The chal­lenge of find­ing a home

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

on their home might not be es­pe­cially note­wor­thy had the cou­ple been nondis­abled buy­ers, yet both are wheel­chair users.

Not only is there a short­age of such hous­ing stock – only seven per cent of UK hous­ing is deemed suit­able for the 1.8mil­lion dis­abled peo­ple need­ing wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble homes, ac­cord­ing to Habin­teg Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion – but devel­op­ers don’t pro­mote the fact that they pro­vide ac­ces­si­ble homes.

David Wil­son Homes ad­mits it doesn’t, ei­ther. How­ever, it is very happy to do ad­di­tional work on prop­er­ties. Whi­ley, 25, a 10-time Grand Slam ten­nis cham­pion and dou­ble Par­a­lympic bronze medal­list, says: “The sales of­fice was re­ally help­ful in un­der­stand­ing what mod­i­fi­ca­tions we needed. The light switches and power sock­ets were al­ready ac­ces­si­bly po­si­tioned, but we had a stair­lift fit­ted and a ramp built up to the back door, and there is plenty of room to have friends and fam­ily around who are also in wheel­chairs.”

Hav­ing grown up with a Par­a­lympian bronze-medal­list fa­ther, from whom she in­her­ited her os­teo­ge­n­e­sis im­per­fecta (brit­tle bone con­di­tion), Whi­ley, who was awarded an MBE in 2015, has al­ways lived in adapted homes.

She and McCar­roll (at 32, a re­cently re­tired ten­nis cham­pion who now coaches Whi­ley) then lived in a mod­i­fied bun­ga­low un­suit­able for young chil­dren. Af­ter Whi­ley won the wheel­chair dou­bles ti­tle at last sum­mer’s Wim­ble­don – while 11 weeks preg­nant – they be­gan to plan a move.

“Many of the new-build homes we looked at were ac­ces­si­ble for wheel­chairs, be­cause build­ing reg­u­la­tions in­sist on door­ways be­ing a cer­tain width and hall­ways be­ing wide enough to turn around in, as well as hav­ing a down­stairs bath­room,” says Whi­ley, who hopes to qual­ify for the Par­a­lympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 af­ter com­plet­ing her ma­ter­nity leave.

Ac­ces­si­ble homes un­der­pin the in­clu­sion of wheel­chair users in both their com­mu­nity and the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to Habin­teg. It has been cam­paign­ing for the Govern­ment, lo­cal coun­cils and property devel­op­ers to in­crease their avail­abil­ity.

Its #ForAc­ces­si­bleHomes cam­paign high­lights the long-term ben­e­fits of in­de­pen­dent liv­ing for wheel- chair users to so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing sav­ing the tax­payer the cost of fu­ture adap­ta­tions, re­duc­ing the risk of ac­ci­dents around the home and the need for more costly sup­ported hous­ing or care fa­cil­i­ties.

But what does “ac­ces­si­ble” mean? Since 1994, when the Govern­ment in­tro­duced the Life­time Homes Stan­dard, new prop­er­ties must in­cor­po­rate 16 design cri­te­ria (now called Part M build­ing reg­u­la­tions) in­clud­ing the fea­tures men­tioned by Whi­ley.

Some lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are more as­sertive in pro­vid­ing ac­ces­si­ble homes than oth­ers, re­ports Christina McGill of Habin­teg. “In Lon­don, 10 per cent of new homes have to be wheel­chair stan­dard, so-called Cat­e­gory 3, with kitchens and bath­rooms es­pe­cially fit­ted to suit.” Brighton is an­other area mov­ing in a sim­i­lar di­rec­tion.

Waltham For­est, in north-east Lon­don, has even added a con­di­tion that builders need to ac­tively mar­ket their homes as be­ing ac­ces­si­ble, but in the pri­vate sec­tor there’s gen­er­ally a lack of aware­ness of what’s avail­able.

Habin­teg pro­vides a reg­is­ter of ac­ces­si­ble houses avail­able to rent, but those wish­ing to buy a property might find that estate agents mis­un­der­stand their needs. “A bun­ga­low might seem like a suit­able home, yet have four steps up to the front door,” she adds.

This is echoed by Franki ChaffinEd­wards of The House Shop, whose Ac­ces­si­ble Property Reg­is­ter helps to match homes with buy­ers. “One of the big­gest prob­lems is man­ag­ing to ef­fec­tively con­nect dis­abled home­hunters with ac­ces­si­ble homes. Most estate agents sim­ply don’t know how to mar­ket adapted homes, and in­stead ad­vise sell­ers to rip out ac­ces­si­ble im­prove­ments so the property ap­peals to the broad­est pos­si­ble mar­ket,” she says.

“A se­cret shop­per ex­per­i­ment we con­ducted on new homes demon­strated a real lack of knowl­edge among sales teams about ac­ces­si­ble units.”

An­drew Brown, a for­mer CNN re­porter who di­vides his time be­tween Bangkok and Lon­don, found it a some­what gru­elling process hav­ing his new two-be­d­room flat at Dis­tillery Wharf in St Ge­orge’s Ful­ham Reach de­vel­op­ment in Ham­mer­smith suit­ably adapted. He paid £830,000 for the property in 2013, fol­low­ing a med­i­cal ac­ci­dent that left him a quad­ri­plegic.

“Older res­i­den­tial build­ings are no-go zones for wheel­chair users so I set­tled on Ful­ham Reach, as I was told the flat could be adapted. We agreed a list of changes so I could reach sinks, work­tops and sock­ets and use the bath­room,” he says. “It took a long while to get these right, and in the end I en­listed the help of Vanessa Reeves at The Property Ser­vice, a one-stop for in­te­rior design and property man­age­ment.

“Af­ter 10 weeks of her lob­by­ing to cor­rect the prob­lems, I could fi­nally move into my flat, reach the socket to plug in the ket­tle and cruise from one room to an­other in my wheel­chair. I am happy to say that St Ge­orge now bends over back­wards to help me.”

Jor­danne Whi­ley and Marc McCar­roll, main; An­drew Brown, above; a wet­room, be­low

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