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First dibs on accessible homes

As part of WHQ’s What I’d Change about Housing and the Law feature, Matt Miller puts the case for doing more for people with disabilities.

A report on housing for people with disabilities in Wales published by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in May paints a sorry picture about the availability of accessible homes throughout Wales. The demand for adaptations is going up fast.  Only one of Wales’ 22 authorities sets a target for the provision of new accessible homes. Only three Welsh councils said that they had ‘good’ information about the needs of people with disabilities in their areas. Welsh Government insists on social rented homes that it funds meeting the Lifetime Homes standard.

The report calls for Welsh Government to insist that one in 10 of all new homes should be built to ‘wheelchair standard’. But what about making accessible housing registers a statutory duty? The report acknowledges that there is no commonly-accepted standard for these, but agreeing some standards through co-production could be a pretty useful exercise.  This could involve all relevant people, including representatives of people with disabilities, as well as councils and housing providers.  If all authorities knew they would have to do it, they would have a big incentive to make sure the standards are right.

We could go further. Many homes that have been adapted, or that are already suitable for people with disabilities, are re-let to people who are able-bodied. If social landlords had a duty to check for people with substantial disabilities before letting a home, many of the people who are waiting years to be re-housed could be helped. It might save public money too, as fewer purpose-built homes might be needed.

Welsh Government could outlaw age discrimination in social housing, so landlords cannot impose arbitrary minimum age limits on developments. This would end the situation where a person with major disabilities is denied a home, when someone else who happens to be over the limit (typically 55 or 60 years old) but is in perfect health gets the allocation.

As I am just getting warmed up, what if social landlords couldn’t charge rent whilst a family was waiting for adaptations to be carried out, and couldn’t move in until these were completed?  That would be a great incentive to get on with the work.

These measures would not solve the housing shortage for people with disabilities, but maybe they would make a start.  Before I get breathless and flushed with power, perhaps there are other things we could do through legislation in Wales that would be even better. Do you have some ideas which have been hiding in your brain for years? Don’t be shy, let’s hear them!

Matt Miller, housing needs lead, Carmathenshire County Council

The October issue of WHQ will feature part 2 of this feature. If you’d like to make a short contribution, and tell WHQ what you would change about the law in relation to housing and why, get in touch with the editor, Jules Birch, via [email protected]

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