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Accessibility & adaptations: Heather’s private rented sector story

Cornwall native, Heather Monger, 28, has lived on her own for the past seven years in a ground floor flat that’s 10 minutes drive from the Cornish coast.

What sets Heather apart from her neighbours, isn’t the fact that she was born with cerebral palsy, which progressed to the point where she now uses a wheelchair full time or that she has three carers who support her across each week.

It’s the fact that her Redruth home is rented from a private landlord who specifically wanted to help a young disabled person into independent living accommodation, with all the necessary adaptations they may need.

Independent living

“I’ve lived on my own for about 10 years, out of choice,” says Heather. “I wanted the independence, my parents were supportive of me getting out on my own and Cornwall is familiar - it’s where I grew up and made friends in mainstream school.”

Heather moved to an independent living facility in Worthing to kick-start the life she wanted for herself when she was 18. Over two years, she built up her experience of how to handle her budget, pay her utility bills and generally manage her life.

And manage she has. Heather has studied social care at college, has volunteered as an admin clerk, she runs her own household (including a car) cares for her chihuahua, Indie, and has a passion for history that might yet see her go back to study.  Heather and her dog, Indie.

Adapting rented homes

Heather’s flat was a standard flat – until she contacted her landlord about a number of adaptations and he said yes to all of them even though…

“I’ve never actually met my landlord,” says Heather. But he’s been brilliant. I’m really grateful as it’s very hard for a disabled person to find a landlord that’ll rent to them, never mind allow them to make adaptations and have a dog.”

Heather’s adaptations included a rise and fall cooker; an automated front door, which opens at a push of a button inside and is controlled by a hands free key outside; a level access wet room big enough to take a wheelchair and someone to help with personal care, and a wash and dry toilet with grab rails.

“I have two front doors and had to try to keep both of them open to get in and out and that was difficult for me to do in the wheelchair. The automated front door makes leaving and entering my home so much easier,” says Heather.

So, who pays for such adaptations?

Disabled Facilities Grant & private rentals

In its recently released Adaptations: Good Practice Guidance National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) states that in England, most local councils will usually pay for minor equipment or adaptations up to £1,000. The council’s social care department will carry out an assessment to identify the tenant's needs and equipment will be delivered to the property or work will be carried out by a council approved sub contractor.

For major adaptations, such as remodelling a bathroom to give a tenant more space, level access, a walking shower and suitable toilet, a tenant (or the home owner) can apply to their council for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).

The council will usually appoint an occupational therapist to carry out an assessment of a disabled or older tenant’s needs and may also apply a means test before booking in the work to ensure the adaptations are necessary, appropriate, reasonable and practicable.

“I thought approaching the council for help was going to be a lot harder, but they were helpful and amenable. Any disabled person needing adaptations, should speak with their local council in the first instance – and then tackle your landlord,” says Heather.

“Cornwall Council reviewed my home and put in the rise and fall cooker, the wet room, and the toilet – but only because my landlord was already on board with the changes.”

It’s estimated that 80 percent of England’s existing homes will need to meet peoples’ needs well into the 2050s. According to the 2017-18 English Housing Survey, the Private Rented Sector (PRS) contains 380,000 households headed by a person aged 65 and over. This is expected to more than double by 2046.

As more people live in the PRS for longer more and more privately rented homes will need adaptations if they’re going to meet their tenants’ needs.

The NRLA advises that landlords should place their agreement to any adaptations in writing and also include any requirements for tenants to return the property to its original condition at the end of their tenancy.

The Adaptations: Good Practice Guidance

The Association also believes that clearer communication is needed from local authorities to landlords concerning the availability of the Disabled Facilities Grant. NRLA research suggests 79 percent of landlords had no knowledge of the grants, but after finding out more, 68 percent of landlords were more willing to adapt their properties.

Habinteg worked as part of a partnership with the NRLA, and other specialist organisations, to develop the Adaptations: Good Practice Guidance.

This first of it’s kind guide has been created to support private landlords to manage requests for home adaptations to make the property more accessible and inclusive for disabled and older tenants.

It will help landlords make informed decisions when engaging with tenants and local councils and focuses on four key themes that are crucial in managing adaptation requests from existing or prospective tenants including: 

  • What constitutes an adaptation?
  • Funding options
  • The adaptation works
  • Future tenancies.

Luckily for Heather, her landlord was keen to do the right thing and that includes ensuring she has access to a shared garden, which has been a blessing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The flat wasn’t built for a disabled person and there was a massive step into the garden, but the landlord agreed the step could be removed and the council put in a ramp. During the pandemic, I’ve used it a lot and I feel really lucky as not every flat in this block has a garden. I’ve even had a few barbecues, which were fun, so, all in all, I feel I’ve landed on my feet.”
 

Find out more about the Adaptations: Good Practice Guidance at https://www.nrla.org.uk/

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