Weekly Poll – Accessible Rented Housing (Week Beginning 14 March 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 14 March 2022, we asked a question about accessible rented housing.

Results

Question. Have you experienced difficulty finding accessible rented housing in the place you want to live?

  • Yes – 91% (139 respondents)
  • No – 9% (13 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Accessibility

The Scottish Government is consulting on the draft rented sector strategy ‘A New Deal for Tenants’, which seeks to improve accessibility, affordability choices and standards across the whole rented sector in Scotland. Access to suitable housing can enable disabled people to live more independently and safely. The majority of respondents (91%) had experienced difficulties in finding accessible rented housing in the place they wanted to live. Accessible housing is an essential requirement in facilitating independent living and the well-being of disabled people.

Respondents reflected on the challenges of finding suitable housing that meets their accessibility requirements. This includes step-free access to the entrance of the property, wide enough doorways and hallways for wheelchair access, lowered kitchen worktops, plug sockets and light switches in accessible positions and bathrooms with wet room facilities.

“It took me over a year of constant searching to find a wheelchair accessible property. So many new builds needlessly have steps going to their entrance which means I can’t even look at the ground floor flats. Also, 90% of the properties were built below the minimum floor height for when a lift is mandated by law — so they have no lifts either. This dramatically reduced the scope of my search, and the fact that almost all letting agencies had no idea whether a property was accessible was extremely demeaning and depressing; having to make all those phone calls only to be told there’s a stair if they even bothered to go look. Some of them even insultingly said “it’s only one stair, is that okay?” even after I made it clear that it wouldn’t be, almost as if to assuage their personal guilt.”

“It’s impossible to get accessible rented accommodation. I have been shown a couple of places in my years on the council list and they are not accessible. We need houses with level or ramped access, with doors wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, accessible or wet room toilets and a functional kitchen with lower worktops and light switches/plugs. How do we stand any chance when the council don’t even understand our accessibility needs?”

“There is a lack of adapted housing. The house I am in is supposed to be wheelchair accessible and friendly, but it isn’t. I can’t reach sockets; storage is out of my reach and the housing association I am with are the worst landlords I have come across and have cheek to charge more for rent than what housing benefit covers and do not tell you about hidden costs until they start sending you letters about your rent and repairs.”

“What we need is more houses and flats to be built with standard large doorways and toilets/showers suitable for disabled people. Houses should have access to an outside space whether that’s a balcony or communal green space. Disability can cause mental health issues especially if the person can’t get out. A space to grab a breath of fresh air or watch your children playing can make a real difference.”

“There is a lack of visual door buzzers and accessible specialist fire and smoke alarms for deaf people.”

Adaptations

Adaptations refer to the process of making adjustments to a home so that it is safer and easier to move around and do everyday tasks. Examples of home adaptions include:

  • Widening doors or installing ramps
  • Adding a bath lift, walk-in shower or grab rails
  • Lowering kitchen worktops
  • Adapting heating or lighting controls
  • Installing sensory equipment such as flashing doorbells and text phones

Local authorities deliver adaptations, through the Scheme of Assistance for homeowners and private tenants, as well as directly to local authority owned properties. In the draft rented sector strategy, the Scottish Government state that the existing funding arrangements for adaptations are complex, tied to housing tenure and do not support ease or equality of access for everyone who needs an adaptation. As such, they have committed to undertaking a review of the adaptations system, seeking to streamline and accelerate adaptations the system. Respondents highlighted the existing challenges with having their properties adapted.

“The system means you have to take the house then be assessed and fight for adaptions. It’s not easy doing everything required, including benefits, furniture package on discharge etc.”

“Provision of adaptations has been a nightmare due to relevant agencies, contractors and Housing Association not communicating and not listening, god forbid, to the actual needs of the disabled person.”

“Trying to get the Council to do the relevant adjustments is a real battle. They assume that disabled people do not need rooms to enable family to stay and have no hobbies that need space to do them.”

“My friend had to take the rental accommodation she was given. She waited years for a wheelchair adaptation and never qualified for disabled parking outside her house. The family bought the council house so that they could adapt the house for my friends needs at their own costs. However, this is not the solution, as it removes available council accommodation from the rental market and puts financial pressure on families.”

Availability

Disabled people raised concerns about the lack of accessible housing that is available in Scotland, causing long waiting times to find an accessible property. This can result in disabled people continuing to live in properties that do not meet their accessibility requirements until a suitable house becomes available.

“I have witnessed the struggles of others who are disabled and trying to get suitable rented accommodation. I feel sorry for the housing officers as they cannot pluck accommodation out of thin air. There simply isn’t enough houses or flats available in general, never mind accommodation suitable for transformation to suit the needs of disabled people.”

