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 [i] and 13.9 million disabled people[ii] 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.[iii]  

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. [iv] 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.

Link to ‘Home Truths – rebutting the 10 myths about building accessible housing’.