Memorandum submitted by RADAR (H&R 4)

 

Housing and Regeneration Bill

 

6th December 2007

 

Introduction and summary

 

1. RADAR is the UK's leading disability rights campaigning organisation. We are a network of over 800 disability organisations and disabled people. Our vision is of a society where human difference is routinely anticipated, expertly accommodated and positively celebrated.

 

2. RADAR supports the Government's aim of building 3 million new homes in inclusive, sustainable communities by 2020 and welcomes measures in the Bill - the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency, new freedoms for local authorities to build social housing - which contribute to that goal. We also support measures to boost the rights of social housing tenants.

 

3. The success of the Government's plans will, however, depend on the extent to which they factor in action to address the housing inequalities that face disabled people today including the dearth of accessible housing. Today there are 1.4 million disabled people in need of accessible accommodation, with 329,000 people living in completely unsuitable housing (spread across tenure classes)[i]. Our ageing population means that over the next 20 years we will see an increase in the numbers of disabled older people of between 57% and 67%[ii], making accessible, lifetime housing and increasing housing choice for disabled people a vital mainstream priority for housing policy.

 

4. We believe the Bill could have a very positive impact in reducing housing inequality among disabled people and tackling the crisis in the supply of accessible housing if certain issues can be clarified and key improvements made. In summary we seek:-

Government commitment to mandate the Lifetime Homes Standards[iii] for all new homes of whatever type or tenure via amendment to Part M of the Building Regulations by 2009 at the latest and an action plan to tackle the nationwide shortfall of 330,000 wheelchair accessible homes.

Guarantees that the new Homes and Communities Agency will be subject to the specific duties of the Disability Equality Duty (DED) and will have a statutory remit that explicitly includes delivering accessible homes in inclusive communities.

Guarantees that exemplar schemes with which HCA may be involved such as eco-towns will deliver lifetime homes.

Guarantees that Oftenant will be covered by the DED specific duties and that it will sustain and build on the role of the Housing Corporation in promoting disability equality and an explicit reference to accessible housing in its statutory remit.

A major increase in investment in housing adaptations for disabled people.

Action to tackle gross inefficiencies in the way existing accessible housing stock is managed with a statutory requirement for Choice-based Disability Housing Registers.

Part 1 Homes and Communities Agency

5. Given the central importance of accessible housing and inclusive environments for the success of the Government's housing and regeneration plans we are surprised to find no explicit references to the objective of increasing the supply of accessible housing and promoting the development of inclusive communities in the objects of HCA as set out in Clause 2 of the Bill. We recommend that this be remedied.

 

6. HCA's predecessor English Partnerships has been under specific duties to promote disability equality (which require key public authorities to involve disabled people in devising a Disability Equality Scheme and action plan) as well as the general duty. We would urge Government to clarify that HCA will be added to the list of bodies subject to the specific duties and set out a timetable.

 

7. RADAR strongly welcomes the expectation outlined in the Impact Assessment on the Bill and DCLG's Disability Equality Scheme that HCA will work to make disability equality and social justice for disabled people a reality including, for example, through its objective to increase the percentage of social housing built to the Lifetime Homes Standard (LTH), and ensure that most new build schemes, will adopt the LTH standard from 2010. We would, however, urge that HCA be given more demanding objectives in relation to Lifetime Homes. The 16 standards are very well-established and we can see no reason for not insisting they are mandated for all (as opposed to most) new social housing forthwith. In Wales and Northern Ireland all newly built social housing must meet the Lifetime Homes standards. England must not lag behind.

 

8. We would also welcome clarity on what HCA's role will be in addressing the dearth of wheelchair accessible housing.

 

9. The Impact Assessment on the Bill notes that a third of all households living in non-decent homes include someone with a long-term illness or disability and that HCA wants to change that. We would welcome clarification of how HCA will deliver change in this area. It is of regret that instead of mandating access improvements in the Decent Homes programme, Government left accessibility to non-binding guidance which said it should be 'considered'. As a result a major programme in which the Government has invested heavily has made no impact on accessibility. Joseph Rowntree research published in 2006 showed that the opportunity to introduce access improvements was routinely and widely missed.[iv]

 

10. HCA will be involved in exemplar schemes such as eco-towns. RADAR would welcome guarantees that all housing built in eco-towns will be built to the Lifetime Homes Standard with appropriate provision also for fully wheelchair accessible housing.

Part 2 Social Housing Regulator

11. RADAR welcomes the new rights for social housing tenants to challenge poor service proposed in the Bill and the creation of the Office for Tenants and Social landlords (Oftenant) which will take on the regulatory role of the Housing Corporation with additional powers to take sanctions against landlords who take too long to carry out repairs or fail to involve tenants.

 

12. Oftenant should have a vital role to play in promoting equality and participation for disabled tenants and protecting them from harassment and in ensuring housing associations actively pursue these goals. Unfortunately, the impact assessment on the Bill has nothing to say about this. To facilitate this we would expect Oftenant to be subject to the specific duties under the Disability Equality Duty as well as the general duty, as the Housing Corporation has been. As with HCA, the mechanism for applying the specific duties to Oftenant would be Government regulations amending the list of bodies included in the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005.

