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Age UK and Habinteg call for better accessibility standards in new homes

By: Age UK
Published on 09 August 2019 12:00 AM

6.5 m older people with mobility problems

Future generations of older people at risk of becoming trapped in their home

Today Age UK and Habinteg release a new campaigning factsheet, which calls for all new homes to be built to higher accessibility standards. There are currently 6.5 million people with mobility problems and 13.9 million disabled people in the UK and unless homes become more adaptable, future generations will be forced to 'make do' in homes that fail to meet their needs.
The new factsheet 'Home Truths – rebutting the 10 myths about building accessible housing' challenges the myths that delivering accessible housing is too costly, too difficult or simply undesirable for buyers. An ageing population and increasing numbers of people with mobility problems means that new homes need to be accessible and adaptable to ensure that they work for everybody, supporting independence, health and wellbeing.

The accessible and adaptable standard for new homes that was introduced in 2015 is based on the Lifetime Homes Standard. It ensures a basic level of accessibility and adaptability through a range of features, for example level access and slightly wider doorways or bathroom walls that are strong enough to install a grab rail. It means that if circumstances change – at whatever age – it would be much easier and cheaper to adapt homes. Currently the accessible and adaptable standard ( M4 (2) set out in building regulations Approved Document M, Volume 1) is optional, meaning that Local Planning Authorities have to make the case for requiring new homes in their area to be built to the standard. It also means that developers are able to challenge local authority requirements often based on cost arguments that do not stand up to scrutiny - as shown by government research.
Only seven per cent of our existing housing stock has the most basic features that make homes visitable to disabled people and older people with restricted mobility. Significant investment is needed to bring existing stock up to a basic standard that promotes health and independence. Introducing the accessible and adaptable standard for all new homes will also help reduce future costs.

As Government increases its target for housebuilding, future-proofing the housing stock by enhancing the regulatory minimum standard makes sense for all parties including individuals and developers. It would create a level playing field and standardised requirements across the country for all homebuilders. It will also help tackle other costs, for example by improving the speed of hospital discharge preventing or delaying costly moves to residential care, and keeping down the cost of adaptations for both individuals and local authorities.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: "A well designed home can work across a whole lifetime or for any generation, so it just makes common sense to make sure that all new homes are accessible, flexible and adaptable regardless of whether they are initially built for first time buyers. If not we're creating swathes of housing stock that won't be appropriate for a big part of the population. We know there are huge benefits to people being able to stay in their own home as they get older – and if we make it harder for people to do this then it will have a detrimental impact on people's health and wellbeing as well as a financial impact in the terms of the costs to the NHS.

Last Month the Prime Minister committed to a consultation that could deliver up to 300,000 new accessible and adaptable homes. We are calling on the new Prime Minister to follow this through as a priority."

Sheron Carter, Habinteg CEO said: "As a provider of accessible and inclusive housing for almost 50 years, Habinteg knows how big a difference it can make for older and disabled people to have a home that really suits their needs. An adaptable home and environment allows people to maintain connections with family and friends and stay active in their local community. The ability to move around the home and use its facilities with less effort brings dignity to life when things are changing. It helps people to retain their self-esteem and independence.

"It's so important that we challenge misconceptions about accessible homes. They are just ordinary homes with accessible and adaptable features. Just a bit of thoughtfulness in design makes a huge difference. We hope that this Home Truths myth buster will be a useful tool for everyone who wants to push for homes that are good for every generation."

Among the 10 myths being confronted by Age UK and Habinteg is that building to the accessible and adaptable standard is more expensive. A report commissioned by the government estimated that it would only cost an extra £521 to build an average three-bedroom standard semi-detached house to the M4 (2) Standard with a further space cost of £866 - £1,387 per dwelling. In the long run accessible and adaptable homes save money because they help reduce demand on the NHS and care services and make it easier to remain healthy and independent.

Age UK and Habinteg are jointly calling for:

Regulation to ensure that all new homes are built to accessible adaptable standard (Category 2) as a minimum.

10% of new homes to be built to wheelchair accessible standards.

In the interim, the Government to amend planning rules to protect the discretion of local authorities to decide the number of accessible homes built in their area.

-- Ends --

Notes to editors

[1] Online survey conducted by Opinium on behalf of Age UK between 14th and 18th January 2022. Sample of 1,280 UK residents (65++), weighted to be nationally representative of the 65+ age group.

[1] Online survey conducted by Opinium on behalf of Age UK between 3rd and 8th December 2021. Sample of 2,000 UK adults (18+), weighted to be nationally representative of the 65+ age group.

[1] Online survey conducted by Opinium on behalf of Age UK between 14th and 18th January 2022. Sample of 1,280 UK residents (65++), weighted to be nationally representative of the 65+ age group.

[1] 82 per cent of the 12,508,638 older people in the UK = 10,257,083 people

[1] https://campaigns.ageuk.org.uk/page/96920/petition/1?ea.tracking.id=Website

[1] As reported in the Financial Times, Monday 17th January 2022: https://www.ft.com/content/d246f8b4-80ef-498f-b9f1-7779acc5efd7

[1] On Monday 10th January 2022, the Charity wrote to the Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP) and for Work and Pensions (Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP), calling for immediate action to protect vulnerable older people from the cold this winter. This was the second letter from the Charity in as many months urging Ministers to take decisive action on energy bills to mitigate the potentially devastating impact of the escalating crisis, which will be nothing short of catastrophic for many older people without intervention. In addition, the letter underlined the need for longer-term thinking about how older people with the least ability to pay can be protected from energy price rises in the future. The letter was sent by email.

[1] DWP, 2020. Income-related benefits: estimates of take-up: financial year 2018 to 2019 (Table PC1). Department for Work and Pensions. [Online]. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/929669/pension-credit-tables-2018-2019.ods. Accessed 19/01/2022 

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well-being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

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Last updated: Jan 21 2022

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