The current statutory minimum fitness standard for housing
The current statutory minimum fitness standard for housing - the fitness standard is set out in Schedule 5 of the Housing (NI) Order 1992, and states that for a dwelling to be fit for human habitation it must:
- be structurally stable
- free from serious disrepair
- free from dampness prejudicial to the health of the occupants (if any)
- have adequate provision for lighting, heating and ventilation
- have an adequate piped supply of wholesome water
- have satisfactory facilities in the house for the preparation and cooking of food, including a sink with a satisfactory supply of hot and cold water
- have a suitably located water-closet for the exclusive use of the occupants (if any)
- have a suitably located fixed bath or shower and wash-hand basin each of which is provided with a satisfactory supply of hot and cold water, for the exclusive use of the occupants (if any) and
- have an effective system for the draining of foul, waste and surface water
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 above requirements.
Reasonable modern facilities and services
This section covers what standards are used in House Condition Surveys and what is a reasonable facility and service - 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
The ages used to define the 'modern' kitchen and bathroom are less than those for the disrepair criterion. This is to take account of the modernity of kitchens and bathrooms, as well as their functionality and condition. This allows for dwellings to be improved to a more modern standard than would simply be achieved by applying the disrepair criterion.
These standards have been used in House Condition Surveys for many years - for example:
- a kitchen failing on adequate space and layout would be one that was too small to contain all the required items (sink, cupboards cooker space, worktops etc) appropriate to the size of the dwelling
- an inappropriately located bathroom and WC is one where the main bathroom or WC is located in a bedroom or accessed through a bedroom (unless the bedroom is not used or the dwelling is for a single person). A dwelling would also fail if the main WC is external or located on a different floor to the nearest wash hand basin, or if a WC without a wash hand basin opens on to a kitchen in an inappropriate area, for example next to the food preparation area
- inadequate insulation from external airborne noise would be where there are problems with, for example, traffic (rail, road and aeroplanes) or factory noise. Associations should ensure reasonable insulation from these problems through installation of appropriate acoustic glazing and
- inadequate size and layout of common entrance areas for blocks of flats would be one with insufficient room to manoeuvre easily for example where there are narrow access ways with awkward corners and turnings, steep staircases, inadequate landings, absence of handrails, low headroom etc
Associations may work to different detailed standards than those set out above - in some instances there may be factors that may make the improvements required to meet the decent homes standards challenging, or impossible, factors such as physical or planning restrictions.
Where such limiting factors occur the property should be assessed to determine the most satisfactory course of action in consultation with the relevant body or agency so as to determine the best solution. The outcome may determine that some improvements may be possible even if all are not. A dwelling would not fail this criterion, where it is impossible to make the required improvements to components for planning reasons.
Reasonable degree of thermal comfort
Associations should take the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency and install insulation that meets current NI Building Regulations standards.
Providing a reasonable degree of thermal comfort requires efficient heating and effective insulation.
Efficient heating is defined as any gas or oil programmable central heating or electric storage heaters eg off-peak or Economy 7 tariff (Or programmable LPG/solid fuel central heating or similarly efficient heating systems which may be developed in the future), or electric storage heaters where all other options are not feasible. Heating sources that provide less energy efficient options fail the decent home standard. Programmable heating is where the occupants can control the timing and the temperature of the heating.
Because of the differences in efficiency between gas/oil heating systems and the other heating systems listed, the level of insulation that is appropriate also differs:
- for dwellings with gas/oil programmable heating, cavity wall insulation (if there are cavity walls that can be insulated effectively) or loft insulation that meets current NI Building Regulations standards (if there is loft space) is an effective package of insulation and
- for dwellings heated by electric storage heaters/LPG/programmable solid fuel central heating a higher specification of insulation is required: loft insulation that at least meets current NI Building Regulations standards (if there is a loft) and cavity wall insulation (if there are cavity walls that can be insulated effectively)
Loft insulation thickness of 50mm is a minimum designed to trigger action on the worst housing. Where insulation is being fitted, Associations should take the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency and install insulation that meets current NI Building Regulations standards.
Where new heating systems are being installed or existing system replaced Associations should take the opportunity to increase the energy efficiency of the dwelling if possible. This would be achieved through installing energy efficient boilers where possible. Energy efficient boilers are those with a SEDBUK A-C rating.
