Friday, July 06, 2012

'Locked Out' - Can Disabled People Even Find Accessible Accomodation? #nogobritain

A recent report by campaigning group Trailblazers, featured as part of Channel 4's #nogobritain series shows that young disabled people are being failed by estate agents and property websites. Not being able to find a home that you can access has an enormous impact on disabled people's lives, anecdotal reports of people having to turn down hard earned jobs because they weren't able to find an accessible home or carry their care package across to a different local authority are particularly distressing, especially with the political focus on moving disabled people off benefits and into work. Back in Sept 2010 I wrote the article reproduced below for All Together Now

 I moved recently, to a more accessible flat and a landlord who volunteered to put in adaptations. My previous landlords gave their permission for adaptations to be put in and provided basic equipment such as grab rails but I would have been liable for the cost of any major work myself. A risky undertaking in a privately rented property for which landlords only need to give you two month’s notice to quit and no way of recouping the costs of adaptations in that situation. Accessible housing in the social sector is very limited and hugely oversubscribed so my new landlord’s willingness to provide adaptations at his own cost starkly highlighted the contrast of just how difficult it is for most disabled people to find accessible, affordable accommodation. 

Although The Disability Discrimination Act imposes a legal duty to make reasonable adaptations to goods or services it does not confer an absolute obligation upon private sector landlords to provide access facilities or adaptations. It may be that your landlord agrees to allow you to do the adaptations yourself, or be possible for a private sector landlord to obtain a grant to cover the costs of any adaptations but if your landlord does not agree to the adaptations you probably will not be able to get them done. 

So just how easy, or difficult is it to find suitable accessible accommodation in the North West? Selecting Liverpool as a city I’m familiar with but not from I phoned some estate agents to see what they could offer a full time wheelchair user needing a 3 bedroom property. The answer was nothing. Only one agent could come up with the details for a 2 bedroom flat for sale, and only knew it to be accessible as they’d happened to sell an identical flat in the same block to a wheelchair user. All the agents were remarkably honest, one saying that they “had no details, we just have to go through and guess” and 3 out of the 4 surveyed tried to provide details of other agencies or ways they thought it might be possible to find out about access features, the same 3 out of 4 sounded very embarrassed to be unable to help or find the relevant information. Access Liverpool, a database set up to show the availability of accessible properties in the social sector admitted that their list had not been updated since 2006 and were unable to provide even a guesstimate of how long the wait for appropriate accessible housing might be, although they did stress they are currently in the process of updating the database.

The Accessible Property Register set up by Conrad Hodgkinson, Dr Christine Barton and Lindsay Yarrow offers a little more hope. Christine and Lindsay are both wheelchair users themselves so understand the difficulties finding suitable housing. They list properties as either Accessible or Accessible Plus, the most basic criteria being available parking with no steps between parking and entrance, ramped or level access to at least one entrance, level access to all living areas and at least one WC on the same level as the access. Accessible Plus offers more details such as whether there is an accessible bathroom, kitchen or widened doors. It’s free for individuals to advertise their properties for sale and easy to use. The downside is that only 24 homes were advertised for sale across the whole of the NW, with Lancashire and Greater Manchester best represented with 8 and 7 respectively and Cumbria worst off with only 1 accessible home for sale. Rentals were even harder to find with only 3 advertised across the region, none at all in Cheshire or Lancashire. 

Finding a suitable home is difficult and stressful at the best of times, but when that home also needs to be accessible it becomes a Herculean challenge. The Accessible Property Register is an ideal solution but until estate agents and vendors are required to provide access details on every property they handle it seems doomed to remain an ideal. Having discovered just how difficult it is to find an accessible home I’m even more grateful to a landlord who sees access as just one part of his overall responsibilities.


Anonymous said...

No-one ever posts my comment, so here goes a waste of time.

If you're autistic and need support to live independently, you are forced to go through the council, even if you work and are able to (just about) pay your own rent from your income.

This means that you have to go through residency tests (e.g. do you have a "local connection" etc) and in my case this meant I was confined to having to live in the same town as my abusive family.

When I finally got assessed for supported housing, I was told that, as I worked, I was "too independent" so was put on the standard housing register and promised "floating support". When I finally got a house, 2 years later, I was refused floating support for being "too disabled" and told to go to social services.

Well, guess what, I'm also not disabled enough for Social Services as they have raised their eligibility thresholds and also as I work I would have to pay, even though I can't afford it.

So I'm currently living in total abandonment in a dangerous situation without any support.

But no-one writes about this kind of thing, those of us with needs that can't be solved by physical adaptions are totally forgotten about or assumed to be being taken care of with Direct Payments and by social services. It's a total lie.

Also, it is difficult to get physical adaptions if you don't have a physical disability! I needed soundproofing and double glazing and a noiseless smoke alarm due to severe sensory issues relating to autism. I was told "no" because you can only have adaptations for physical or sensory loss reasons and I didn't "fit" into either category. I was also told that noiseless fire alarms are illegal!

It was only through the tireless campaigning of my advocate that I finally got the double glazing and the noiseless smoke alarm (which was achieved by taking the noise maker out of a standard fire alarm and linking it to a vibrating pager) and that was because she argued that I should be under the care of the sensory loss team as it is a sensory issue.

But it is still a big problem that there is no such thing as an autism adaptations department or an autism adaptations specialist, so who helps us? Unless you are lucky and can convince Social Services to widen a category for you, you are screwed.

Before I got the double glazing I was told to put egg boxes on my windows, for goodness sake!

So this isn't just an issue for people with physical needs, it affects autistics but we both know you won't publish this comment as no-one ever publishes my comments as they don't like me or my auitsm.

Anonymous said...

The findings of the report came from two hundred Trailblazers who gave details of their experiences dealing with estate and lettings agents, search engines, local authorities and private landlords.

You can read the full report on The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers website here

Anonymous said...

The findings of the report came from two hundred Trailblazers who gave details of their experiences dealing with estate and lettings agents, search engines, local authorities and private landlords.

You can read the full report on The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers website here

Anonymous said...

Quote Anonymous: "No-one ever posts my comment, so here goes a waste of time.".

Well, it was published. And you want to know something? It isn't easy thinking that no one listens to you - it really isn't and I know that for a fact.

You have to keep on posting and making yourself heard and making yourself a pain in the butt.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, people hear what you're saying and actually publish your words, your thoughts and your ideas.

In a forum such as this, you'll always be heard.

Thank you for relating your story and, much more importantly, thank you for your persistence.

Trust me, you will be heard and listened to.

Cheers and best wishes.

Spoonydoc said...

To Anyonymous

I was sorry to hear your story. It is hard enough for those of us who fit into the "right" boxes, let alone those of us who don't. All I can say is that many of us are prepared not only to listen but to fight. I hope you will continue to try to make yourself heard.

As for myself I can but echo the findings reported here. I am very lucky to have found a flat which was adaptable by pure chance. I did spend some time looking to buy a flat but gave up after only finding 4 suitable places in a 3 year search.

None of the agents knew whether properties were accessible. Even when they claimed they were it was a common occurrence to turn up for a viewing only to be confronted with steps to the main entrance. "Are you sure you can't manage just a few steps?..."

I also encountered astounding prejudice and bigotry which upsets me to this day. After starting to scout out potential properties before arranging a viewing, local residents often would come to see what I was doing. Comments include:
"We don't want your kind here" and "Someone like you can't expect to live in a place like this".

I am terrified my landlord might decide to sell up. I don't know what I would do as it is highly unlikely I would find anywhere to live in the 3 months I would have available.