Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by Scope (AH 43)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  Scope the national disability organisation welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the ODPM Consultation on Affordability and Supply of Housing Consultation.

  Scope's current "Time to Get Equal" campaign aims to raise awareness of the problems and barriers disabled people face in their everyday lives and this includes barriers to disabled people accessing appropriate housing. As well as campaigning and policy work, Scope also provides direct services to disabled people. These services include residential care units which we are in the process of developing and re-provisioning, in order to provide independent living opportunities. Our ultimate goal is that all disabled people will have the options to live where they want to live and have the opportunity to move to locations of their choosing.

  Scope recognises that disabled people's equality can only be achieved when they live alongside their non-disabled peers, in the community, with all necessary supports to participate equally in community life.

  We hope that the recommendations we make in this report it will go some way to meeting the Government"s measures as laid out in the "Improving Life Chances"[104] strategy and provide a significant step towards tackling inequality and discrimination faced by millions of disabled people in Britain today.

  As a body whose primary area of expertise is in the area of disability this response will focus on the requirements of disabled people accessing affordable housing, but it's important to realise that any improvements on the availability of affordable housing will impact positively on other areas or groups that may be affected by the issues laid out in this series of housing enquiries.

  However we specifically want to highlight some of the key additional issues for disabled people wishing to make private housing work for them:

    —  The lack of clear and accessible info about adapted properties;

    —  The need for an adapted housing register that can be accessed by disabled people;

    —  Discriminatory practices within the banking & mortgage industry; and

    —  The current DFG system (means tested for adults, overly bureaucratic and controlled by "professionals").

2.  INDEPENDENT LIVING AND HOUSING

  2.1  Scope believes that in responding to this consultation that it is important to set the discussion concerning affordability and housing supply in an independent living context. In that current Government policy with regard to social and health care alongside the "Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People" cannot be delivered on without a recognition to the disablist nature of the current homeownership market.

That "disablism"[105] which is prevalent in the options open to disabled people when seeking genuine choice and control over where they live must be tackled if the homeownership market is a viable option for all citizens.

  2.2  Once people are placed in residential care they often have little or no further contact with the funding authority, particularly if they are placed out of the local authority area. This was the situation for one of the disabled people we consulted who wanted to move out of residential care into their own homes, but were unable to because "social services won't meet the cost". John Grooms Housing Association has estimated a countrywide shortfall of 300,000 wheelchair accessible homes.

  2.3  The need for inclusive, accessible and affordable housing is growing as the population ages. This is not an issue of interest only to a small minority. The 10 million disabled people in Great Britain represent one in five of the adult population. There are also about 700,000 disabled children In Great Britain.

  2.4  Scope has been calling for greater affordable and accessible housing since 1996 when it launched its "Scope for Fair Housing"[106] campaign. This time limited campaign highlighted the barriers to independent living faced by disabled people who require both accessible housing and support—these cornerstones to independent living are no different in the home ownership bracket to those living in social housing or private rented accommodation.

  2.5  The extent to which home purchase tackles social and economic inequalities and reduces poverty can clearly be demonstrated by looking at home buying as investment. Additional costs faced by disabled people in everyday life, that relate to disability are on rarely recognised and so therefore many disabled people have to find these costs themselves. These are costs which if recognised, would be significantly reduced if the barriers to disabled people"s equal participation were removed.

3.  PLANNING NEW DEVELOPMENTS

  3.1  There are many other factors influencing the affordability of housing for sale including construction methods. Because of this we would like to see legislation that requires that land released for housing development MUST be near to or easily connected to public transport infrastructure. Also, that land released should be in close proximity to essential services, shops and facilities, or if not that these elements should be contained within the development proposals with guarantees from the relevant stakeholders that they will be in place, before planning permission is granted.

  3.2.  The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. It extends Part III of the DDA to require public bodies not to discriminate against disabled people in the exercise of their public functions. Planning decisions will be subject to a requirement not to discriminate against disabled people and must involve disabled people at the planning stage both of new developments and refurbishments.

4.  SUPPLY AND DEMAND

  4.1  There is a need to address the regional disparities in the supply and demand for housing and how they might be tackled. It is vitally important to increase the supply of private "lifetime" housing alongside social housing because disabled people should have the option to become homeowners.

  4.2  Accessible housing, across all types, sizes and tenure is vital to supporting independent living options for disabled people in Britain. For many disabled people the current lack of accessible housing severely limits independence, geographical mobility and employment

  4.3  In addition to the accessibility of the property itself, other factors such as the availability of public transport, parking, proximity of local services and connections to employment opportunities are all extremely important if we are to create "Sustainable and Inclusive Communities", that include disabled people.

5.  REALISTIC CHANGES IN POLICIES AND PRACTICE—KEY ISSUES

  Our response will focus on the issues detailed in the ODPM press notice PN04. We particularly want the Government to address some of the key issues for disabled people wishing to buy a property. The four key areas are as follows:

  5.1  Information and signposting—there is currently a lack of clear and accessible info about adapted properties—and we would like to see the government introduce an incentive scheme for Estate Agents where they hold onto adapted properties for longer and receive training to be more aware about the housing needs of disabled people in the private market.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  We ask that the Government ensure local authorities adopt a uniform and consistent approach to the provision of information to local disabled people as they try and access the private housing market. Local authorities should also make the DFG process less bureaucratic and more person-centred in its approach. The DFG means test should be removed and the DFG should become a true mandatory grant for disabled people to make essential adaptations.

