Plugging a much needed gap in housing advice for disabled people

by Imogen Blood

Published: 19 Oct 2018

Imogen Blood is founder and director of Imogen Blood and Associates, a team of top social researchers promoting equality and improving effectiveness in the public and not-for-profit sectors.

Over 1,000 people responded to our online survey asking about what housing advice is needed for disabled people.

The message was clear that what is needed is not ‘more advice’, but more affordable, decent and accessible housing.

I can understand this: many are struggling to cope in inaccessible or temporary accommodation; one person told us they had been effectively trapped in their home for years.

Advice alone will not solve what the Equality and Human Rights Commission (The Commission) has described the ‘Hidden Housing Crisis’ facing disabled people in Britain. But without it, disabled people cannot even begin to exercise their rights to adequate housing and understand the options they may have.

In its report on the housing experiences of disabled people, the Commission has described the positive impact of good advice on people who had previously been ‘passed from person to person’ at their local authority; or had tried to design their own adaptations – or depended on developers to do so.

We know from June and Michelle’s fight for accessible housing (YouTube, opens in new window) that perseverance is at least as important as knowledge. June’s advice to others is to ‘make as much noise as possible’, but she is also clear that, if your ‘noise’ is to be effective, you need (or someone supporting you needs) to know the systems, how they work, what you are entitled to, and who to appeal to.

Lost in a 'minefield'

Some of our survey respondents mentioned valued sources of advice such as Care & Repair, Housing Options Scotland, specialist housing associations such as Habinteg and Blackwood, and disabled people’s groups; but the majority told us they did not know where to go to get advice on housing, or that they had tried and got lost in a ‘minefield’.

Our new series of housing advice guides for disabled people and the organisations that support them in England, Scotland and Wales begin to fill this gap.

We know that there is already a lot of housing advice information online; but you need to know where to look, what to search for (which is hard unless you know the jargon), and how to piece together the jigsaw.

Our guides bring a lot of the information together in one place and include links to organisations and websites which can provide more detailed help.

We have prepared guides on three topics, with different versions for each of the three countries to reflect key differences in law, policy and initiatives. The guides comprise:

  • social housing –  the process of applying for and trying to find an accessible home; your rights as an existing housing association or council tenant; and financial support to pay for your home.
  • private rented sector –  lettings agencies; affordable/ mid-market rent; deposits; your rights and responsibilities; what to do if things go wrong; and the financial support you might get from the State.
  • adaptations – different categories of adaptation and how to apply for these, depending on whether you rent from a private or social landlord, or own your own property.

As well as providing information about housing options, processes and rights, we were keen to include tips from disabled people and professionals based on real-life experiences.

We are extremely grateful to those who turned out (especially in deep, unexpected snow!) to share their tips at our focus groups. It is their voices which – we believe – bring both positivity and realism to the guides.

Written guides can only go so far

We hope you will find the guides useful – as you advocate for yourself and for others. However, we recognise that generic written material published online can only go so far.

Disabled people also need to be able to access personalised advice and advocacy if they are to understand, and access local housing options specific to their needs and circumstances.

The services that can offer this have been stripped back in most of Britain; though Housing Options Scotland (one of our partners in developing the guides) is a great example of a government-funded national brokerage service, specialising in helping disabled people develop and achieve personalised housing options plans.

They do this by meeting people face-to-face in their existing homes, and by building networks and relationships with local authorities, landlords and mortgage lenders and brokers.

Considering home ownership

Housing Options Scotland also specialises in helping disabled people and their families look at home ownership (including shared ownership) options, typically combining benefits-based borrowing and Scottish Government shared equity schemes.

Writing a guide on this topic within the English and Welsh context, especially taking account of the impact of changes to Support for Mortgage Interest (which used to be paid as a benefit, but is now paid as a loan), could help more disabled people to consider and access home ownership – especially where suitable housing is not available for rent.

And of course, all of this must run alongside the ongoing campaign for more affordable, accessible and high-quality housing for disabled people. Unfortunately, even the best information and advice cannot magic quality housing from thin air.

Take a look at the guides, share them with people you know and tell us what you think. All feedback is welcomed!

Housing advice guides

The housing advice guides for disabled people and the organisations that support them were prepared for the Equality and Human Rights Commission by Imogen Blood and Associates, working in partnership with Housing Options Scotland, the Housing Learning and Improvement Network, and Disability Wales.