Shelter is right to call for new homes, but properties must meet the needs of disabled people | News

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Shelter is right to call for new homes, but properties must meet the needs of disabled people

Sheron Carter comment on Building for our Future, Shelter Commission report January 2019 in comment piece for Inside Housing

We’ve been really impressed by Shelter’s Building for our Future report earlier this week which makes such a compelling case for investment in new social homes. The case studies and analysis demonstrate clearly how an increase in social building would benefit the whole country. The report shows the potential benefits to people in desperate need of suitable homes, the communities in which they live, and local and national finances and the housing market overall.

With Habinteg’s focus on the housing needs of disabled people we were particularly interested in the personal stories of disabled and older people contained in the report.

For example, Anthony’s story is typical of the way many disabled people are forced to ‘make do’ with homes that don’t meet their needs because they cannot find or access housing that does. He’s a wheelchair user living in a privately rented house with his partner and two children. He describes life in the house that has steps up to the front door, in which he’s unable to access the bedrooms or upper floor, sleeps downstairs and uses a portable WC. (See his full story on page 175 of the report).

Disabled people are more likely to live in social housing than non-disabled people and the number of people with access needs is rising rapidly. So Habinteg firmly believe that to ensure maximum value from public investment in new homes – it’s vital to make sure that they’re designed to be flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of their occupants, whatever the tenure type but most importantly in social housing. We also need to ensure that sufficient properties are built with the access needs of full time wheelchair users in mind.

So whilst national attention is placed on the need for more social homes, we urge all planning authorities to specify requirements for new homes in their area to be built using the higher access standards set out in Part M of building regulations. Part M Category 2 is broadly similar to the more descriptively named Lifetime Homes standard and have a host of hidden adaptive super powers that make them great for all kinds of households including families with young children, older people and anyone who has a temporary or more long term need for adaptations in the home. Category 3 homes are designed to meet the needs of wheelchair user households. Our recent research shows that currently fewer than 20% of authorities state a requirement for a specific proportion of new homes to meet accessible standards.

Designing in accessibility and adaptability from the outset can make adaptations faster and cheaper to make and support people to stay put when life events mean that their needs change. This in turn can take pressure of health and social care services so it’s easy to see why it makes a good value investment with public money.

Shelter’s report also calls for increased concerns tenant engagement and involvement and with housing providers. We think this is crucial and we’re happy to have a range of tenant bodies and engagement opportunities that we plan to build on in the year ahead.

Shelter specifically recommend the establishment of a separate regulator to ensure the voices of social renters are heard. Last year’s influential report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Housing and disabled people, Britain’s hidden crisis, showed how important it is that providers engage specifically and deliberately with their disabled tenants. We’d recommend all providers make use of the toolkit that we subsequently produced in collaboration with the EHRC which provides a full and thorough best practice guide for running engagement activities that include disabled people. And if a new regulator is forthcoming we’d welcome a standard or guidance to all social providers to make sure that disabled people are fully included in a meaningful way that can improve their experience of finding and maintaining a tenancy in the right home for them.

Shelter’s report and recommendations could make a powerful impact on the drive towards more and better social housing. With the numbers of disabled and older people rising we must ensure that their needs are fully reflected in the sector’s future plans and priorities.