Disabled people in Wales: housing crisis

Published: 11 May 2018

Disabled people in Wales and across Britain have been left demoralised 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 18-month formal legal inquiry, published today, calls for the UK and Welsh Government 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 the Welsh Government 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.

The Commission’s report calls for the Welsh Government to 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.   

Ruth Coombs, Head of Wales at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

‘Our report shows that thousands of disabled people across Wales are feeling trapped in homes that are not suitable. People are facing long waits to get a home to meet their needs. No one’s right to independent living should be limited by their home. And making necessary adaptations should not be a long and complex process.

‘The Welsh Government’s commitment to build 20,000 new homes by 2021 and its review of affordable housing are opportunities to improve the situation. We call on the Welsh Government to act now to address the housing crisis that is affecting the lives of disabled people in Wales.’

Appropriate housing can drastically 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.

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: Wales has a higher proportion of disabled people than any other country or region of the UK – 26 percent. Welsh Government statistics show that the number of people over 65 with a mobility impairment is projected to rise by 58 per cent by 2035.

  • only 15 percent of Welsh local authorities rated the data available to them on who needs accessible homes as ‘good’
  • only 5 percent of Welsh local authority has a target in place for accessible housing
  • only 15 per cent say that disabled people’s housing needs are subject to specific discussion or scrutiny when conducting a local housing market assessment

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 in their local development plans and find it challenging to ensure developers build to a higher standard. Developers are reluctant to build adaptable houses because they think they are less profitable.

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 a full and active role in the community 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.

Respondents in Wales told us:

'I am unable to independently access the first floor or the kitchen appliances. The bathroom is too small so I can't use the toilet. I am currently sleeping in what should be the dining room so don't have much privacy. I can't care for my own young daughter if she is ill as I can't access her bedroom. I can't access the back door.'

'I sleep downstairs and I'm unable to access the upstairs bathroom often, only the downstairs toilet. My landlord will not permit changes to the property so I'm unable to have grab rails which are needed and other aids, again, making me more dependent on carers and limiting my independence.'

Another said they have to carry their daughter up the stairs if she needs the toilet: 'I have to be upstairs while she bathes to get her in and out and to wash her... This affects my physical ability and hurts my back a lot. My girl also wants to be independent but can't get in or out of the bath.'

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 and 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. 

Building regulations in Wales have produced houses that are generally inaccessible, particularly for people who use wheelchairs. While the Welsh Government has taken action to ensure that the social housing that it directly funds is built to meet some accessibility and adaptability criteria, disabled people face particular difficulties and disadvantages in the private sector.

Housing for private rent is generally built 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.

Matt Dicks, Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales said:

‘Today’s report paints a worrying picture of the availability of suitably accessible homes for disabled people. We know that we have an acute housing crisis in Wales – a problem personified by the unacceptable situation of people sleeping on our streets.

‘Whilst we have an ambitious 20,000 affordable homes target, this report shows that it is absolutely vital that the right homes are built to standards that increase the supply of accessible housing. Further to this it re-emphasises the need to think about how we build one cohesive housing system where renting or buying a safe, suitable, affordable home is possible for every citizen.

‘With the recent announcement of the review into housing policy in Wales, we believe that this is a real opportunity to take forward the recommendations made by the Commission to ensure that we make real tangible progress on this issue. We look forward to working closely with our members to ensure these challenges continue to be at the forefront of discussions.'

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.