This report summarises the findings of Aspire’s Freedom of Information (FoI) investigation for the period 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018, looking across England at how people requiring a wheelchair accessible home can expect to fare.

Previous FoI investigations undertaken by Aspire into this issue have sought to establish the level of need for wheelchair accessible social housing and the number of wheelchair accessible homes allocated in each area, in order to build up a picture of how long people can expect to wait for a suitable home at the current rate of allocation.   

For this year’s study, we decided to expand the scope to try and establish the extent to which local authorities are actively monitoring the delivery of new homes built to be accessible and adaptable and comply with Category 2 of Volume 1 of Part M of the Building Regulations and wheelchair-user dwellings, complying with Category 3 of Volume 1 of Part M of the Building Regulations.  This is because for local authorities to be able to make efficient use of accessible housing in their area, to meet local need as effectively as possible, and to put in place meaningful plans for future provision, it is important they hold accurate and up to date information on the number, location and level of accessibility of new homes.      

We emailed FoI requests to 345 English local authorities in November 2018 and followed up over subsequent weeks.  Ultimately we received responses from 128 local authorities. Whilst this is disappointing and perhaps indicative of authorities’ inability or reluctance to provide the information requested, the data we received nevertheless presents us with a robust snapshot across a wide geographical spread of local authorities.   

It is very clear that in a variety of local authorities across England a two-speed housing system is in operation; wheelchair users can experience hugely disproportionate waiting times for social housing compared with non wheelchair users. It will take an average of just over 12½ years for everyone currently waiting for a wheelchair accessible home to be rehoused. However, in several areas it will take tens of years for all those waiting for wheelchair accessible housing to be rehoused, and over a century in one case at least. In eight local authorities, it will take over five times longer for wheelchair users to be rehoused than those not requiring accessible accommodation. To further clarify the reality of what this statistic means; of these eight authorities, the authority showing the shortest time to house all current wheelchair users will take 10 years to do so at current allocation rates, but only 1.8 years to rehouse non wheelchair user households.  At the other end of this range, the authority with the longest time to house all wheelchair users will take 106 years to clear the list, but only five years to house non wheelchair user households.               

Across the country, the information held by local authorities on new accessible homes coming into the system for all forms of tenure is extremely varied. Around a third of authorities that responded to our questions could report how many new social and affordable homes complied with Category 2, but only ten could report the number of new Category 3 social homes.  Of the 84 authorities reporting one or more new shared ownership property having been built, only eight could report how many Category 2 homes had been built and just two reported the number of Category 3 homes completed. Of the 76 authorities that reported one or more new homes for private ownership having been built, only five told us how many of these complied with Category 2 and just one gave us a figure for new homes complying with Category 3.  Worryingly, just under half of the authorities that responded were unable to provide any data at all on how many new social homes complied with either Category 2 or 3.

The scandalous reality for many wheelchair-users across England is that unless action is taken now to address the massive disparity in provisions made to meet their housing needs compared to the non wheelchair user population, a home that enables them to live healthy fulfilling lives will be little more than a distant aspiration.