Disabled housing association tenants have launched a campaign they hope will put an end to widespread disability discrimination by their landlords, and raise awareness of the Equality Act.
Disabled members of the Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) have come together to draw up a charter that housing associations can sign up to.
The charter was put together by members of SHAC’s Disability Visibility group, and South Yorkshire Housing Association has already agreed to pilot it.
The group want landlords to stop discriminating against disabled tenants, particularly those with experience of mental distress or who identify as neurodiverse.
They want to see landlords improve their compliance with housing policies, statutory guidance, and equality laws.
Among their concerns are landlords who delay repairs and accuse autistic tenants and those with mental distress of anti-social behaviour.
Among the commitments they must make, housing associations that sign up to the Social Landlord Disability Charter Scheme (PDF) have to promise to treat disabled tenants with dignity and respect; involve them in decision-making processes; and ensure they make reasonable adjustments for them.
The charter says housing associations must avoid “calculated neglect of repairs, disrespectful behaviour, dragging out complaints, and weaponizing disability”.
The Disability Visibility group was first set up last year after a blog by Carl Davis*, in which he described how he and other autistic tenants and those with mental distress were often see as “difficult, awkward or anti-social ‘problem tenants’ by housing providers”.
He wrote how landlords believe residents “simply asking questions or seeking clarification constitutes anti-social activity which provides them with an excuse to act against the resident concerned”.
Davis, who has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, had lived for almost 20 years in his housing association property before a request for a reasonable adjustment – asking his housing association not to make unannounced visits – led to “persistent harassment and victimisation”.
He told Disability News Service this week that it was a “horrible situation to be in”.
He said: “This wasn’t a story unique to me. Other tenants experience the same sort of things.
“It’s really draining and that is on top of whatever other problems you’re dealing with.
“There is a constant background of suspicion and hatred towards disability that is prevalent in certain reaches of the housing sector, and it is not being dealt with.”
Key to the charter is the way that housing associations treat complaints and cases of alleged anti-social behaviour.
Members of the Disability Visibility group believe prejudice, misunderstanding and false allegations of anti-social behaviour are often allowed to escalate into “heavy-handed” bullying of disabled tenants and even legal threats by housing associations.
This can often drag disabled tenants who have made legitimate complaints about maintenance and repairs into lengthy complaints processes and anti-social behaviour casework.
Davis said: “Anti-social behaviour legislation was originally intended to protect the community and individuals, not heavy-handed and discriminatory bureaucrats.”
He said the charter could provide crucial support for disabled tenants who do not have the resources to take cases under the Equality Act, but could also benefit landlords, who could avoid long drawn-out disputes with tenants and “benefit from greater awareness”.
He said: “They are not listening to their residents, whether disabled or not. They need to do more.”
Davis said the recent investigations by ITV News on the state of social housing showed how often disabled tenants were being forced to live in substandard properties, with landlords failing to carry out urgent repairs.
He said: “People are being ground down by disrepair and bad communications, being treated in a stigmatising way. It’s really widespread.”
*Not his real name
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