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Accommodation

The design of many homes can be very restrictive, with the scale and layout making it difficult to accommodate people with varying levels of mobility or other impairments. It is therefore possible that people who become disabled, or whose disability progresses, will require alterations to their home or, in some cases, will need to move. As a disabled person you are entitled to an assessment of your housing needs from the social services department of your local authority. The options available may include adapting your home and obtaining equipment to ensure that it is adequate and appropriate to your needs, moving to a larger or more accessible property, or moving into sheltered or warden-assisted accommodation.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 gives disabled people the right of non-discrimination in the disposal and management of premises. It makes it unlawful for most landlords and housing providers to offer property on worse terms to disabled people or refuse to sell or let property to a disabled person. Furthermore, they cannot treat disabled people less favourably in the maintenance of housing lists - although they can treat them more favourably if they decide to do so.

The Act applies to tenancies created before as well as after the Act came into force. If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness, or your home is so unsuitable you cannot live there, your local council may be able to help you with suitable temporary accommodation. If you require permanent social housing you will need to register with the Local Authority Housing Department.

  

Disabled facilities grants

A Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) is a means-tested grant to help meet the costs of adaptations to a property. The grants are available for owner occupiers, private tenants, council tenants or housing association tenants and are administered by the local authority housing department. There are mandatory and discretionary DFGs, according to the type of adaptation required to the property, but both are means-tested and your income and savings will be taken into account when the amount of grant to be awarded is being calculated.

Mandatory DFGs are available for adaptations which cost up to £20,000 (£24,000 in Wales) and may be given for the following purposes:

  • Facilitating access to and from your home (for example providing ramps, widening doors or installing handrails);

  • Making your home safe (for example improving the lighting or making emergency escape routes accessible)

  • Ensuring that the principal family room, or living room, is accessible

  • Providing access to sleeping accommodation (for example a stairlift up to your existing bedroom, or adapting a ground floor room to become your bedroom);

  • Adapting the kitchen to enable you to cook and prepare food independently (but if most of the cooking is generally undertaken by another member of the household, the adaptations would be to enable you to use the kitchen to the extent that you would normally require);

  • Providing access to the toilet, washhand basin and bath and/or shower

  • Improving or providing a heating system which is suitable for your needs (for example, if you need uniform warmth throughout the house)

  • Adapting the heating, lighting and power controls to make them easier to use (for example, installing additional sockets, or relocating sockets and switches so that they are within reach)

  • Improving access and movement around the home to enable you to care for another person (for example, if you are a disabled parent with a young child to look after).

Discretionary DFGs

Discretionary DFGs can be awarded for a wide variety of other adaptations, for example to enable you to work from home, to give access to the garden, or to create a play area for a disabled child. They can also be awarded to top up a mandatory DFG where the cost of the necessary adaptations is above the £20,000 limit. As the name implies, however, local authorities are under no obligation to award discretionary DFGs and their availability will depend very much upon the competing demands on the council’s budget. If you are turned down, it would be worth approaching the social services department for assistance (see Care in the Community). Before you make a formal application for a DFG the housing department will probably require an assessment by social services of your needs and will make certain preliminary assessments to ascertain, for example, the suitability of the property for the adaptations required and an indication of the cost.

When you submit a formal application you will have to provide estimates from two different contractors, copies of plans, planning permission and building regulation approval if appropriate, financial information in order that the means-test can be carried out, details of architect’s or surveyor’s fees and proof of ownership or tenancy. The housing department must let you know its decision within six months of receiving all the information it requires. It is very important that you do not start work on an adaptation before your grant application has been approved as this could lead to your application being turned down in full or in part.If you are a council tenant the local authority can decide to bypass the DFG system but you still have the same rights to adaptations.

Home improvement agencies

Home Improvement Agencies exist exist in many areas and can provide help and offer advice to applicants for grants. In particular, they can help you through the administrative process of deciding what adaptations are needed, advise on the financial aspects, help you complete the application forms, organise the building work and ensure that it is carried out satisfactorily. They may charge for these services but, if they do so, a grant may be given towards the cost. The Agencies are managed by an organisation called Care & Repair, whose address is given at the end of this section. If there is a Disabled Persons’ Housing Service in your area, they may also be able to help.

