A disabled university lecturer was forced to live in a residential home for older people for seven months because of a crisis in accessible housing that is “spiralling out of control”, according to a new report.
Dr Chetna Patel was moving from Scotland to Sheffield for a new university job, but was unable to find any suitable homes for her access needs as a wheelchair-user.
Dr Patel said: “I was desperate and needed to move and take up my post; a social worker came up with the solution of my staying in a residential home for the elderly.
“I had no other option and so accepted it. The home did its best but it was a battle to keep my motivation up as I lost much of my independent life whilst in there.”
Her case is just one of many collected by the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK while compiling its Breaking Point report on housing for disabled people in England.
It says the crisis in accessible housing is “spiralling out of control”, and has called for central government and local authorities to lead a “revolution in the building of accessible homes”.
In another case, John Harrison, from Winsford, Cheshire, has had to reply on his wife to wash him for more than a year, because their bath and shower are completely unsuitable for him.
He has already paid £16,000 to have his kitchen adapted, but cannot afford another £8,000, which the council says he has to contribute towards installing a wet-room.
He said: “I have quite simply exhausted my funds in adapting my home, and I cannot afford to put up a further £8,000 to change the bathroom.
“This is really taking its toll but without support from the council and without sufficient personal finance, I’m unable to make the adaptations that I need.”
In some parts of the country, there are more than 100 disabled people and their families waiting for accessible accommodation, according to councils that responded to freedom of information requests submitted this summer by the charity.
One council, Croydon, had 176 people on its waiting list for wheelchair-accessible housing at the time it responded, but not a single wheelchair-accessible property available.
Another, Harlow, had 166 people on the waiting-list, and again not a single suitable property available, while Blackpool had 258 people waiting and only five homes available.
Muscular Dystrophy UK told MPs and housing leaders this week at a meeting in parliament of the all-party parliamentary group for muscular dystrophy that the lack of wheelchair-accessible housing was having a “devastating” impact on disabled people and their families, with some racking up huge debts and being forced to spend their life savings to adapt their homes.
Others were having to struggle to live in properties in which they could not use bathrooms and kitchens.
Some councils will not even allow a resident to join the housing waiting-list until they have lived in the area for five years.
More than a third of individuals and families surveyed said they had found themselves in serious debt because of having to fund adaptations to their homes themselves, while 70 per cent of those questioned said they were in properties that did not meet their mobility needs.
Fleur Perry (pictured), who herself waited for two years before she was offered a suitable property by her local authority, says in the report: “Though housing providers have legal obligations to consider the needs of local people with disabilities, there seems to be no consistently used method to accurately assess the number of accessible homes the community needs.
“There are also no figures showing just how much it costs the NHS to treat people injured by accidents due to inaccessible housing, nor the short or long-term social care costs that result from this.
“I consider myself lucky to have found my little bungalow in just over two years; I have heard of people waiting several times this long.”
Muscular Dystrophy UK has called on the government to increase the maximum amount paid out under the disabled facilities grants (DFG) scheme – the current maximum of £30,000, which is means-tested for adults, has not risen since 2008 – and ensure that this continues to rise in line with inflation.
It also wants to see all local authorities consider discretionary top-up payments – which they are legally allowed to make – for disabled people who cannot fund all of their adaptations through a DFG.
The freedom of information responses showed more than a third of councils had made no discretionary payments.
And the charity says that local authorities should ensure that at least 10 per cent of all new homes within property developments are wheelchair-accessible, and that all new homes are built using the Lifetime Homes standard.
The charity says it is also concerned that some local authorities do not have their own accessible housing register.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “The government is committed to helping disabled people live as comfortably and independently as possible in their own homes.
“We have invested just over £1 billon through the DFGs since 2010 to fund adaptations to homes.
“This has helped thousands of disabled people live safely at home, funding around 170,000 adaptations, but we are always listening to the sector to see how we can best provide for those most in need.
“We are also getting Britain building again with more than 570,000 new homes built since April 2010.”