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.