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Implementing the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, Parts 1 and 2: Advisory and Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities: Volume 4 Tolerable Standard

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Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1. This guidance is one of six volumes of guidance for local authorities on implementing the powers and duties in Parts 1 and 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006. The six volumes are:

Volume 1 Preparing and Delivering
Volume 2
Housing Renewal Areas and Repair, Improvement and Demolition
Volume 3 Maintenance
Volume 4 Tolerable Standard
Volume 5 Scheme of Assistance
Volume 6 Work to Meet the Needs of Disabled People

Who is this guidance for?

1.2. The main audience for this volume of guidance is the range of professionals who work closely with the tolerable standard. This includes:

  • staff who assess whether individual houses meet the tolerable standard - such as local authority environmental health officers, building standards staff and private sector housing officers, as well as technical staff from registered social landlords ( RSLs);
  • professionals who carry out local or national house condition surveys - such as the Scottish House Condition Survey team, local authority staff and consultants; and
  • local authority housing strategy staff who are involved in developing local housing strategies and broader housing policy

1.3. The guidance will also be of interest to a wider readership, including local authority staff who deal with environmental and corporate issues, advice agencies, homeowners and tenants.

Purpose of the guidance

1.4. The purpose of this guidance is to provide practical advice to housing staff and other professionals who work with the tolerable standard. This is the first formal guidance that government has ever produced on the tolerable standard.

1.5. The Housing Improvement Task Force ( HITF) highlighted that there is scope for variation in the interpretation of the tolerable standard. It also noted difficulties in producing accurate estimates in the number of houses that fall below the tolerable standard (" BTS" houses). It recommended that there should be guidance to address these points. Our own research has shown that local authorities are keen to have access to guidance that helps them work with the tolerable standard 1.

1.6. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 ("the 2006 Act") introduced changes to the tolerable standard. This guidance covers the entire tolerable standard, not just the new provisions.

Status of this guidance

1.7. The 2006 Act gives Scottish Ministers the power to give guidance on the definition of houses not meeting the tolerable standard. Chapters four onwards give guidance on the individual elements of the tolerable standard and have the status of statutory guidance (which is highlighted in the headers of those chapters). This means that local authorities must have regard to these chapters when making decisions about whether houses meet the tolerable standard. But the guidance is not an authoritative statement of the law. Local authorities must satisfy themselves that they comply with the legislation, and may wish to take their own legal advice.

1.8. The courts may rule on the interpretation of the law in particular cases. But if local authorities or others use case law as a precedent, they should take care to ensure that it is strictly relevant.

1.9. Chapters one to three of this guidance do not have statutory status. This means that local authorities are not legally required to have regard to these when making decisions. These parts of the guidance are advisory (as highlighted in the headers), and intended to assist local authorities and others to work effectively with the tolerable standard.

How we developed this guidance

1.10. We set up an expert group to advise us on the production of draft guidance, which we consulted on in 2008. The group's membership reflected the range of housing and other professional bodies that work with the tolerable standard as well as organisations with a relevant technical expertise.

1.11. Although this is the first formal guidance on the tolerable standard, housing staff and other professionals have a wealth of practical experience in assessing whether houses meet the standard. The guidance draws extensively on the knowledge of individuals and organisations who work in local authority enforcement roles and on national and local house condition surveys.

1.12. We are grateful to group members for sharing their experience and expertise with us and for their advice through the drafting process. Annex A lists the membership of the expert group.

1.13. The draft guidance was revised following the consultation. An analysis report of the responses received, and a consultation report setting out the Government's response to the key issues, is available via www.scotland.gov.uk.

How to use the guidance

1.14. Professionals from a wide range of disciplines and differing levels of technical knowledge work with the tolerable standard. The guidance covers a number of technical areas. But it does not offer in-depth technical advice on house construction or repairs and maintenance. We have written it in a style that should be accessible and understandable to people with a basic understanding of house construction and maintenance issues.

1.15. This guidance is not exhaustive. But it does cover many of the common situations and decisions housing staff and other professionals will face. In some cases, deciding whether a house meets the tolerable standard will be a relatively straightforward judgement that staff from a range of professional backgrounds will be comfortable with. Other situations, for example those involving judgements about structural stability or electrical installations, may require a qualified specialist to make an informed decision.

1.16. This guidance does not set out a prescriptive approach to working with the tolerable standard. Assessing an individual house against the tolerable standard should always be a matter of professional judgement. Similarly, a local authority's strategic decisions about how to deal with BTS houses at an area level should always reflect local circumstances and priorities, and we encourage local authorities to develop working arrangements with all relevant interests. We intend this guidance to be a practical tool for housing staff and other professionals, to complement their own expertise, experience and local knowledge and help ensure consistent decision-making.

Structure of the guidance

1.17. Chapter two:

  • explains the origin of the tolerable standard and charts how it has changed over time;
  • describes local authorities' duties in relation to the tolerable standard and gives advice on how to fulfil them; and
  • summarises the current powers available to local authorities to deal with BTS houses.

1.18. Chapter three:

  • explains that housing staff and other professionals use the tolerable standard for two distinct purposes;
  • highlights the relevance of the guidance for both purposes; and
  • offers tips on how to use the remaining chapters of the guidance.

1.19. Chapters four onwards set out practical advice to help in the assessment of whether houses meet the tolerable standard. Each chapter focuses on a specific element of the standard.

Private Housing Quality Unit
Scottish Government

March 2009