  5.2  Private Housing Register—There is a need for some kind of adapted housing register that can be accessed by disabled people and would aid disabled people in finding properties far more quickly and help them remain financially viable within the housing market - as buying becomes far more difficult for disabled people if they struggle to find suitable housing. One possibility could be for local authorities to work with Estate Agents in developing a register of adapted housing for disabled people in the private housing market.

There are a number of good examples in Scotland, at the Glasgow Centre for Integrated Living, where a register is kept of adapted properties. The register has meant that disabled people are able to be matched with properties appropriately adapted to meet their needs. Therefore reducing the cost of re-adapting properties or indeed the examples where expensive adaptions are removed from properties thus reducing the overall numbers of accessible properties on the market. These examples are unfortunately only operating within the social housing market currently but, there is much to be learned from their successes and certainly good practice that could be applied to the private housing sector.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  We ask that the Government set out plans to support the development of a national accessible housing register. Although not as relevant in the private housing market, as it's hard to put restrictions onto home owners and what they may or may not do to their properties, Estate Agents could be asked to work with local authorities in developing a register of adapted housing for disabled people in the private housing market.

  The need for some kind of adapted housing register that can be accessed by disabled people would aid disabled people in finding properties far more quickly and help them remain financially viable within the housing market—as buying becomes far more difficult for disabled people as they cannot find suitable housing and so they risk depreciation and a downturn in the value of their properties.

  5.3  Removing discrimination—disabled people experience discrimination from those businesses operating within the banking and mortgage industry and clearly more stringent protection is required for disabled people as they try to enter the housing market. The financial security home ownership can give to those individuals who purchase properties is well documented and it is unacceptable that for most disabled people this is an option that is still out of reach. Disabled people need equal access to banking facilities and opportunities to enter the homebuyers market "I didn't qualify for a Disabled Facilities Grant, and then the Building Society refused me a loan. I needed to adapt the house so I could live in it . . . at the time I was desperate and I ended up borrowing money from a loan shark . . . When I look back it was a stupid thing to do." (disabled person, London)

RECOMMENDATIONS

  We ask that the Government adopt a uniform and consistent approach to ensuring that the mortgage and banking industry are properly regulated. The Government must, if it is serious in increasing the numbers of homeowners across Britain, recognise the disablism that exists within the current home buying process and therefore investigate ways in which home buying can become a more realistic option for disabled people.

  5.4  Statutory financial support—entering the housing market should not mean an end to the statutory financial support available to disabled people. Even when being fully employed or entering employment, disabled people's disposable income is significantly less because of the additional costs related to disability. We are therefore calling for an overhaul of Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) system which is currently over bureaucratic, inflexible and prohibitive. A more flexible and person-centred DFG process would ultimately provide many more disabled people with the financial means to adapt their properties. We are also calling for the end to the DFG means test.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  We ask that the Government make available at least double the £99 million DFG budget for essential adaptations.

  Twenty per cent of the allocation relies on assessment of performance by the Government Offices for the Regions. This restriction has to be taken away as it denies no one else but disabled people themselves. Disabled people should not face the additional burden of sanctions against local authority negligence.

  Shortage of Occupational Therapists means delays in assessments and many disabled people are left waiting for an unacceptable length of time for their applications to be processed or for the adaptations to be carried out.

  The DFG process should be less "healthcare professional" controlled and disabled people more involved in how the process is delivered. A more person centred approach to DFGs is a key Scope recommendation

  A Programme of Awareness of DFGs is needed particularly with regard to how to apply for grants.

  Disabled Facilities Grants need to be considered in relation to delayed hospital discharge and associated issues, including minor adaptations.

6.  CONCLUSION

  6.1  We look forward to responding to the ODPMs further housing inquiries. Specifically the role of shared ownership schemes in meeting demand for homeownership and helping tackle the housing needs of disabled people. In this area we feel there is an opportunity for the Government to better target appropriate groups and to expending the notion of key worker status amongst disabled people or of ensuring disabled people are afforded similar opportunities to those considered as key workers. We would welcome greater opportunity within the shared ownership scheme—as these schemes have been shown to work for disabled people. Considering the fact that shared ownership is offered through housing association opportunities and that new build housing association properties are offering significant levels of accessible and affordable housing options, which just is not available to disabled people in the private housing market. It is our view that shared ownership schemes do offer value for money and disabled people, even in the homebuyer market should be able to buy into it if it were an easier option than trying to find a new home to buy out with the joint ownership scheme.

  6.2  The Government must make a long term contribution to meeting housing needs and aspirations of disabled people all new housing should be designed to "Lifetime Homes" standard to allow a more a sustainable future for properties and their occupants, due to the greater integral flexibility offered by the design.

  6.3  In the short term it's essential that any improved system for increasing housing affordability and supply should be replicated at regional and local level to enable authorities to much more precisely meet the demand for appropriately designed and located housing available for disabled people.

  6.4  In the long term the ODPM should also introduce long tem monitoring and evaluation of the national housing needs of disabled people across all property types.







104   Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, Prime Minister"s Strategy Unit, 2005. Back

105   Disablism: how to tackle the last prejudice by Paul Miller, Sophia Parker and Sarah Gillinson, Central Books (ISBN: 1 84180 124 0) Disablism n. discriminatory, oppressive or abusive behaviour arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others (although you won"t find a definition in a dictionary). Back

106   More Scope for Fair Housing, Esmond, Gordon, McCaskie, Stewart, Scope 1998. Back


 
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