 

13. We would further urge the Government to give Oftenant a statutory duty to monitor housing association performance in implementing the Disability Equality Duty. Just prior to their dissolution the DRC and other legacy equality commissions recommended that all key regulatory bodies be given such duties. An amendment to Clause 173 (2) to insert "the nature and extent of activities they should undertake in pursuance of their duties under section 49A (1) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c.50)" would address this and ensure the existing work of the Housing Corporation in ensuring Housing Associations effectively implement the DED is built on.

 

14. Oftenant's fundamental objectives make no reference to encouraging and supporting the supply of inclusive housing. Given the fundamental importance of this for Government policy we recommend that this be remedied by means of a simple amendment to Clause 86.

 

15. Ensuring disabled housing association tenants receive speedy access to housing adaptations should also be a focus for Oftenant and we further recommend that this be incorporated explicitly into Oftenant's remit. Again this could be achieved by means of a simple amendment to Clause 173 (2) to include reference to "facilitating timely provision of adaptations to tenants' homes for a disabled occupant (whether by means of assistance provided under Part 1 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (c. 53) or otherwise)."

 

16. There is currently no statutory requirement on housing associations to provide adaptations. However the Housing Corporation Capital Funding Guide states that HC expects HAs to provide their tenants with adaptations where required. HAs are expected to make provision for this in their business plans. Many housing associations use their own resources (with occasional help from the Housing Corporation) to fund adaptations for their tenants, because the Disabled Facilities Grant system is too overloaded.

 

17. In most parts of the country there is a higher demand for adaptations than can be met from existing budget allocations for disabled facilities grants. Because the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) is mandatory, this excess demand can mean long waiting lists, resulting in

 

o accidents and hospitalisation during the time that people wait for adaptations (particularly those concerning access to toilets and washing facilities); and

o people becoming dependent on personal care, and finding it difficult to manage without this assistance even once the adaptation or equipment has been provided.[v]

 

18. CLG recently consulted on improvements to the Disabled Facilities Grant including on proposals to simplify the funding system for housing associations (HAs) with one funding source for major adaptation and to issue guidance for HAs emphasising the need for them to contribute towards the regional strategy on accessible housing and to reach local agreements with local authorities in relation to major housing adaptations with a view to sharing the cost. RADAR would welcome clarification of how and when this will be taken forward.

 

19. We would further urge a major increase (on top of the extra 25 million already announced) in DFG funding from central government to support better access to adaptations for disabled tenants. This would be an extremely sound investment which will reduce spending in other areas. Home modifications can prevent or delay residential care for disabled older people.  One year's delay will save 26,000 per person, less the cost of the adaptation (average 6,000). The right adaptations can reduce high levels of home care.  An hour's home care per day costs 5,000 a year - the potential savings per year would be millions of pounds[vi].

Freedom and incentives for local authorities to build more homes

20. RADAR supports measures in the Bill to strengthen the role of local authorities in facilitating the supply of more affordable housing. The more local authorities are empowered and incentivised to address the housing shortfalls that restrict housing opportunity and choice for disabled people the better. Again we would welcome a clear guarantee that all new homes built by local authorities will be built to the Lifetime Homes Standards. The Disability Equality Duty will of course provide a strong driver for this but such is the importance of this issue we need concrete guarantees.

 

21. We would welcome clear guarantees that Government will use all available levers to ensure all local authorities and regional assemblies have plans to deliver appropriate levels of wheelchair accessible housing - the GLA is an exemplar in that regard.

Make Rating against the Code for Sustainable Homes Mandatory for New Homes

22. RADAR welcomes the commitment to increase eco-standards so that all new homes are zero carbon by 2016. A very welcome by-product of this move is the higher insulation standards which will help alleviate disproportionately high levels of fuel poverty among many disabled people. In addition we advocate that disabled people and others in fuel poverty are empowered and supported to generate their own energy either on-site or within their neighbourhood.

 

23. We welcome the Government's commitment to ensure the Lifetime Homes Standards are mandated in the Code for Sustainable Homes and the proposal to make a rating against the Code mandatory for new homes. However the Government has chosen to stagger the impact so that it will be 2013 before housebuilders need to implement the Lifetime Homes Standards to get the most basic rating. Moreover the Government cannot say with certainty what uptake of the Code will be even with the new mandatory rating proposals. This means there will be an unacceptable delay in ensuring disabled people have access to private housing built to the Lifetime Homes Standards, severely limiting housing choice.

 

24. Like Habinteg Housing Association and others we see no reason why Lifetime Homes should not be implemented as mandatory immediately. The Standards are proving effective in establishing a stock of housing that is suitable for the changing needs of occupants now and in the future. Delay will simply rack up avoidable costs and frustrate the achievement of equal housing choice for disabled people. We also echo Habinteg's view that the best mechanism for mandating lifetime Homes is via immediate amendment to Part M of the Building Regulations[vii].