If new heating or insulation is being installed it is important that steps are taken to ensure the dwelling is adequately ventilated
Reasonable state of repair
Associations should consider appropriate minimum standards to use for their own local assessment and measurement of progress - dwellings which fail to meet this criterion are those where either:
- one or more of the key building components are old and because of their (poor) condition, need replacing or major repair or
- two or more other building components are old and because of their (poor) condition, need replacing or major repair
One or more key building components, or two or more other building components, must be both old and in ‘poor’ condition to render the dwelling non-decent on grounds of disrepair. Components that are old but in good condition or in ‘poor’ condition but not old would not, in themselves, cause the dwelling to fail the standard. A building component that requires replacing before it reaches its expected lifetime has failed early. Under the terms of the definition, this early failure does not render the dwelling non-decent but should be dealt with by the Association, on a normal responsive basis.
The disrepair criterion is set in such a way that it helps plan future investment needs. It is more likely to be able to predict component failure after the component has reached a certain age than predicting early failures. Where the disrepair is of a component affecting a block of flats the flats that are classed as non-decent are those directly affected by the disrepair.
The following explains and defines the various terms described above:
Key Building Components
Those that, if in poor condition, could have an immediate impact on the integrity of the building and cause further deterioration in other components. They are the external components plus internal components that have potential safety implications and include:
- external walls
- roof structure and covering
- central heating boilers
- gas fires
- storage heaters and
Lifts are not considered to be a key component unless the lift or the lift shafts have a direct effect upon the integrity of the building. If any of these components are old and need replacing, or require immediate major repair, then the dwelling is not in a reasonable state of repair and remedial action is required.
Other building components
Those that have a less immediate impact on the integrity of the dwelling. Their combined effect is therefore considered, with a dwelling not in a reasonable state of repair if two or more are old and need replacing or require immediate major repair.
Old and in ‘poor’ condition
A component is defined as 'old' if it is older than its expected or standard lifetime. The component lifetimes used for this criterion are listed below. Components are in ‘poor’ condition if they need major work, either full replacement or major repair (see the definition of ‘poor’ below).
|Buiding components (key components marked *)||Houses and bungalows||All flats in blocks of below 6 storeys||All flats in blocks of 6 or more storeys|
|Heating - central heating boiler*||15||15||15|
|Heating - central heating distribution system||40||40||40|
[Kitchens are assumed to require replacing on grounds of repair every 30 years, bathrooms every 40 years. Therefore the age aspects in the disrepair criterion are set at 30 and 40 years respectively. However, it is clear that social landlords and tenants prefer these amenities to be replaced more frequently, to enable them to be maintained at a reasonably modern standard. Thus different ages are required for kitchens and bathrooms under the reasonably modern facilities and services criterion.]
In ‘poor’ condition
The Table below sets out the definitions used within the disrepair criterion to identify whether building components are 'in poor condition'. Associations should consider appropriate minimum standards to use for their own local assessment and measurement of progress. For example, some will decide it appropriate to replace the whole roof covering if more than one third needs to be replaced.
During a stock condition survey, the surveyors should assess the extent to which individual building components require immediate work. Their judgement should be used to assess whether the components should be classified as in poor condition at the time of inspection or not. The general line is that, where a component requires some work, repair should be prescribed rather than replacement unless:
- the component is sufficiently damaged that it is impossible to repair
- the component is unsuitable, and would be even it were repaired, either because the material has deteriorated or because the component was never suitable
- (for external components) even if the component were repaired now, it would still need to be replaced within five years
|Wall structure||Replace 10% or more or repair 30% or more|
|Wall finish||Replace/repoint/renew 50% or more|
|Chimneys||1 chimney need partial rebuilding or more|
|Roof structure||Replace 10% or more or strengthen 30% or more|
|Roof covering||Replace or isolated repairs to 50% or more|
|Windows||Replace at least one window or repair/replace sash or member to at least two (excluding easing sashes, reglazing, painting)|
|External doors||Replace at least one|
|Kitchen||Major repair or replace 3 or more items out of the 6 (cold water drinking supply, hot water, sink, cooking provision, cupboards, worktop)|
|Bathroom||Major repairs or replace 2 or more items (bath, wash hand basin, WC)|
|Electrical system||Replace or major repair to system|
|Central heating boiler||Replace or major repair|
|Central heating distribution||Replace or major repair|
|Storage heaters||Replace or major repair|