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Over half English local housing policies still failing disabled & older people

In the next 10 years, 70% of all new homes will not have to meet any accessible housing standard new research by accessible housing leader, Habinteg Housing Association shows.

Updated analysis of English ‘local plans’ shows the proportion of new homes to be built by 2030 to accessible standards fell from 34.4% in the 2019 analysis to 31.5% in the 2020 update.

Habinteg’s new research update, A forecast for accessible homes 2020, analyses 324 English ‘local plans’, which set policies for the types of homes to be built over the next 10 years.

There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, and the population is ageing rapidly, yet just 9% of English homes currently provide even the most basic accessibility features.

The new Forecast for accessible homes, which follows on from Habinteg’s first such exercise conducted in 2019, focuses on the proportion of homes required by each plan to meet either Building Regulations’ Optional Standards for accessible and adaptable homes (M4 Category 2) or wheelchair user dwellings (M4 Category 3).

The report also takes into account references to the older Lifetime Homes and Wheelchair Housing Design standards.

The analysis shows that while more of the homes due to be built in England are specified to the Building Regulations Optional Standards (2020: 25% compared to 2019: 22%), the proportion specified under the older Lifetime Homes standard has halved from 12% in 2019 to 6% in 2020. 

This means there will be just one new accessible home built in the next 10 years for every 77 people in the population, down from one for every 67 people in the 2019 analysis.

The new data also reveals that:

  • 52.5% of local authorities are still failing to set requirements for accessible housing standards for new homes. This is despite Government’s National Planning Policy Framework and Guidance, which requires local planning authorities to set out such policies using the Building Regulations Optional Standards.
  • The proportion of homes due to be suitable for wheelchair users has stayed broadly similar with the picture outside London improving by 0.5% to reach 1.5% of all homes planned over the next decade.
  • Outside London, a total of 19% (362,312) of new homes are planned to meet the accessible and adaptable standard by 2030, a rise since the 2019 report (14% /289,616).
  • However, taking England as a whole, the proportion of all homes specified to accessible and adaptable or Lifetime Homes standard fell from 32% (776,608) in the 2019 analysis to 29% (671,381) in 2020.
  • While the South East now includes 15 additional plans specifying use of the Building Regulations Optional Standards, in the West Midlands no local plans specify these standards for new homes to be built between 2020 and 2030, and the region still has no planning requirement to build any homes suitable for wheelchair users.

The accessible and adaptable standard provides ordinary homes with features that make them more flexible and easy to live in for everyone, for example slightly wider door widths and circulation space and stronger bathroom walls capable of easily accommodating a grab-rail.

The wheelchair user dwelling standard is designed to meet the needs of a full time wheelchair user, including greater circulation space throughout.

Habinteg is calling on the Government to establish the M4(2) accessible and adaptable standard - as the new regulatory baseline following the recent consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes, with the additional requirement to supply a proportion of homes meeting wheelchair user dwelling standard.

The housing provider also calls for local authorities to specifically name M4(2) and M4(3) standards in their plans with clear percentages of new homes required to meet each. It also wants to see a register of people awaiting wheelchair accessible housing and tracking information held on the number of new accessible homes built in each area.

Christine Hawkes, a wheelchair user in inaccessible housing from Blackpool, said:

“My first time facing accessibility challenges came as soon as I began using a wheelchair, four years ago. Before that, I lived happily in a two-floor home which I just renovated with my husband and older children. Unfortunately, after becoming paralysed from the neck down in 2016, I haven’t been able to access the not-so newly renovated top-floor of my house. The truth is, I haven’t been able to access much of my home due to my wheelchair not fitting through the narrow doors.

As a person who was very active before my disability, I now feel frustrated that my own home is what is holding me back from being independent; I can’t even clean or simply make some breakfast. If the government made one rule for accessible new homes across the country it would make such a difference to families like mine.”

Habinteg’s Director of Strategy and External Affairs, Nicholas Bungay, said:

“This forecast clearly shows that the system we have right now isn’t going to provide the number of accessible homes that our communities desperately need. We urge the Government to establish the accessible and adaptable standard as the baseline for all new homes and set clear expectations for a proportion of new homes across the country to be wheelchair accessible.

“Disabled and older people should not have to ‘make do’ at the expense of their independence and wellbeing. If we fail to get this right now we’ll be storing up a whole new kind of housing crisis for the future.”

Habinteg’s briefing, A Forecast for accessible homes 2020, can be downloaded in full at https://www.habinteg.org.uk/localplans

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