Inquiry finds chronic shortage of suitable homes for thousands of disabled people

Disabled people are being trapped inside their homes because of a “chronic” shortage of suitable housing, a new report warns.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said 365,000 disabled people have reported that their homes are not suitable for their needs.

The Government was urged to take action to make all new houses adaptable and accessible, and to review the way building standards are enforced.

An 18-month review into the problem by the ECHR found that many local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have not collected data or planned for the future, even though the number of disabled people is increasing.

Those whose homes meet their accessibility requirements reported improved health and wellbeing, and better prospects for employment and study, creating “significant” savings to the public purse, reducing social care costs for local authorities and for the NHS, said the commission.

The review revealed “alarming” concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living was being restricted by unsuitable and unsafe housing.

One respondent said: “I have not been outside since 2011, except for essential hospital stays. My flat is on the second floor, with no lift; it is not wheelchair-accessible, and although I have and need a power wheelchair, I cannot even use it indoors, as the flat is not adapted. I have been both horizontally bound and housebound for six years.”

Another explained how the restrictions impacted family life: “I can’t access the whole house, including my children’s room. I can’t use my wheelchair around the house, so I get exhausted very quickly just getting from the stairs to my chair or the kitchen – around three metres. This cuts down the amount of interaction I can have with my family, and also means that I need a lot more help with everything than I would if my house was accessible.”

David Isaac (pictured), chairman of the EHRC, said: “As the saying goes, ‘home, sweet home’, but for thousands of disabled people across the UK, their homes create only a sense of being trapped and the cause of distress.

“No one’s right to independent living should be limited by their home, and making the necessary adaptations should never require lengthy waiting lists and result in endless confusion.

“Governments must take note of our recommendations and act now to address this hidden crisis that affects the lives of so many disabled people.”

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “We are currently not building anywhere near enough homes to meet the huge demand for housing, but this report once again shows that this is not just a numbers game.

“We have to build a significant number of new homes, but we have to make sure they are the right homes, in the right places and that people can afford them.”

Neil Heslop, chief executive of the Leonard Cheshire disability charity, commented: “This report is a shocking indictment of how disabled people have largely been forgotten in the housing priorities of local and national government.”

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Housing is too often unavailable, unaffordable, and not appropriate for everyone that needs it. This includes the availability of homes suitable for older and disabled people and people in vulnerable circumstances.

“It is crucial that councils have greater planning powers and resources to hold developers to account, ensuring that they build the right homes in the right places needed by different groups within the local community.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We realise many disabled people can face a variety of obstacles in their daily lives, but we’re clear that their homes should not be one of these.

“That’s why we’re providing councils with almost £1 billion over the next two years to adapt properties for disabled people so they can live independently and safely.

“Our planning rules make clear councils must take the needs of elderly and disabled people into account when planning new homes in their area.”

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