We need to build more accessible homes before it’s too late, warn housing charities

A coalition of campaigning organisations and housing associations has formed to demand the next government takes action to build homes fit for disabled people and an ageing population.

The country faces a “dangerous shortage” of suitable accessible housing, warns Housing for Everyone (HoME), with only one new accessible home set to be built for every 15 people over the age of 65 by 2030.

When Parliament dissolved earlier this week for the coming general election, the coalition issued an open letter for the contending parties and politicians looking to form the next government – demanding that all new homes be made accessible and adaptable.

Only a paltry 7% of homes in England are accessible, the letter points out. “A lack of suitable housing is a problem that will affect us all, with most of us likely to experience mobility impairment or difficulties with the activities of daily living at some point as we get older,” it adds.

The coalition consists of 10 organisations from across the housing and charity sectors, including the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing, RIBA among others and co-chaired by the Centre for Better Ageing (CBA) and housing association Habinteg.

“Too many people are today living in homes that limit their independence, as we face a dangerous shortage of homes that are accessible and adaptable,” said Anna Dixon, the CBA’s chief executive.

“Whilst it’s not inevitable, the likelihood is that most of us will experience disability or difficulties with activities of daily living at some point in our later life. And with more of us living for longer, this dire lack of accessible homes represents a ticking timebomb.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure we are building homes fit for the future, so that more of us are able to stay in our homes for longer and remain safe and independent.

“As we build the homes of tomorrow, it’s crucial that every brick laid today is part of the solution. Central government, local authorities and developers all have a role to play in ensuring that the homes of tomorrow are safe, well-designed and flexible.”

Sheron Carter, Habinteg’s chief executive, added: “Recent research by Habinteg reveals that most people in Britain are not able to welcome a wheelchair user into their home due to poor access. This is the limiting reality of our current housing stock.

“So with increasing rates of disability and an ageing population it’s critical that new homes are built to standards that provide greater accessibility and adaptability. Unless we do this, we’ll be running into a whole new type of housing crisis in the years to come.

“We’re heartened to see so many high-profile organisations joining forces to press for change on such a crucial issue. We can and should be building homes to be inclusive of all.”

Less than half of local housebuilding plans in England included provision for accessible homes, according to recent research undertaken by coalition organisations. Meanwhile the number of households headed by someone aged 65 and over has increased by more than a million since 2010/11. By 2030, projected figures suggest that there will be just one new accessible home built for every 15 people over the age of 65.

Meanwhile, previous commitments to consult on the mandatory building regulations for new homes have not been acted on. The HoME coalition is calling on the next government to urgently consult to ensure that all new homes are built to Building Regulations, Volume 1, M4, Category 2 standards, meaning that they have basic accessibility features that make them suitable for a range of occupants, and can be easily adapted to meet further requirements.

To further push its message, HoME has also launched a charter to transform new housing, including recommendations for central and local government, estate agents, and developers. The seven steps (see below) include a higher regulatory baseline for accessibility of all new homes; better data on the availability of accessible homes; and “bold” policies on planning for accessible housing from local authorities.

Responding to the launch of the coalition’s to campaign, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, Councillor Darren Rodwell said: “To tackle the shortage of suitable homes for older and disabled people, councils need greater planning powers and resources to hold developers to account, ensuring that they build the right homes in the right places needed by different groups within the local community.

“Accessibility features and home adaptations are also vital to help keep people safe and independent in their homes and prevent avoidable admissions to hospital and care homes. Every £1 spent on housing adaptations are worth more than £2 in care savings and quality of life gains.

“As well as funding and powers to kick-start a renaissance in council house building, such as through reform to the Right to Buy scheme, the Disability Facilities Grant needs to be fully funded to keep up with demand, while we also need to see a long-term sustainable funding solution for adult social care.”

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HoME’s seven steps to more accessible housing

  1. We believe that central Government should set a higher regulatory baseline for accessibility of all new homes (M4 Category 2), and, where need can be demonstrated for M4 Category 3 (wheelchair user), the Government should lower the current high bar needed to introduce relevant planning policies. This will provide a level policy playing field across the country and the certainty that developers want, enabling them to build homes that meet the future needs of our ageing population.
  2. Central Government should collate and make publicly available data from every planning authority on the number of new homes built to each of the Categories set out in Approved Document M4 Volume one (access to and use of buildings), alongside sufficiently resourcing planning authorities to effectively monitor this.
  3. Local Authorities should be bold and confident in their planning policies for accessible housing, utilising MHCLG guidance and best practice approaches to evidencing need.
  4. Homes England, in line with action already taken by the Greater London Authority, should give priority to current development bids for homes that meet M4 Category 2 standards. These should also include a number of Category 3 wheelchair accessible properties. If necessary, the additional costs should be recognised in the Value for Money assessment and grant awarded for affordable housing.
  5. Local authorities should review and keep up to date with the accessibility of housing in their area in preparation for an accessible housing database that will make finding the right home easier for people with specific requirements.
  6. Estate Agents and their membership body ARLA should work with the Government and others to create and deliver standard accessibility ratings, similar to the environmental rating, which is displayed for every home sold.
  7. The home building industry should join our call for legislative change for higher accessibility standards. They should proactively seek out good practice among their members and disseminate this widely to encourage greater engagement from members who don’t yet see accessible homes as good business.

NH

 

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