Disabled campaigners and allies have called on the government to act urgently to fix the “broken” system of accessible housing in England, after years of delays.
They have told a committee of cross-party MPs in written evidence that it is impossible for disabled people to access accessible, affordable homes because of a “chronic shortage” of properties.
They were providing written evidence to the Commons levelling up, housing and communities committee as part of its inquiry into housing for disabled people.
Some said they believed the system was being run for the benefit of profit-making developers, rather than disabled people.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), in a joint written statement, told the committee: “The distribution of responsibility across government, local authorities and developers has created a broken housing system that responds only to developers’ whims and large profit margins rather than the rights of Disabled people.”
They said it had become “impossible for us to access the stable, affordable, and secure housing we need”.
Disabled campaigner Fleur Perry, who threatened the government with legal action four years ago over its failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing, told the committee that the current situation was “a hustle”.
She wrote: “By building houses that do not match the accessibility needs of the population overall, developers are saving money, but harming the health and opportunities of millions, whilst creating an increased obligation on government to fund adaptations.
“They are passing a cost on to the taxpayer to fix their mess and hurting people.”
Many of those who submitted written evidence to the committee called on the government to fulfil its promise to introduce stricter accessibility standards for new homes.
DR UK and GMCDP said the country was “not building anywhere near enough accessible or adaptable homes”, and they called for the “immediate implementation of the national new build accessibility standards”.
Inclusion London said in its written evidence to the inquiry that it was “disappointed” that the government had not yet fulfilled that promise.
It said: “Continued delays only mean a poorer quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Disabled people living in unsuitable housing.”
Part of the committee’s inquiry will examine progress made since the government published the findings of a consultation into raising accessibility standards for new homes in July 2022, and announced a further consultation on the detail of the changes.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last July how the government had been criticised for a “disgraceful” failure to keep its promise on introducing these stricter standards.
The government said in July 2022 that 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 the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has yet to launch the consultation, more than three years after an earlier consultation ended, in December 2020.
The government’s own disability and access ambassador for housing, Vanessa Dockerill, strongly implied criticism of the government in her written response to the committee’s inquiry, calling on the government to introduce the new rules “without further delay”.
She wrote: “Right now, government should implement the preparatory steps to establish the M4(2) accessible and adaptable homes standard as default regulatory baseline without delay.”
She said the lack of information on a timetable for implementing the new standards was “proving challenging for Developers to prepare and position themselves for the pending change and, as such, potentially delays the positive impact of the changes”.
Many of those who contributed written evidence to the committee also called for improvements to the disabled facilities grant (DFG) scheme.
DR UK and GMCDP said the system was “failing” and was “not fit for purpose in its current form”, while Inclusion London said disabled people’s access to adaptations through DFGs was “a postcode lottery due to the maximum grant amount being set at £30,000 in England and the arbitrary nature of the means-test”.
Inclusion London told the committee: “Issues with DFGs prevent Disabled people from living safely and independently in our homes.”
Perry said the upper limit for a DFG was “far too low to cover major works” such as an extension that would allow a wheelchair-user to have a ground-floor bedroom and bathroom.
She suggested the government should introduce a new grant that could be put towards buying an accessible house, set at the same level as a DFG and “designed to cover the gap between the costs of an accessible property and an inaccessible property in the same area”.
DNS reported last summer that the Department of Health and Social Care had admitted that three consultations on improvements to the DFG system were “not currently being taken forward”.
One consultation was to examine proposals to increase the upper limit for an individual adaptation, currently set at £30,000, although councils can increase this on a case-by-case basis.
An independent review of DFGs, commissioned by the government, recommended an increase in December 2018.
Another consultation was to examine simplifying the means test underpinning the DFG system, which the government said was “complex and can be difficult to navigate”.
And the third was to examine how DFG funding was allocated to local authorities to “help ensure better alignment with local demand so that more adaptations reach those who need them most”.
Picture: A Wyatt Homes property in Dorset
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