Commonweal Housing: "Many wheelchair users are faced with no choice but to live in unfit and inappropriate housing" | #ForAccessibleHomes blog

Commonweal Housing: "Many wheelchair users are faced with no choice but to live in unfit and inappropriate housing"

It's Habinteg's #ForAccessibleHomes week of action. From 9-13 September we'll be featuring expert guest blogs all week on the accessible housing crisis and the steps we need to take to build more, quality accessible homes for our ageing and disabled population. Today, Commonweal Housing look back on their research in partnership with Abode Impact, on the experiences of wheelchair users when searching for homes in the private rental sector. 

Commonweal Housing is dedicated to finding and supporting housing solutions to social injustices: not only through pilot projects, but also by funding ground-breaking research. We aim to shine a light on the experiences of people who are underserved by the UK’s housing market and those who fall through the gaps of current policy and provision. Our hope is that, by sharing our learning from these investigations far and wide, we and our partners can influence positive change for those battling injustices in their day-to-day lives.

To mark #ForAccessibleHomesWeek, we’re casting our minds back to the findings of a recent, particularly eye-opening study by Abode Impact which we were proud to support. The research, entitled Accessibility Is The Key, investigated the experiences and needs of wheelchair users within the private rental sector (PRS).

Across the housing market, the lack of affordable or social housing and the high cost of home ownership for many means that the PRS is the only available option. This research highlighted the additional social injustices faced by many wheelchair users, and others living with disabilities, who are reliant upon this sector.

We believe the study is, to date, the largest-ever of its kind; incorporating findings from a survey of 448 wheelchair-user households. It also gained insight from social housing providers to provide an investment case for accessible housing.

The findings overwhelmingly demonstrated the demand for accessible housing within the PRS, and the shocking degree to which the 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK are underserved.

Headline findings from the report included:

  • There is a chronic lack of wheelchair accessible homes in the Private Rented Sector (PRS)
  • 4 in 5 are currently living in a home that fails to fully meet their needs as a wheelchair user
  • 91% have experienced barriers to accessing the PRS

The survey found that many wheelchair users are faced with no choice but to live in unfit and inappropriate housing, which presents daily challenges to overcome.

We heard of the parent who could not access their children’s room at night to tuck them in; of the tenant whose doorframe was too narrow to manoeuvre their wheelchair inside; of the respondent who had no choice but to use a bedpan, because their landlord couldn’t extend the property to allow wheelchair access to a toilet.

Of the 91% of respondents who reported challenges to accessing private rented sector housing, 62% said this was due to a lack of accessible properties.

Even before experiencing accessibility problems within properties themselves, wheelchair users experience barriers to accessing tenancies due to their disabilities. Respondents reported experiencing “restrictive application schemes”, and rental agencies “not understanding my needs”; even “turning down a wheelchair user because they’ll ruin the new carpets.”

One survey respondent tells how, even after having obtained an offer of a property from a landlord, “The rental agency withdrew the offer when I turned up in a wheelchair."

Ashley Horsey, CEO at Commonweal, said this of the report and its findings;

“We are dedicated to tackling social injustice through housing solutions and so we were pleased to support Abode Impact to research what is, quite frankly, a shocking injustice in the UK housing market.

“The report highlights an issue and a group of people who are so frequently overlooked, and we are pleased we could help to bring more attention to this. However, there is quite obviously lots more work to be done in providing suitable housing for wheelchair users, by the Private Rental Sector in particular.”

In response to the demand for accessible rental accommodation, Abode Impact is launching the first accessible housing fund for London. The fund is targeting social impact and financial returns by purchasing newly-built accessible homes for private rent. You can find out more about the fund here.

Abode Impact’s research shows that if a home meets the needs of a wheelchair user, they are more likely to stay in their home for longer. Investors can therefore benefit from the low tenant turnover and a reliable source of income; while tenants experience the benefits of improved mental, physical and financial well-being by living in an accessible home.

It’s our hope that these findings can amplify the calls of all others campaigning for better housing for those living with disabilities, in this week and into the future.

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