04 Aug 2021

Raising the accessibility standards of new homes

Did you know that since 2015/16 we have built just over 1.1 million new homes (net additional dwellings) as recorded in the UK Housing Review. Why is that significant? Well, that is the year when new homes were required to be built incorporating some basic accessibility standards, contributing to the fact that now nine per cent of homes in England include these, up from five per cent in 2009, as noted in the government’s recently published National Disability Strategy

However, figures from the English Housing Survey show starkly that these measures do not go far enough.

The number of households reporting that they do not have the adaptations they need in their home is increasing – up to one million households or 53 per cent - and one third of them would need to move as their homes are not suitable to adapt to their needs (see more in this article from Centre for Ageing Better and Habinteg). Homes that are unsafe increase the risk of accidents and falls, causing major problems for the individual and also huge costs for health and other services (The Building Research Establishment (BRE) estimated the cost of poor housing to the NHs from falls alone to be £435 million).

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) data reveals that the number of disabled people is on the rise too, up to 14.1 million people in 2019/20, an increase of 2.7 million from 2009/10. Much of that increase is because of the higher numbers of disabled children and people of working age. Living in an unsuitable home is known to affect disabled people’s opportunities for employment. The repercussions of poor housing impact on all areas of life – something reinforced in the experiences we have had through this pandemic. Research by Habinteg illustrated that disabled people were three times more likely than non-disabled people to report that their home undermined their wellbeing during the lockdown due to its inaccessibility, and 17 times more likely to report that it meant they could not undertake daily tasks of living without help.

Most people got how important a good home was, and were in favour of action even before the pandemic underlined it. In 2019, in a poll for the Centre for Ageing Better, 72 per cent agreed that we needed homes built to be suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

Just imagine the difference it could have made for those one million households struggling with their homes if we had adopted higher accessible and adaptable standards (as set out in volume 1 of the Building Regulations M4 Category 2) back in 2015. That is why it so important now that we do not miss another opportunity to raise the accessibility standards of new homes. We need swift action to address this, otherwise we will continue to build housing that won’t be safe, undermines people’s ability to live well, and ultimately costs more in future adaptations and in the demand for public services such as health and care.

Written by Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a senior policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing. She leads on all things ageing, health, care, support, rural housing, tenant engagement, housing strategy and planning. Sarah is a chartered CIH member.