FUTURE generations of older people are at risk of becoming trapped in their home without the introduction of better standards for accessibility, Age UK has warned.
The charity has teamed up with specialist housing provider, Habinteg, to issue a new factsheet to help campaign for all new homes to be built to such higher accessibility standards.
There are currently 6.5 million people with mobility problems and 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, the two organisations say. Unless homes become more adaptable, future generations will be forced to ‘make do’ in homes that fail to meet their needs.
The new factsheet, Home Truths, sets out to challenge 10 myths about building accessible housing: that delivering accessible housing is too costly, too difficult or simply undesirable for buyers. An ageing population and increasing numbers of people with mobility problems means that new homes need to be accessible and adaptable to ensure that they work for everybody, supporting independence, health and wellbeing, the campaign says.
“A well designed home can work across a whole lifetime or for any generation, so it just makes common sense to make sure that all new homes are accessible, flexible and adaptable regardless of whether they are initially built for first time buyers,” said Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director.
“If not, we’re creating swathes of housing stock that won’t be appropriate for a big part of the population. We know there are huge benefits to people being able to stay in their own home as they get older – and if we make it harder for people to do this then it will have a detrimental impact on people’s health and wellbeing as well as a financial impact in the terms of the costs to the NHS.
“Last Month the Prime Minister committed to a consultation that could deliver up to 300,000 new accessible and adaptable homes. We are calling on the new Prime Minister to follow this through as a priority.”
Sheron Carter, Habinteg’s chief executive, added: “As a provider of accessible and inclusive housing for almost 50 years, Habinteg knows how big a difference it can make for older and disabled people to have a home that really suits their needs.
“An adaptable home and environment allows people to maintain connections with family and friends and stay active in their local community. The ability to move around the home and use its facilities with less effort brings dignity to life when things are changing. It helps people to retain their self-esteem and independence.”
Standards for accessible and adaptable new homes were introduced in 2015. These are based on the Lifetime Homes Standard, which ensures a basic level of accessibility and adaptability through a range of features. These include, for instance, level access and slightly wider doorways, or bathroom walls that are strong enough to install a grab rail.
By building a home in this way, it means that if the occupant’s circumstances change – at whatever age – it would be much easier and cheaper to adapt homes. Currently the accessible and adaptable standard (M4 (2) set out in building regulations Approved Document M, Volume 1) is optional, meaning that local planning authorities have to make the case for requiring new homes in their area to be built to the standard.
According to Age UK and Habinteg, only 7% of the existing housing stock has the most basic features that make homes accessible to disabled people and older people with restricted mobility. Significant investment is needed to bring existing stock up to a basic standard that promotes health and independence. Introducing the accessible and adaptable standard for all new homes will also help reduce future costs.
Among the 10 myths being confronted by Age UK and Habinteg is that building to the accessible and adaptable standard is more expensive. A report commissioned by the government estimated that it would only cost an extra £521 to build an average three-bedroom standard semi-detached house to the M4 (2) Standard with a further space cost of £866-£1,387 per dwelling.
The two organisations argue that in the long run, accessible and adaptable homes save money because they help reduce demand on the NHS and care services and make it easier to remain healthy and independent.
Age UK and Habinteg are jointly calling for:
- Regulation to ensure that all new homes are built to accessible adaptable standard (Category 2) as a minimum
- That 10% of new homes are built to wheelchair accessible standards
- In the interim, the Government to amend planning rules to protect the discretion of local authorities to decide the number of accessible homes built in their area
Carter added: “It’s so important that we challenge misconceptions about accessible homes. They are just ordinary homes with accessible and adaptable features. Just a bit of thoughtfulness in design makes a huge difference. We hope that this Home Truths myth buster will be a useful tool for everyone who wants to push for homes that are good for every generation.”