This week is #ForAccessibleHomes week, providing us with a fresh opportunity to restate the message about the benefits of accessible housing.
Sheron Carter is Chief Executive of Habinteg housing association
13 September 2018
But I know as a long-standing housing professional that the language and expectations are often confused. The image that it conjures up is that of a high specification wheelchair accessible home. Don’t get me wrong. These are most certainly needed, but for the estimated 1.2m people in the UK who use a wheelchair most or all the time. We promote two types of accessible home:
- A lifetime home is a general needs home designed with accessible features. The Building Regulations contain a similar standard referred to as M4(2) Category 2 accessible and adaptable dwellings. Most will have stairs that are designed to make it easier to fit a chair lift if needed. They include things like level access, wider doors, electrical sockets and windows at specified heights. A lifetime home is suitable for people with a broad range of needs. They are not exclusively for disabled people but designed to include them. The benefit is that they are easier and cheaper to adapt over time.
- Wheelchair user dwellings are designed so they can be easily adapted for a wheelchair user or are designed to fully accommodate the needs of a wheelchair user. The Building Regulations contain provisions for these under M4(3) Category 3
The Department for Work and Pensions published the latest Family Resources Survey in March 2018. It shows a significant increase in the number of disabled people rising from 11.9m (19%) in 2013/14 to 13.9m (22%) in 2016/17. The change comes from increases in working-age adults and state pension age adults reporting a disability.
A quarter of the population are disabled yet just 7% of homes meet access standards. And most of these have minimal features that may allow a disabled person to visit but not reside. For most disabled people, who do not use a wheelchair full-time, a lifetime home can make a huge difference. It does not cost a huge amount.
In 2014, E C Harris Consultancy carried out a Housing Standards Review of cost impacts for the Department for Communities and Local Government. It found that the extra cost of a lifetime home was just over £1,000. That’s less than a £1 a week over the lifetime of the home.
We are seeing more local authorities adopting policies that will ensure all new homes are built to accessibility standards. Commonly the requirement is for 75%-90% built to Cat 2 and 10-25% to Cat 3. What this has achieved is a level playing field for social and private sector house builders. Where it is the default design standard, in areas like London, many housing professionals are not even aware that they are building accessible homes.
So, we are not asking much. The NHS and adult social care are creaking under the pressures placed upon them by an ageing population. In 2015 some 1.2m hospital bed days were lost costing £820m, due to patients not having a suitable home to go to. Future proofing the housing stock and making it cheaper and easier to adapt makes good business sense. We just need the right policy environment to make it a sensible choice for everyone.