It isn’t uncommon for disabled people to consider modifications to their homes in order to make day-to-day living easier, but renovation is a massive undertaking and one which can be quite daunting. It’s important to ensure that renovations are approved and legal, properly constructed by reputable contractors, and that people realise the assistance available to them for funding such projects.

By Janna Owen 

Here is our guide to planning a home renovation project… 

Where to Start 

Technology and architecture have made huge moves forward in becoming able to accommodate the requirements of disabled people.

So much is possible that the place to start doesn’t have to be ‘What can be done?’, rather, the place to start should be to contemplate the main issues faced in everyday life around the house, and the ways in which these could be alleviated. You don’t need to draw up plans yourself, as specialist contractors will be able to take your ideas and bring them to life, but settling on which parts of the house need modifying and the purpose you have in mind will give designers a basis from which to work.

Recruiting a team

It may prove beneficial to recruit the services of a solicitor who can protect your interests throughout the process and ascertain that all applications, grants and works are carried out in the most effective and efficient manner. A project that has to pause whilst permissions are granted can be subject to further costs and irritating delays.

There are a number of specialist solicitors that are well-practised in maintaining the rights of disabled people and ensuring that they receive all of the assistance – both practical and financial – that they are entitled to. Even if you don’t keep them on throughout a project, it is a good idea to have an initial meeting with a solicitor to discuss your plans and guide you through the complexities of home modification, and alert you to any obstacles you might encounter as well as how to overcome them.

There are a good number of builders and architects – such as Transform Architects – who specialise in modifications for disabled people and have the skills and expertise to design around an individual’s specific needs and requirements. In any case, look at the available options, and ask to view portfolios of their most recent projects; if they work locally and it is possible to visit the sites of any recent jobs, then do so, to verify the quality of their work in person. It is clearly important to recruit contractors you can rely on to do a good job and give you value for money. Referring to your local Home Improvement Agency is a good first port of call for finding reputable contractors.

Laying the foundation 

If you choose to explore funding from social services, an occupational health therapist will be sent to assess your needs. This gives you an opportunity to express the difficulties you currently face, and the ways in which you think they could be alleviated. For example, if you have trouble standing for long periods, perches can be added to kitchens and bathrooms; fixtures and appliances can be lowered for easier access. Ramps and rails can be fitted; paths and doorways can be widened. Should it be necessary, extensions and other major refurbishments can be carried out. The occupational health therapist will be well-versed in the many modifications and solutions available to you and can give you an idea of what to expect from the process ahead.

Once the contractors have been settled on, have a few meetings with them, in which you can discuss your needs and what needs doing to the house to accommodate them. You may prefer to meet with your contractors and occupational therapist communally, to get the richest input of ideas and ensure that your questions are answered and that nothing slips through the net. Your therapist will refer back to social services to assess your requirements, and will soon let you know how much funding can be allocated to you. (Note that budgets vary from county to county.)

Funding eligibility 

The financial help available depends on whether the adaptations you need to make to your home are minor or major. Minor adaptations include, for example, fitting lever taps, or hand rails, whereas, major adaptations could include installing a downstairs shower room, widening doorways, or lowering work surfaces in your kitchen.

According to the Money Advice Service, English local authorities usually provide disability equipment and small adaptations costing less than £1,000 free of charge, as long as you’ve been assessed as needing them (and you are eligible). In Scotland the figure would be £1,500 whilst in Wales you may be asked to pay towards disability equipment and minor adaptations based on your financial circumstances. In Northern Ireland your local trust will make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

For major adaptations to make your home accessible you will normally have to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant.

Other helpful services

Council funding is not the only source of assistance for home modifications. Disability Rights UK is an organisation that provides help and resources to give a better quality of life to those living with illness or disability, and they can offer further support and access to benefits and grants, as can advice service, Turn2Us.

It isn’t only homeowners and council tenants that are able to get assistance, but private tenants are also eligible, and landlords are welcome to submit applications for funding and modification on behalf of disabled tenants. If you are a private tenant, you may find it beneficial to include your landlord in the meetings with your occupational health therapist and chosen contractors, to ensure everybody is in the know and happy with what is going on.

Legalities and technicalities

Once plans have been drawn up and funding approved, you must submit applications for planning permission. This depends greatly on the modifications being made, and the more significant they are, the more likely you are to need to obtain permission for them. Your therapist and contractors can help you with the finer details of your application and make sure all the information needed is supplied to ensure the application is swiftly processed with the minimum of fuss.

When it comes to contractors invoicing you for your modifications, don’t forget that building work for disabled people is VAT-exempt. On big jobs, this can end up saving you thousands of pounds. Make sure that none of your invoices are charging VAT, and have your solicitor go over all of your invoices before they are paid to make sure that you are not being overcharged and that the benefits you are entitled to are being counted.

If the modifications to your home move your property into a higher council tax band, you may also be eligible for council tax reduction on your home once renovations have been completed. Again, you can refer to your solicitor or therapist for assistance with this, to ensure that you receive what you should. The outcome of this assessment will depend on a number of criteria that demonstrate whether or not ‘you live in a larger property than you would need if you or another occupant weren’t disabled’. This will be assessed and awarded by your local council, and is applicable whether or not the person paying council tax is the disabled resident.

Improving quality of life 

Despite the stress and disruption caused by major building works, home modifications for ill and disabled people really can be transformative. One client of Transform Architects, whose nine year-old daughter has cerebral palsy, found her entire family got a new lease of life thanks to carefully designed and installed modifications to their home. She said, “It is the little things that can make the most difference,” and praised the work, describing one of the innovations as “A simple, brilliant idea that has really changed our quality of life.” She was particularly thrilled to find that modest modifications had also renewed the entire family’s social life. She explained, “To re-establish a social life and make sure our daughter is included in that, it’s important to have a welcoming space – that was very important to us.”

Council grants for renovations

If you need to make changes to your home, such as widening doors or improving other access or facilities, you could get a grant from your local council to help with the costs.

To be eligible you or the person you’re applying for must own the property or be a tenant and live in the property during the grant period (which is currently five years).

The council needs to be satisfied that the work is necessary and appropriate to meet the disabled person’s needs, as well as reasonable and can be done – depending on the age and condition of the property.

The amount you receive depends on your household income and where in the UK you live. (A grant could be as much as £25,000 – £36,000.) Disabled Facilities Grants are not available in Scotland. Instead a system runs that assesses support for equipment and adaptations.
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Depending on your income, you may need to pay towards the cost of the work to the property. Disabled children under 18, however, can get a grant without their parents’ income being taken into account. (Contact your local council for more information.)

Other useful contacts:

Disability Rights UK