Disabled people in housing crisis

Published: 11 May 2018

Disabled people have been left frustrated and trapped by a chronic shortage of suitable housing, as unnecessary bureaucracy and insufficient support leave them trapped in unsuitable homes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned.

The results of an eighteen month formal legal inquiry, published today, call for governments to take urgent action to make all new houses adaptable and accessible, as 365,000 disabled people say their home is not suitable for their needs.

Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis calls on governments to produce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of houses built to inclusive design standards and for a review of the way that building standards are enforced.

It also demands that both national and local governments improve the way that data is collected and shared, both on the requirements of disabled people and on the number of adaptable homes already built. Equally as important is ensuring provision of specialist support and information services to match homes to the people who need them and to ensure that they are suitably adapted.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission 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.'

Appropriate housing can dramatically improve disabled people’s ability to live independently. Those whose homes meet their accessibility requirements reported improved health and wellbeing, and enhanced prospects for employment and study. Timely installation of adaptations can create significant savings to the public purse, reducing social care costs for local authorities and health costs for the NHS.

In England, only seven percent of housing stock meets minimum standards. The inquiry surveyed all local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales and found many have failed to collect data or meet current demands, let alone plan for the future. The failure to set targets for the future is of particular concern as the number of disabled people is increasing: an estimated 13.3 million in Britain in 2016, up from 11.9 million in 2013 to 2014.

  • only 16 percent of authorities felt their data estimating the number of disabled people currently in inappropriate housing was ‘good’ or ‘very good’
  • only 22 percent have an accessible housing register
  • only 28 percent have a target in place for accessible housing
  • and 55 percent did not include a target for accessible and/or adaptable housing delivery in their most recent local plan or development plan

Without a national planning policy that specifically considers accessible and adaptable housing for disabled people, local authorities have no obligation to make sure they’re delivering the right kind of housing and find it challenging to require developers to build to a higher standard. Developers are reluctant to build adaptable houses because they think they are less profitable.

The Government’s own figures show that the increased costs are modest and there is strong evidence to suggest that future proofing our housing will save significantly on health and social costs in the future.

The findings raise alarming concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being heavily restricted by unsuitable and unsafe housing. The ability to move around, leave the house and take as full and active role in the community as possible is vital to disabled people, and essential in ensuring they have access to education and employment. 

During this inquiry, we heard from over 400 disabled people, which exposed stories of people eating, sleeping and bathing in one room, and of people having to be carried around their homes by family members. Inadequate housing has also led to many disabled people, carers and family members experiencing a serious deterioration in their mental wellbeing.

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 affected their 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.'

And one shared their struggle to get suitable adaptations, leaving them in an unsafe environment:

'It took a year for the team to agree, fund and plan the adaptations, despite being told when we accepted the property that these things would need to be done. Paperwork was ‘lost’ several times. We didn't always get accessible plans or correspondence (via email); despite asking repeatedly for it (both of us are registered blind). We were living in a house that was unsafe throughout that time.'

The report highlights the drastic need to improve support systems as access to advice, support and advocacy has been patchy and difficult to navigate. This adds unnecessary stress and pressure to the process for disabled people. In particular, access to tenancy advice was found to be essential but often inadequate for those with learning difficulties, sensory impairments and mental health conditions.

Focusing on improving processes, the recommendations call for local authorities to urgently address delays within the adaptation system, allowing for low cost and minor adaptations to be installed quickly and easily. 

Disabled people also face particular difficulties and disadvantages in the private sector. Much of the housing built in England is built for private rent and generally to a lower accessibility standard, creating a significant problem for houses to be economically adapted in the future. This is further complicated by most buy-to-let mortgages specifying a 12-month maximum tenancy, which prevents landlords from agreeing to the three- to five-year requirements to get the necessary grant for adaptations. This adds to the confusion and reluctance disabled people feel when asking private landlords for adaptations.

Kamran Mallick, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK said:

'This research shows some of the fundamental issues we face on a day-to-day basis.

'Appropriate housing is key to independent living and creating choice and control for disabled people.

'But it’s also better for the tax payer. Better housing options mean disabled people are less likely to seek support from hard pressed health and social care providers. The same is true if we develop ways to ensure the swift provision of aids and adaptations when people become disabled.

'We need clear standards for developers and designers so we begin to see the establishment of more lifetime homes; and better policing and support for private landlords, who have a huge slice of the rental market.'

Terrie Alafat CBE, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said:

'This report highlights a worrying lack of suitable housing options for disabled people.

'We are currently not building anywhere 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.

'Accessibility must be a crucial consideration for the government as it looks to solve our housing crisis.'

Notes to editors

The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the formal inquiry on housing for disabled people in December 2016. The inquiry was conducted using the our unique statutory powers under Section 16 of the Equality Act 2010.

Specifically, in England, Scotland and Wales, we are calling for:

A national strategy

The government to introduce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of new houses built to inclusive and universal design standards and built to wheelchair-accessible standards, across all tenures. This should include a review of the way that building standards are enforced, particularly in the private rented sector. The strategy should recognise that housing support, advice and advocacy is often necessary to enable people to maintain their housing and their right to independent living.

Better data sharing

National and local governments should take action to improve the way that data is collected and shared, both on the requirements of disabled people and on the accessibility of existing housing stock.

Less bureaucracy

Local authorities to urgently address the bureaucratic hurdles and delays that exist within adaptations systems, to ensure that low-cost, minor adaptations in particular can be installed quickly and easily. This should be monitored and reviewed.

Additional funding

Governments to provide additional funding to disabled people’s organisations and advice agencies, to increase the supply of independent advice and information regarding housing options, including adaptations, with a particular focus on the private-rented sector.

Independent living principles embedded in policies

Local authorities and registered providers of social housing or registered social landlords to embed independent living principles into assessment and allocations policies for social housing, to ensure real choice and control.

Better knowledge and matching of housing stock

Local authorities to significantly increase their knowledge of existing accessible social housing stock and develop specialist support and information services to facilitate suitable matching.

Apply best practice on housing registers

Local authorities to apply best practices on the use of accessible housing registers, with the longer term aim of the use of a standard methodology across all Local Authorities.

Supporting institutional and residential care

Local authorities to work with the NHS to ensure people living in institutional and residential care are supported to live independently.

Governments to set standards

Governments to publish standards and monitor and review the effectiveness of accessible housing registers.

Upholding the rights of tenants

The UK Government must ensure that the new policy and funding model for supported housing upholds the rights of tenants, and that freedoms and choice are not restricted, in line with UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The new model needs to address the current uncertainty and deliver a stable market for both housing providers and those providing specialist support.

Fully integrated services

Local authorities to ensure that housing, care and health services are fully integrated and sufficient funds are available to support people to live independently, and that there is an increased focus on prevention.

Increased specialist support

Local authorities to provide increased specialist disability advice and advocacy services for housing options.

Find out more

Read the full report, Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis, and see our videos, blogs, reports, recommendations, infographics and case studies.

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102

07767 272 818 (out of hours)