Saturday, 13 July 2013

Wheelchair Accessible UKHousing

An essay on the plight of wheelchair bound citizens in the rental housing market.

Unfortunately people who are unable to walk and totally reliant on a wheelchair will find there are many barriers to finding somewhere to live. If you are lucky and your incapacity comes when you own your own home, you will be able to apply for a disability grant to help with making modifications to your home as long as you don’t have over the prescribed limit in savings & income.

For those without their own homes that rent to provide a roof over their heads you will encounter several difficulties. Private landlords unwilling to provide secured tenancies, and local councils / social landlords that will not take into account your particular needs. You will be left with choices all extremely unpalatable and in varying degrees unworkable.  

I write from personal experience as we have been looking for a home, rather than a roof over our heads on and off for the last 4 years.  Currently we live in a first floor, small two bedroom flat, which although it has a tiny wet room is totally unsuitable and unsafe for both my husband and his care workers. We have written to the council regarding the reasons why we need to move and they have given us a high priority for housing that just does not exist, and only allocated us 2 bedrooms which is totally unworkable for us. We need rooms of varying sizes for the following, 
  • 1 small bedroom for me to sleep in during the week so I can return to work,
  • 1 small study / changing space for care-workers,  
  • 1 small room / space to house a tilt table + all the spare equipment + charging space,
  • 1 very large (4m x 4m) master bedroom capable of taking a hospital bed that can be accessed all around + another single bed so that I can look after Hubby at the weekends during the night and maintain some intimacy in our marriage. 

We also need a large wet room + separate shower / washroom to maintain separate hygiene with the care-workers. Then open plan living / kitchen space. Barrier free front / rear access doors and interior doors wide enough to easily manoeuvre an electric wheelchair through. Outside we need somewhere safe, sheltered for Hubby to sit to make sure he gets enough daylight to maintain his vitamin D levels which is very important to his bone health.  
  
So far we have been offered two bedroom bungalows which report to be accessible which we know will be totally unsuitable and lead to us swapping our current unsafe conditions for even more problems such as
  • ·         serious infection control issues,
  • ·         rooms not big enough to allow for free access of a wheelchair,
  • ·         having to give away all our possessions to squeeze us in,
  • ·         socially isolating Hubby even more than presently,
  • ·         no storage space or room for rehabilitation equipment,
  • ·         no cognisance taken of the fact that not only a home but a place of work for full time care workers .

It is becoming increasingly apparent that no one is interested in supplying housing that is fit for purpose for disabled people. They are supposed to be grateful for anything they are offered, even if it will contribute to deterioration in their health and hastening the day they will need to move to a nursing home.

So having increasingly despaired with the social housing market I turn my sights to private rentals. We would have to contribute more to our rent as the housing benefit allowances for private are not as generous, but as I fully intend to return to work as soon as possible this is not a big issue if we can get a landlord to work with us to make a bungalow accessible. 

We came across somewhere that we could have made perfect for our circumstances, it needs some alterations but has lots of potential. We got past the first hurdle of the rental agencies that usually suddenly make the property unavailable to disabled enquirers, got to speak to the landlord to explain our situation. He seemed very understanding of our plight, I explained that we would need to change the on suite bathroom into a wet-room out of our meagre savings, then once moved in apply for a disability grant for the other changes that we needed.  That we would make changes that would not devalue his property. Also that longer term if my work situation panned out we would look to buy it off him. I also explained that we would need some sort of secured tenancy as to apply for the grant the council want to know you can live in the property for five years. Anyway we left the conversation at that point, as we had to involve the estate agent he was using to manage the rental. So I talked it through with the agent explaining the different type of rental agreement we would need, as she had no experience of other types other than the short-hold, 6 month, 12 month assured tenancies more usual in the private rental market. The estate agent and landlord subsequently had a conversation and unfortunately the landlord was not in a position to grant us a 5 years short hold or an assured tenancy so our perfect property fell through.

I have come to the realisation that this means that in most cases the private rental sector is totally unavailable to mobility restricted renters, but the local authorities / social housing associations are not providing suitable properties either, does not sound very equitable or fair to me, or looking after our most vulnerable in society, does it you?


Any ideas people how we are to find suitable housing that meets our needs.  

If is quite obvious that the local authorities do not have the expertise to deal with housing the severely mobility disabled. This leads to their housing needs being put in the too difficult basket by the housing managers leaving the disabled without suitable housing for very long periods of time. I would like to suggest a new means tested system. If the disabled person does not have assets, capital or compensation pot, that the local authorities give them a personal budget to either build or buy housing that can be adapted. With that grant being repayable on the death of the disabled person, either by handing over the house for someone else to use or by selling and repaying the grant. This would mean that the disabled could ensure that they have the housing that fits their particular circumstance rather than what the local authorities think they need. In our case we would need £200k to find a 3 bedroom bungalow that we could adapt to our needs within that budget. (175k cost + 25k adaptations ) . I know that would mean if my husband died or became too ill to live in the property I would be homeless but I could accept that if that meant he could live some where suitable.

Readers will think this too expensive, but it is only marginally more expensive than the new not fit for purpose so called accessible housing that is being currently built or actually not being built as there is a national shortage. Also there are savings in poor health outcomes that the disabled in poor housing currently suffer.

We need some out of the box thinking to help get us out of the current housing problems faced by the severely disabled. 

2 comments:

  1. Reading your article makes me ever more thankful that I was able to find somewhere in the private rental market, who was prepared to give us that oh-so rare security of a long-term assured tenancy!
    As you said, without it, we would have been unable to claim the grant needed for necessary changes to the property, so that I could be looked after properly by my husband, who is my full-time carer.
    I think the government are really missing out on a huge saving by their intransigent attitudes towards the housing needs of the disabled.
    I sincerely hope, and pray, that you find what you need, and soon :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your very kind words.

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