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The disabled-friendly property challenge: What is the government doing about it?

 

11 million people in the UK are disabled – that’s 1 in 14 people. Whilst many of us have reason to complain about estate agents, it seems as though disabled people may have more reason than most.

A complex search

Searching for a home to buy, whether it’s your first home or an opportunity to downsize, can be stressful, with property portals advertising hundreds of properties and search features to navigate, designed to help you find the perfect home for your needs.

But what about disabled people?

Mainstream estate agent and property portal websites don’t allow you to search for disability features such as toilets on the ground floor or doorways wide enough for wheelchair access. Homes with elements such as 90-degree turns into rooms could make access impossible for wheelchair users, and the majority of estate agents simply aren’t aware of this fact.

Accessible properties

There are companies out there who are changing this – website such as the Accessible Property Register feature accessible homes for disabled people to browse. The site was set up to enable estate agents and developers to advertise properties which had been adapted for disabled people and currently receives around 20,000 visits from prospective purchasers a month. Whilst the site lists around 500 homes, it seems as though estate agents have been rather slow to register with the site and publicise their properties – only 20 have ever registered and so the site owners have compiled the existing listings themselves.

Lifetime Standard regulations

According to information from the Open Property Group, new homes must be built to be ‘lifetime standard’. This means that they must be accessible for the elderly and disabled, and this is helping the situation improve. But it’s the 70% of existing housing stock in the UK that poses the problem. Disabled people searching for accessible homes generally look for some (if not all) of the following features:

  • Level access to living areas
  • Toilet on the entrance level (or lift to the upper floor)
  • Off street or unrestricted parking within 25m of the property
  • No steps between the parking area and property entrance
  • Level access to at least one entrance

These are elements most of us don’t need to consider when we’re purchasing a property, but for disabled people and those with limited mobility, they’re absolutely vital questions to ask. Already petitions such as the one started by Fibromyalgia sufferer Sue Frier, calling for developers to build more disabled-friendly homes, have gathered thousands of signatures, but the new government could be doing more to help disabled people get on the property ladder.

Time to take action

Theresa May needs to take steps to address the housing crisis now, before things get worse. Amongst other things, she should consider the following:

  • Establishing a national housebuilding fund to take advantage of low government borrowing costs, enabling 100,000 new homes to be constructed, suitable for disabled people
  • Training more people in construction, with a variety of apprenticeships across the sector appealing to young people
  • Building more single storey homes that are accessible for disabled people
  • Commandeer public sector land such as sites in London owned by TfL and the NHS – it’s estimated there is enough land to build around 130,000 new homes

If steps are taken now to address the housing crisis and the shortage of accessible homes for the UK’s disabled population, we could see an improvement over the next few years, but it will require commitment and determination from the country’s new Prime Minister.

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