Home repair assistance

Home Repair Assistance is for disabled or older owner occupiers or tenants, or those on low incomes, and is intended to pay for minor but essential repairs, adaptations or improvements. It is administered by local authority housing departments, and is discretionary and may be means-tested. Grants of up to £2,000 can be made, or up to £4,000 for separate applications in any three years, to cover:

  • Basic repairs and improvements, such as repairs to windows, replacement of loose roof tiles and repairs to the drainage system

  • Energy efficient works including loft insulation and secondary glazing (although these works could be eligible for a Home Energy Efficiency Scheme grant)

  • Improvements to home security such as window locks or chain locks on the front door

  • Minor adaptation works such as the provision of handrails

VAT on adaptation

Certain adaptations work will be zero-rated for VAT. This includes the construction of ramps, widening of doorways and passages to allow access by a disabled person; the installation of a lift between floors (including its maintenance and repair, and the restoration of decorations); work to bathrooms and toilets to enable access and use by a disabled person, and any goods supplied in connection with this.

The supplier (ie the firm carrying out the work) must be registered for VAT and the disabled person will have to sign a declaration that the works were required for their purposes as a result of their disability.

Housing association tenants

If you are the tenant of a housing association you can ask it to carry out adaptations, although there is no legal requirement on housing associations to do so. You do have the option of applying for a DFG, but the local authority will take into account whether the housing association has considered doing the work itself.

The Housing Corporation, which monitors the activities of housing associations, has issued a good practice guide in respect of adaptations. Tenants should expect their housing association largely to follow the recommendations in the guide and may have grounds for a complaint if their association is completely ignoring them. The basic recommendations of the good practice guide are that:

  • The housing association should formally adopt and publish a statement of policy which sets out its approach to the provision of adaptations

  • When choosing a route for funding, it should be the best interest of the tenant rather than the convenience of the housing association which determines the outcome

  • A contact person for receiving enquiries about adaptations should be clearly identified and all staff should be aware of the route through which information is to be passed

  • No equipment should be fitted without an assessment of the tenant’s needs and the appropriateness of the adaptation. The purpose of adaptations is to restore independence, privacy, confidence and dignity

  • If appropriate outcomes are to be achieved adaptations must be undertaken in partnership with tenants, not simply decided by professionals on their behalf

  • All adaptations work should be specified to an appropriate level

  • appropriate and cost-effective adaptations will only be achieved if the housing association is able to draw on the experience of tenants.

  • If your current home is not suitable for adapting, if you want to move to a new area, or if you are moving into a home of your own for the first time, you will need to explore the options open to you.

Council housing

If you are looking for rented accommodation, but would prefer not to go to a private landlord, your first action should be to contact the local authority housing department and ask for an application form for the housing register. The application form is very important as the information you supply will determine whether you are eligible to go on the housing register and the priority you are given for housing. It is essential that you make clear your housing requirements where these are affected by your disability. You should include all the difficulties presented by your current housing, your care needs and how these affect your housing requirements.

Quite often, local authorities exclude owner-occupiers from the housing register. If, however, your property is unsuitable and cannot be adapted and, for various reasons, buying another property is not an option, the local authority might make an exception. It is always worth applying. Once you are on the housing register, the local authority will decide what priority you have. Your circumstances and those of any other members of your household, your present accommodation and what kind of accommodation you require will all be taken into account. The Housing Act 1996 requires that "reasonable preference" should be given to the following people:

a) Those occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions;

b) Those occupying housing which is temporary or occupied on insecure terms;

c) Families with dependent children

d) Households consisting of or including someone who is expecting a baby;

e) Households consisting of or including someone with a particular need for settled accommodation on welfare or medical grounds

f) Households whose social or economic circumstances are such that they have difficulty in securing settled accommodation.

The main categories which affect disabled people are a) and e) above. Category a) could be relevant if, for example, you are living in inaccessible housing which cannot reasonably be adapted. Category e) encompasses people who are disabled and people who are giving or receiving care. Since you can receive "reasonable preference" under more than one category, you can build up your priority.

For instance, you could fulfil categories c), d) and f) as well as a) and e). Additional preference should also be given to people who cannot be expected to find accommodation for themselves in the future. This applies particularly to people who are vulnerable as a result of old age, physical or mental illness and/or people who have a physical or learning disability.

A summary of the priority system in your area will be available from your local authority housing department.

Housing associations

It is also worth considering housing associations (also known as Registered Social Landlords), non-profit-making organisations which provide low cost rented houses or help low income earners buy their own home. Working closely with local authorities they can provide housing for people with particular needs, including disabled people.

