Demand is there for accessible rented property
Wheelchair accessible rental properties are so rare it can take years to find one to let. Sharon Dale reports on a new campaign to highlight a shocking housing shortage.
WHEN Hannah-lou Blackall landed a new job in Hull she was happy to relocate from her native Norfolk for the sake of her career.
But 12 months later, HannahLou, who has a muscle wasting disease, still hadn’t found a home that was wheelchair-friendly and was spending the bulk of her salary on a B&B room costing £1,000 a month.
“It was very frustrating trying to track down a property that would actually work for me. I was signed up to every single estate and letting agent, but none of them really seemed to understand that an accessible property doesn’t just mean wider doorways and no steps up to the front,” she says.
“I need a special kind of bathroom in a property so that I can use the shower, which they just didn’t understand at all. The rental market doesn’t seem to have caught up with the fact that young disabled people now live and work independently. Letting agents need to recognise that there is a big potential market out there if they take the right approach to catering for disabled customers.”
Youth worker Hannah-lou, 25, experienced the same problem when she went to university. Although the halls of residence were suitable, she had to stay there for three years rather than move out into private rented accommodation with her friends.
She now has a home of her own but only thanks to friends, who were appalled by her plight and bought a bungalow that they could adapt and rent to her.
The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign say that Hannah’s problem is far from isolated and affects hundreds of disabled people who are at financial breaking point after relocating for work.
“They are being forced to stay in hotels or B&B accommodation until wheelchair accessible rental accommodation can be found,” says Bobby Ancil, project manager of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers, a network of 16 to 30-year-olds who campaign on social issues affecting young disabled people.
The Trailblazers have now launched a nationwide investigation into the issue and say there is evidence to suggest inappropriate allocation of both adapted local authority and private housing. Between 20082009 less than a quarter of local authority and housing association “wheelchair standard” properties were allocated to wheelchair users, meaning adapted homes may be inhabited by those without a need for them.
Trailblazers also believe that estate and lettings agents are failing to advertise properties’ accessible features and are advising home owners to downplay any adaptations or remove them before sale or let.
Bobby Ancil says: “Each year, thousands of properties are adapted with local authority funds, so we know the stock is out there. We need to get to the bottom of how estate and lettings agents and housing associations are marketing wheelchair-accessible property and whether it is reaching the people who need it most.”
Hannah says she would like to see lettings agents and landlords actively promoting accessible properties and wants property portals to highlight them too.
“There is a disabled register of homes online but there are only a handful of properties in the whole of Yorkshire on there. What we need is for that to be overhauled and for landlords to see adapted properties as a selling point.
“There is a massive market for them. What happens now is that money is spent on adaptations for a wheelchair user but when that person leaves, the landlords worry they could put able-bodied tenants off and take them out.
“When I was looking I asked if I could change the bathroom to suit my needs and landlords weren’t keen because they didn’t want to be stuck with it at the end of my tenancy.”
Chris Town, vice chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, whose members are private landlords, says political force and strategic thinking is needed to solve the problem.
“At the moment, legislation says that if a tenant becomes disabled while renting a property, the landlord must allow adaptation to take place, though they don’t have to pay for it. That is usually paid for by a local authority grant.
“Landlords wouldn’t go to the expense of adapting a house without financial help and I’m afraid that some see adaptations as intrusive and off-putting,” says Chris.
He said making grants available to adapt houses for the disabled would help.
ROOM CONTEST: Victoria’s sleek kitchen, top; Danny outside “Clutter Cottage”; Victoria, Joe and Hilary; Joe’s contemporary dining room, above.
POTENTIAL MARKET: Hannah-lou is campaigning for more rental properties for wheelchair users, to help them live and work independently.