Senior housing figures have spoken of their “shock” at reading a report which revealed how a “property crisis” is preventing young disabled people from living independently, relocating for work or even moving in with their partners.
Organisations representing landlords and estate and letting agents promised immediate action when asked for their reaction to the Locked Out report, at this week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for young disabled people.
The report found estate and letting agents with little or no understanding of accessible property, failing to list features such as step-free access on their websites, and even attempting to take wheelchair-users to view properties up flights of steps.
It also found that leading property websites failed to offer a way to search for accessible accommodation.
The report was researched by members of the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, part of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, and grew from work by Trailblazer Mathy Selvakumaran for his university dissertation.
A survey of 200 young disabled people found 85 per cent of them did not feel confident that access advice given by estate agents, local authorities and other housing providers was accurate, while nine out of ten thought property developers did not do enough to consult with disabled people when planning and building new homes.
The Trailblazers also want to see more local authorities setting up registers of accessible housing.
And they want councils to pledge that all new housing will be built to the Lifetime Homes Standard – which describes key features that should be included in the design of accessible and adaptable housing – while 10 per cent should be wheelchair-accessible.
Mark Hayward, acting chief executive of the National Federation of Property Professionals (NFoPP), described the report as “a rude awakening for letting agents and estate agents”.
He admitted that there was “not any real awareness” among property professionals about the issues, and promised to circulate the report to his members “within a week at the latest”.
He also pledged to speak to NFoPP’s web developers to make it easier to identify accessible properties on the organisation’s own property search website.
Dean Velani, parliamentary officer for the National Association of Landlords, who is new to the housing industry, said the contents of the report had come as “a great shock”, and promised to return with a “plan of action on how to educate our members”.
He added: “We don’t know enough. We really need to hammer home that this is an economic benefit and a social benefit for us all.”
Paul Maynard, the disabled Conservative MP who chairs the all-party group, said the report was “very hard-hitting”, although he said he knew from the many landlords in his constituency of Blackpool North and Cleveleys that “the bottom line matters to them, not the morality”.
Andrew Cozens, a strategic adviser for the Local Government Association, said research suggested 720,000 households were living in private sector or rented accommodation that needed adaptation, while there was £1.9 billion “pent-up demand” for adaptations, although local authorities only had £200 million this year to meet that need.
Trailblazer Tanvi Vyas told the meeting how, because her fiancé works full-time and their joint income is more than £800 a month, they will have to pay for all the adaptations to the kitchen and bathroom of the bungalow they bought last year, as they are ineligible for a disabled facilities grant from their local authority.
Vyas said after the meeting that she had tried to encourage other disabled young people to go to university and “better themselves”, but that the system seemed to “penalise” disabled young people who try to work.
Fellow Trailblazer Carrie-Ann Lightley, information officer for Tourism for All UK, told the meeting there was a need to “create a situation where young disabled people in the UK feel confident that estate agents, local authorities, property developers and architects will deliver a service that means they can live not only independently but also… where they want to live.”
She has faced a “battle” to live independently with her boyfriend, who is now her husband.
Because she was living with her parents in a garage conversion, she was seen as a low priority and was told by her local authority that she would have to “wait until somebody died” before she could be given an accessible home.
And Hannah Lou Blackall told the meeting how she had been forced to live in a conference centre for more than a year because she was unable to find a wheelchair-accessible home to rent, after relocating to Hull to further her career in social work.
4 July 2012