The National Housing Federation can supply the addresses of local housing associations, or details can be found in telephone directories, through local disability organisations or at the library. Most housing associations allow the local authority to nominate tenants to to at least half of their empty properties and the most likely way for you to be offered a housing association house or flat is via the local authority housing department. Some housing associations, however, will take nominations either directly from individuals or from other organisations, and some specialise in accommodation designed for disabled people or have a number of adapted properties.

As well as  providing houses for rent, some housing associations operate shared ownership schemes. Shared ownership is a scheme for people who cannot afford a full mortgage but would like to part-purchase a property. Under shared ownership you buy a share of the property with a conventional mortgage and rent the remaining share from the housing association. If you enter into shared ownership the property is not eligible for a housing association grant for any necessary adaptations and you would probably have to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant.

HOMES (see following section) operates a matching service for disabled people interested in shared ownership.

Moving to another area

If you are an existing council or housing association tenant and you wish to move to another area, the Housing Organisations Mobility and Exchange Service (HOMES) might be useful to you. HOMES manages three schemes: the HOMES Mobility Scheme, HOMESWAP and the Shared Ownership Scheme.

HOMES Mobility Scheme enables people to move by being nominated from one local authority or housing association to another, and it can be used for short or long distance moves. The scheme can be used if you need to move in order to be nearer to relatives or friends in order to give or receive support, or if you are taking up a job which is too far away to travel every day, or for any other pressing reason. There is no automatic right to move but local authorities and housing associations do agree to rehouse a certain number of people each year under the scheme.

HOMESWAP is a mutual exchange scheme for tenants. If you contact HOMESWAP they will send you an application form on which you can give details about your present home, including its accessibility for disabled people, the accommodation you require and the area(s) you wish to move to. Your details will then be fed into the computer and a search carried out to find possible people for you to swap homes with.

The Shared Ownership Scheme puts disabled people in contact with housing associations which are building accessible shared ownership homes. All services are free of charge.

Buying or renting in the private sector

There is very little help for disabled people who are hoping to buy or rent in the private sector. Finding accessible housing can be difficult and time-consuming as Estate Agents do not routinely inspect properties for accessibility. The information you will need about the aspects of a house which are essential to meet your particular requirements will, therefore, generally only be gained by visiting properties yourself and checking.

As of October 1999 most new homes have to meet the basic access needs of disabled people, so it might be worth considering any new homes or developments.

It is worthwhile looking in the disability newspapers and journals for advertisements from disabled people who may be selling their property. Many disability organisations also have their own newsletters in which people advertise.

In some areas there is a Disabled Persons’ Housing Service (DPHS). This is a service specifically set up to help disabled people find the best solution to their housing problems, including finding suitable accommodation. Unfortunately there are only a few around the country at the moment, although more are being formed all the time. Each DPHS will vary in how it is organised and what services it offers, but they all provide a wide range of information and services which should assist you.

Sheltered accommodation

Sheltered accommodation is useful if you live alone and wish to continue doing so and do not require nursing care. It is usually accessible and provides independence with the added security or comfort of having a warden on hand to be called in an emergency.

Sheltered housing is generally provided by local authorities or housing associations and your social services department will be able to tell you what is available in your area. There is often a waiting list for sheltered housing and an assessment of your need for it will be have to be carried out by the social services. An increasing number of private sheltered housing schemes are also being provided, and information about these should be available from the advice agencies mentioned above. The Elderly ACC Counsel has a matching scheme that may be helpful.

Residential care

If you are considering moving to residential accommodation or into a nursing care home, your social services department and local disability organisation should be able to give you full information about the range of local homes. If you are paying privately, you can choose any home which accepts you. If you are moving into a nursing home or residential care home with help from social services, you will be expected to pay towards the fees and the choice will be more restricted. Social services will work out what you have to pay on the basis of a fixed national formula. If the NHS is arranging your care in hospital or a nursing home, it will meet all the costs. Information about social security benefits when moving into a care home can be obtained from your local benefits agency office, but see also:

social security benefits further information.

RADAR’s Housing Information Guide 1 - Finding AppropriateHousing;

RADAR’s Housing Information Guide 2 - Meeting the Cost of Adaptations;

RADAR’s Housing Information Guide 3 - Homelessness

RADAR’s Housing Information Guide 4 - Housing Associations.

Useful information sheets are also obtainable from organisations such as Age Concern or those concerned with your specific disability.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.