The clock continues to tick on unfulfilled accessible homes promise
Many older and Disabled people continue to struggle to find appropriate housing that meets their needs.
A much-needed change to building regulations could help change that but continues to be mired in delays, as our Deputy Director for Homes Holly Holder explains.
29 July marks one year since the government committed to raise accessibility standards on new homes. Yet 12 months on we have seen little progress and are still waiting for a consultation on these changes, let alone for the implementation, so that we can begin to address the UK’s chronic shortage of accessible homes.
The changes proposed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) would require new homes to have a wider range of accessibility features, and to include built-in features that enable common adaptations to be carried out in future if needed.
Currently, building homes to be accessible and adaptable is purely optional. While local government can put together a case for the needs of their community in their local plans, developers can challenge the requirement to build certain types of homes and building accessible homes can be less profitable and put some developers at a disadvantage. Setting a higher mandatory accessibility standard would therefore level the playing field for all developers and balance the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of costs and quality.
Given the shortage of accessible and adaptable homes in this country, such a change could be transformative. Fewer than one in ten properties in England are currently suitable for disabled people to visit, never mind live in. Additionally, some 400,000 wheelchair users are living in homes that are neither adapted nor accessible.
Given the shortage of accessible and adaptable homes in this country, such a change could be transformative.
The government commitment to introducing new minimum accessibility standards for new homes followed intensive campaigning from the Centre for Ageing Better and partners in the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition to champion the needs of older and Disabled people.
During the official consultation process, the coalition engaged with the development industry and housing associations to build a consensus about the benefits of homes that are inclusive and future proofed.
We all had high hopes that the necessary steps would then be taken so that by now we could be waiting on its imminent implementation. Sadly, those hopes were misplaced.
For the change in policy to be implemented, there needs to be a second phase of consultation on the issue, but this is yet to materialise.
Waiting for progress is something campaigners on this issue have considerable experience in. It is now four years on from the government’s first commitment to review accessibility standards and a shocking 15 years since the government developed a business case for why all homes should comply to a lifetime homes standard.
All this delay means a poorer quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people who are living in homes that don't suit their needs.
The biggest concern, however, is that it now seems unlikely that these changes will come into force before the disruption of the next General Election. And it is uncertain whether the next government will continue the slow progress made on this issue so far.
A year on from the announcement, our request to government remains the same. We want to see the next phase of consultation delivered as urgently as possible.
The government has a real opportunity to make this change and begin to address the terrible scarcity of accessible homes in this country, and most importantly to improve the lives and health outcomes of hundreds of thousands of people. For the current government, it is a huge opportunity to deliver on their manifesto promise to “make housing more affordable, accessible, and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population”. But the clock is ticking.