Ministers have been criticised for a “disgraceful” failure to keep their promise on introducing stricter accessibility standards for new homes, years after they first proposed improvements.
Almost exactly a year ago, the government said it would consult on new rules that would force all new homes in England to be built to the M4(2)* standard of accessibility, except for cases where this was “impractical and unachievable”.
This would mean nearly all new homes would need step-free access to all entrance-level rooms, as well as facilities and other features to make the homes more easily adaptable over time.
But a year on from the publication of the Raising Accessibility Standards for New Homes document, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has yet to launch the consultation.
Meanwhile, housing secretary Michael Gove delivered a 5,300-word speech on his long-term plan for housing on Monday without a single mention of either disabled people or accessible housing.
It comes as the minister for disabled people, Tom Pursglove, was criticised last week for publishing a draft Disability Action Plan that was full of plans for working groups, taskforces and profile-raising activity – and commissioning a feasibility report on hosting the 2031 Special Olympics – and was dismissed as a “PR exercise”.
The government’s original consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes ended in December 2020.
When ministers finally responded, in July 2022, they announced a further consultation on the detail of the changes.
But they have yet to launch the new consultation.
Pam Thomas, until her recent retirement a prominent Labour member of Liverpool City Council, who has spoken out frequently on the accessible housing crisis, criticised the latest delays to “what many people would see as common sense”.
She questioned whether progress was being blocked by the home-building industry, which has repeatedly objected to local authorities that try to introduce targets in their draft local plans for the proportion of new homes that should be built to accessible housing standards.
She said: “The case for improving accessibility and adaptability has been shown many times over recent decades – this has included statistics and case studies – so there should not be any need for further consultation to demonstrate need.
“All we are getting is further delays in bringing about the required changes to the building regulations.”
She added: “In many areas of life in our society disabled people are overlooked and excluded; the design and construction of new homes is no different.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, said it was “disgraceful” that the government had still not launched the consultation when it “could have made a positive improvement in many disabled people’s lives”.
She said: “One can only assume there has been pressure from the house-building lobby to make them back off.
“On one hand they want to celebrate disabled people at a Special Olympics, but will kick into the long grass actions which could make our lives better.”
Ministers have been repeatedly warned about the chronic shortage of accessible housing, with the Equality and Human Rights Commission warning five years ago that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs, with one-third of those in rented accommodation living in unsuitable properties.
This week, the Commons levelling up, housing and communities committee launched an inquiry to examine what central and local government and developers were doing to ensure disabled people have access to accessible and adaptable housing in England.
It plans to examine progress made since the publication of Raising Accessibility Standards for New Homes.
It will also look at whether the government’s national planning policies ensure housebuilding complies with the Equality Act.
DLUHC refused to explain why the consultation has not yet been launched.
**Homes built to the M4(2) standard have 16 accessible or adaptable features, similar to the Lifetime Homes standard developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use, while M4(3) homes are those that are supposed to be fully wheelchair-accessible
Picture: A Wyatt Homes property in Dorset
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