 

25. Government previously made a commitment to this before Parliament in 2004, then changed its mind. PSA 15 now includes a new commitment to include 'revised' LTH standards in Building Regulations but no timetable is attached to this. (NB the revision has already been carried out effectively by BSI which is currently consulting on its new draft standard for inclusive housing. In any case we believe LTH standards would be effective even without further revision.)

 

Improving Housing Choice and Mobility

26. The Bill does not include provisions to improve disabled people's access to accessible housing or to address inefficiencies in the allocations process. We hope this omission will be remedied as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.

 

27. RADAR would support improved provision for mobility schemes to ensure social housing tenants can more easily move for work or family reasons. We would also urge Government to ensure early legislation introducing portable care packages (one of the measures included in Lord Ashley of Stoke's Independent Living Bill currently before the Lords again). Currently disabled people's mobility is grossly inhibited by the absence of a clear entitlement to equivalent support when they move to a new local authority. The effectiveness of mobility schemes would be dramatically improved if the Government would also legislate for Disability Housing Registers.

 

28. The current housing allocations process creates needless waste and inefficiency. A recent analysis of lettings in the social housing sector found that on average only 1 in 6 wheelchair standard dwellings were let to a household containing a wheelchair user despite an overwhelming demand for wheelchair standard property from wheelchair users. Many local authorities have no mechanism for profiling the accessibility of housing stock or matching supply with demand. As a consequence:

disabled people in housing need face unnecessarily long waits and restricted living options;

there is increased pressure on the Disabled Facilities Grant and

there are avoidable health and acute care costs (e.g. from falls, from delayed discharge from hospital and in some cases use of residential care as an alternative).

 

29. Yet there is a tried and tested system for removing this gross inefficiency and making more rational use of an extremely scare resource. Local housing authorities with 'Disability Housing Registers'[viii] (also known as 'Accessible Housing Registers' and which run as part of choice-based lettings) are able to save hundreds of thousands of pounds, better meet disabled people's housing needs, facilitate real housing choice and gather vital data to assist future housing need planning.

 

30. RADAR has long called on the Government to make Disability Housing Registers a statutory requirement. Strong cross-party support exists for this. If all local authorities in England had operated such a system last year more than 70 million could have been saved (savings that is from health, social care and adaptations budgets) - money that could have been reinvested in meeting desperate housing need.

 

 

Breaches of Building Regulations

31. The Bill to extend from six months to two years the time local authorities have to prosecute those who breach designated requirements of the Building

Regulations. Effective building control is vital to ensure that accessibility standards are enforced and delivered in practice. RADAR would like to know what Government proposes to do to tackle deficiencies in enforcement of Part M of the Building Regulations. Research by Professor Rob Imrie on implementation of Part M (in relation to housing) carried out in 2002-3 for JRF found that:

 

"many developers and building control officers do not adequately understand the objectives of Part M of the Building Regulations relating to the accessibility of new housing. Indeed, the regulation is commonly regarded as "half-hearted", and it is often poorly interpreted and variably enforced, leading to an unsatisfactory outcome for the design of new housing stock."

 

December 2007

 

 



[i] 2003/04 survey of English Housing (ODPM 2005))

[ii] Background paper for the Wanless Social Care Review, "Compression or Expansion of Disability? Forecasting Future Disability Levels under Changing Patterns of Diseases, Carol Jagger et al, Kings Fund, 2006.

[iii] Summary of Lifetime Homes Standards

1. Parking space capable of widening to 3300mm.

2. Distance from the car parking space to the Lifetime Home kept to a minimum; level or gently sloping.

3. Level or gently sloping approach to the Lifetime Home.

4. Accessible threshold, covered and lit.

5. Lifts to be wheelchair accessible.

6. Width of doors and hall allow for wheelchair access.

7. Turning circles for wheelchair in the ground-floor rooms.

8. Living rooms at entrance level.

9. Wheelchair accessible downstairs toilet, plus opportunity for shower unit later.

10. Ground-floor bedspace in two-storey houses.

11. Walls able to take adaptations.

12. Identified space for future house lift to bedroom.

13. Easy route for a hoist from bedroom to bathroom.

14. Bathroom planned to give side access to WC and bath.

15. Low window sills.

16. Sockets, switches, controls at a convenient height.

[iv] Implementing Decent Homes Standards: How housing associations are addressing accessibility issues, Marcus Ormerod and Pam Thomas,Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2006

[v] Quoted from Improving the Lifechances of Disabled People, PM Strategy Unit 2005.

[vi] Better outcomes; lower costs. Office for Disability Issues, 2007.

[vii] See Habinteg's response to the Government's consultation on The Future of the Code for Sustainable Homes: Making a rating mandatory, October 2007. www.habinteg.org.uk.

[viii] Councils with DHRs or AHRs as they are also known: Adur District Council, Arun District Council, Bradford, East Hampshire District Council, Cardiff, Gosport Borough Council, Reading Borough Council, Test Valley Borough Council, Worthing Borough Council, The GLA is also set to implement a London wide scheme.