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Disability campaigner questions Gov silence on consultation announcement

The government is facing the threat of legal action over its failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing. The housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick has been told that he may have acted unlawfully over his failure to act. Shortly before she resigned as prime minister, Theresa May announced a consultation on compulsory higher accessibility standards for new housing.

But there has apparently been no mention of the consultation since the announcement. Now disabled campaigner Fleur Perry has written to Jenrick to raise these concerns and tell him about her own experience of the accessible housing crisis, while her solicitor at law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, Louise Whitfield, has detailed concerns about whether his department’s actions have been lawful.

Whitfield’s letter warns that Jenrick may have acted unlawfully by not complying with his public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

She says: “Given the very obvious lack of accessible housing suitable for disabled people, it is clear that the planning regime is not addressing the needs of this group, and is having an extremely negative effect on the lives of large numbers of disabled people.”

She says there is only “fleeting” mention of the housing needs of disabled people in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework and little or no guidance for councils that makes clear the need for accessible housing and their duties to plan for it.

Whitfield also questions the silence over the consultation since it was announced in June. And she highlights the lack of guidance to help councils assess the need for accessible housing in their area, which they need to do if they want to set optional minimum requirements for the proportion of new homes that should be accessible and adaptable, and those that are suitable for wheelchair-users.

Research by Disability News Service showed last year that the home-building industry was engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built through trying to set such targets in their local plans.

Perry, who uses an electric wheelchair, says in her letter to Jenrick that it took her two-and-a-half years to find accessible housing in her home town of Swindon, a search she described as “like trying to find a needle in Loch Ness”. She has spoken to disabled people who have been waiting for a decade for accessible housing or have been told by social services that it is pointless to even try to find somewhere.

She says: “There are waiting lists hundreds long seeking accessible council housing, and little being built.”

Perry points out that disabled people are being forced to turn down job offers, delay higher education opportunities or starting a family, while others are forced to live in just one or two rooms of their homes. There are people living in houses that simply don’t fit, being exhausted by doing their day to day activities within a space that makes it take several times longer or several times more energy.” Others are forced into nursing homes, she says.

She adds: “There are people unable to move from unsafe accommodation or abusive relationships, living at risk of or experiencing serious injury or harm because there’s nowhere to go. Supply is not meeting demand, and unless central and local government take action, nothing will change.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson said the department would respond to the letters “in due course”.

He said: “Everyone should be able to access a home which fits their needs, that’s why we have provided over £2.7 billion to deliver around 280,000 adaptations [through disabled facilities grants (DFGs)] since 2012 to help older and disabled people to live independently and safely at home. Our revised planning rules mean councils must consider the needs of the elderly and disabled people when planning new homes. We have also given councils guidance on options they should consider, such as housing with improved accessibility, so the most vulnerable get the support they need.”

MHCLG is considering the responses to its social housing green paper consultation and expects to publish its action plan for implementing reforms later this month.

Last summer’s green paper failed to mention accessible housing once, although it did refer to the “key role” played by supported housing and to the DFG system. The two letters came as accessible housing provider Habinteg released the results of a new survey which showed that only one in five of those asked in England, Scotland and Wales said a wheelchair-user would reasonably be able to access all parts of their home.

One wheelchair-user, Sarah O’Connor, from London, said: “I’ve been forced to physically drag myself up each step into my house, heaving my wheelchair behind me.”

Another, Fi Anderson, from Bolton, said: “My eight-year wait for a suitably accessible property meant my kids were denied the chance to have a normal childhood where their mum could tuck them into bed and read them a book.”

A Habinteg report in June said that under a quarter (23 per cent) of new homes due to be built by 2030 outside London were planned to be accessible, and just one per cent of new homes outside London were set to be suitable for wheelchair users.


Article originally appeared on Disability News Service

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