“There are not enough accessible properties available. Houses available tend to be in areas of deprivation.”

“I have been on the list for years and had little help from housing services. I have had to make do living in a house that is not appropriate or safe for me.”

“I have tried for 20 years to get my daughter a suitable ground floor flat and got know where. They are not building enough flats for disabled people.”

“I have been on a waiting list for accessible housing for over 7 years in the Glasgow City Council area. The house I am renting doesn’t meet my needs but is all I can afford but I need help to get out. I phone the council regularly to be told I haven’t moved up the waiting list and families move to the top for housing needs. Surely as a single disabled person my human rights should be considered and met also?”

Location

Due to the limited availability of accessible housing in Scotland, disabled people reported of having to accept properties in locations that are away from friends and family.

“When I became disabled, I was told that my flat was too small to be capable of adaptation, and that there was a waiting list of 10 to 12 years for accommodation that was suitable. I therefore had to move to a different location more than 100 miles away. To make matters worse I could not get any financial help towards the cost of packing, moving, and unpacking.”

“I have a friend who struggled to find suitable rentable accommodation and, in the end, moved to another area about 90 miles away so they could obtain something which met their needs. Unfortunately, this has taken them away from family and friends. The local authority also removed them from the list to be given accessibility accommodation in the area.”

“I have never been able to find accessible rented accommodation in a 20-mile radius of my home city.”

Anti-social Behaviour

Some respondents stated that disabled people have no option but to rent housing in areas that are subject to anti-social behaviour. This can put disabled people at greater risk of experiencing incidents of disability hate crime.

“Decent housing is difficult to find. Waiting lists are very long etc. Even when you are offered accommodation, neighbours can be difficult, and anti-social. Therefore, it would be excellent if housing departments could consider character and appropriateness prior to giving properties to those who cause concern, neglect and are generally indifferent and don’t seem to have an interest in communal areas and can drag an area down.”

“Very poor housing choices in areas I would consider unsuitable for vulnerable people on the whole.”

“There are anti-social behaviour issues that affect deaf people, who are targeted and subjected to incidents of hate crime.” 

Affordability

As a result of long waiting lists for accessible local authority and housing association homes, disabled people are often forced to rent from the private rented sector. By doing so, disabled people highlighted the extra costs that are associated with renting from a private landlord or letting agency.

“I have been unable to get an accessible house to rent through my council of housing associations and have had to look at the private rented sector. The house I am in is a private rent and I am paying about 40% more than I would for a social rent and only have one bedroom so have nowhere for if my carer needs to stay when I’m more poorly. They need to sleep on an air bed on the floor in the living room and this is quite degrading. Also, my one bedroom and living room is cluttered with my care and mobility equipment.”

“I have been on my council waiting list for 6 years and nowhere near getting an accessible house yet. The council and social work know my house doesn’t meet my needs but say there is nothing they can do, and my best option would be to rent private. I can’t afford the cost of renting a private house that’s accessible and even if I could there are hardly any advertised. Most private rents are flats or big family homes with a rental of £2,000 or more per month plus council tax and bills.”

Engage with Disabled People and Access Panels

In order to improve access to suitable rented housing, respondents stressed the need for government, local authorities, and built environment professionals to engage directly with disabled people and Access Panels. At Disability Equality Scotland, we are the umbrella body for Access Panels, which are made up of groups of disabled people working in local communities across the country to improve the accessibility of streets, paths, buildings and transport for disabled people. More information about Access Panels can be found on the Access Panel Network website: www.accesspanel.scot

“To have meaningful change, we need local authorities, planners and architects to engage with their local Access Panel. A vital resource to improving the lives of disabled people across Scotland.”

“We need to have proactive involvement with disabled people if government are serious about improving the rental sector.”

Conclusion

The majority of respondents (91%), have experienced difficulty finding accessible rented housing in the place they want to live. Disabled people reflected on the challenges of finding a suitable house that meets their accessibility requirements, such as level-free access, lowered worktops, wide doorways and hallways and bathrooms with wet room facilities. The lack of suitable accessible rental properties in their local areas had resulted in some disabled people having to move away from friends and family. In certain cases, disable people moved to areas with increased anti-social behaviour, putting disabled people at greater risk from experiencing disability hate crime. Some disabled people had faced increased costs by being forced to rent privately as a result of the lack of accessible local authority and housing association homes. To monitor the development and progress of the draft Rented Sector Strategy, we strongly recommend ongoing engagement with Disability Equality Scotland members and Access Panels.