On Tuesday 17th July, Aspire took to the Houses of Parliament to hold a round table seminar on the UK’s shortage of accessible housing. The event was chaired by Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad. Also participating were the Equality and Human Rights Commission, National Housing Federation, Design Council CABE, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and experts from local authorities and housing associations.

Our aim was to look at the supply of accessible homes and the quality of data collection at national and local level. To help us we had a presentation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, sharing findings and recommendations of its inquiry into housing and disability. The report ‘Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis’ reveals “a chronic shortage of accessible homes” and the continuing failure to respond to the unmet housing needs of 365,000 disabled people. It identifies that “Building regulations in England and Wales and, until recently, in Scotland have produced houses that are generally inaccessible, particularly for people who use wheelchairs.”

People sitting at the Round Table seminar

Aspire also shared findings from our Freedom of Information inquiry of English local authorities, which revealed that one in five of the authorities have projected waiting times of 10 years or more.

It was the view of the round table participants that: we should simply be ensuring that we build according to inclusive design principles and new homes should be adaptable enough to respond to the needs of our society.

  • Government should just mandate this by revising building regulations and national planning policy to meet the need for more adaptable and wheelchair accessible homes.
  • Rather than local authorities being forced to consider the needs of different social groups to justify specific targets, our planning system should move to a ‘presumption in favour of inclusive development,‘ which would expect developers to design homes and communities to inclusive principles, to ensure that homes, facilities and wider infrastructure can be used and enjoyed by all on equal terms.
  • Another critical area of concern was the lack of local authority capacity to ensure that development is meeting accessibility and inclusion standards. To address this, it was felt that local authorities should employ Inclusive Design Officers.

People sitting at the Round Table Seminar London

We also have to make more effective use of the existing stock, and examples were given of where wheelchair accessible homes have been built or adaptations have been made, these often end up being occupied by residents that don’t require the adaptations or access features. In some cases, expensive adaptations such as wet-rooms are simply ripped out.

To ensure that accessible and adapted homes go to those who need them, we need accurate data on the accessibility of properties and the access requirements of households. The EHRC found that only 12% of local authorities across Britain rated the data available to them as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in terms of its overall usefulness, while 21% rated it ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

It was clear to the round table that we urgently need to make the most of investment, by recording where and how many new accessible homes are built, as well as registering those that have undergone significant adaptation through Disabled Facilities Grant funding.

People at the Round Table Seminar

The EHRC also found that many housing providers lack necessary expertise, which often results in disabled people being offered inappropriate housing.

The round table heard that dedicated Housing Occupational Therapists can make a real difference in ensuring that accessible and adapted homes are used more efficiently by matching them more appropriately with the people who need them. The Government is currently drafting guidance for local authorities on planning for the housing needs of older and disabled people. The round table strongly urged that it should listen to the recommendations coming from the event.

Aspire is looking forward to working with Emma and other Parliamentarians to hold government to account over its response to this unseen and growing housing crisis.

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