of the minimum requirements

For further information see The current statutory minimum fitness standard for housing

(b) be in a reasonable state of repair – dwellings that fail to meet this criterion are those where:

  • one or more of the key components are old and, because of their condition, need replacing or major repair, or
  • two or more other building components are old and, because of their condition, need replacing or major repair

A building component can only fail to satisfy this criterion by being old and requiring replacing or repair – a component cannot fail this criterion based on age alone.

For further information see Minimum fitness standard

(c) have reasonably modern facilities and services - dwellings that fail to meet this criterion are those that lack three or more of the following:

  • a reasonably modern kitchen (20 years old or less)
  • a kitchen with adequate space and layout
  • a reasonably modern bathroom (30 years old or less)
  • an appropriately located bathroom and WC
  • adequate insulation against external noise (where external noise is a problem)
  • adequate size and layout of common areas for blocks of flats

A dwelling lacking up to two of the above is still classed as decent therefore it is not necessary to modernise kitchens and bathrooms if a home passes the remaining criteria.

For further information see Minimum fitness standard.

(d) provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort - this requires effective insulation and heating.

For further information see Reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

In applying the Decent Home Standard, Associations should note that:

  • the Decent Homes Standard must be sustainable in the long term, and applied to stock that will have a foreseeable future demand
  • it is a standard that triggers action, not one to which work is carried out

Associations are not expected to carry out work that only contributes to the standard, but may need to consider, as an example:

  • building components that may fail early and need urgent replacement or repair
  • environmental and ‘designing out crime’ works - which are not included in the standard – but which may have a high priority in some locations

The standard applies to all types of self-contained, dwellings, including sheltered housing and non-self contained (ie shared) and supported housing. However, the standard does not specifically apply to short-stay hostels etc. 

Action by the Association

The Association should undertake any surveys necessary to identify those dwellings that fail the standard and plan how the 2010 target can be achieved.  Any works required may need to be planned in conjunction with other works and improvements scheduled for the dwellings.

Any queries on the content of this guidance should be addressed to:

Housing Division
Causeway Exchange
1-7 Bedford Street
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