Housing crisis for disabled people set to deepen, report finds

Disabled people should not have to ‘make do’ at the expense of their independence and wellbeing, a housing association boss said. Credit: PA, Pixabay

More than two-thirds of all new homes to be built in England over the next decade will not be fully accessible for disabled people, new research has found.

Analysis by Habinteg Housing Association shared with ITV News shows the proportion of new homes to be built by 2030 to accessible standards has fallen from 34.4% in 2019 to 31.5%.

“Disabled and older people should not have to ‘make do’ at the expense of their independence and wellbeing,” said Habinteg Director of Strategy Nicholas Bungay.

There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, as well as rapidly ageing population. Yet just 9% of English homes currently provide the most basic accessibility features.

It is not a legal requirement for new homes in the UK to be accessible and adaptable - known as M4(2). It is also optional for new homes to be fully accessible for wheelchair users - known as M4(3).

The accessible and adaptable standard M4 (2) provides ordinary homes with features that make them more flexible and easy to live in for everyone, e.g. slightly wider door frames and stronger bathroom walls capable of accommodating a grab-rail.

The wheelchair user dwelling standard M4 (3) is designed to meet the needs of a full time wheelchair user, including greater circulation space throughout.

The housing crisis for disabled people deepens Credit: PA

Yet because these standards are optional, local planning authorities can decide whether or not to include them in their housing plans when building new homes. 

Developers often challenge the local authority requirements in accessibility standards based on the additional cost. 

Habinteg looked at 324 local housing plans in England which set policies for the types of homes to be built over the next 10 years. 

It found the proportion of all homes required to be accessible and adaptable fell from 776,608 (32%) in 2019 to 671,381 (29%) 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 2019.

The proportion of homes due to be suitable for wheelchair users by 2030 rose slightly from 0.5% to 1.5%.

“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,” said Nicholas Bungay.

“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.”

The report also found significant regional variations.

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. 

In fact the West Midlands has no planning requirement to build any homes suitable for wheelchair users.

Habinteg is calling on the Government to establish the M4(2) accessible and adaptable standard as the new regulatory baseline, with an additional legal requirement to supply a proportion of homes that are wheelchair accessible.

Christine Hawkes is a a wheelchair user from Blackpool, who is currently living in an inaccessible home.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Housing said: “Ensuring everyone has a place to call home which meets their need is a priority.

“The number of accessible homes has nearly doubled in a decade and we have invested over £4 billion through the Disabled Facilities Grant to fund home adaptations – including stair lifts, wet rooms and ramps - to almost 400,000 homes since 2010.

“Our reforms to the country’s outdated planning system will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need and ensure every area has a local plan in place that works for all.”