elderly woman at home washing up

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has launched a consultation to consider how best to raise accessibility standards for all new homes to meet the needs of older and disabled people.

Over recent years, concerns over the lack of available housing fit for older and ageing people have been raised by numerous organisations, alongside highlighting a failure to build new homes to meet the needs of the shifting, ageing demographics.

Described as the ‘hidden housing crisis’, the problem was brought to the fore when charitable housing association Habinteg revealed in June 2019 that less than one in four homes built outside of London by 2030 will be suitable for older and disabled people.

In response to the looming crisis, 10 high-profile organisations, including the Centre for Ageing Better, Habinteg, Age UK, RIBA, Care & Repair England, Disability Rights UK and Housing LIN, formed the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition in November that year.

The coalition called on the government to prioritise the issue of accessible housing and in June, founding member Housing LIN published an open letter to the Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher, asking the UK government to raise the ‘accessible and adaptable’ design standard for all new homes.

It comes as the latest published results of the English Housing Survey revealed that only nine per cent of homes in England have key accessibility features to deem them “visitable” – a marginal increase from 2005’s five per cent.

Now, the government has opened a consultation to find ways to raise the accessibility of new homes.

In particular, it considers how the accessible and adaptable standard for homes (known as M4(2) in Part M of the Building Regulations) and the wheelchair user standard (known as M4(3)) are currently used as optional technical standards.

“We are consulting on views on how to raise accessible housing standards further, including the option to raise this minimum standard for all new homes,” stated the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

“A higher minimum standard would require additional features including having a living area at entrance level and step-free access to all entrance level rooms and facilities, wider doorways and corridors, as well as clear access routes to reach windows.”

According to the government, it would also include further features to make homes more easily adaptable over time to a wide range of occupants, including older people, those with reduced mobility and some wheelchair users, such as sanitary provisions that can be adapted easily for installation of grab rails and stairs designed to allow easy fit of a stairlift.

Discussing the launch of the consultation, Sheron Carter, CEO of Habinteg, commented: “We are very pleased that the government have launched the long-awaited consultation on the accessibility of new homes. Habinteg has been campaigning on this topic for a long time and we are really glad the government has now listened to disabled people and is taking action on this vital issue.

“Our recent experience during Covid-19 lockdown has highlighted for everyone how much the design of our homes can impact on our physical and mental health and wellbeing. But for disabled and older people accessibility impacts everyday life regardless of the pandemic.”

The consultation comes as the government revealed its new £12bn programme to tackle the country’s current housing crisis, with a focus on increasing the availability of affordable homes.

“This consultation is a critical opportunity to kick start a new age for accessible homes which will be widely welcomed by disabled and older people,” added Sheron.

“We are eager to seeing the detail of the consultation and we will strongly recommend that the accessible and adaptable standard set down in Building Regulations M4 (Category 2) be established as the regulatory baseline for all new homes.

“We look forward to engaging with the consultation process and strongly encourage all individuals and organisations that care about housing accessibility to join us in doing so.”

Those wishing to respond to the consultation can fill out the online survey here

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