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Housing: Accessibility

Volume 754: debated on Wednesday 25 June 2014


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that future housing is accessible and able to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are taking a number of steps to support accessible housing, including introducing new accessibility requirements into the building regulations and funding programmes to improve housing choice for older and disabled people.

My Lords, I thank the Minister on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. She had a terrible accident in the other place, has broken both her legs and will be in Stoke Mandeville Hospital for some months.

Can the Minister reassure the House and external bodies such as Leonard Cheshire Disability and the Habinteg Housing Association that, in the quest to increase the quantity of new homes, the Government will not sacrifice quality, particularly in terms of space standards and accessibility, as otherwise today’s rabbit hutches will be tomorrow’s slums? Will she encourage all councils to follow the good example of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, in insisting on the lifetime homes standards for accessibility that not only help all of us, particularly as we grow older, but are there to save money in terms of people’s admission to hospital and admission to residential care homes?

My Lords, I do not think that it is presumptuous to say on behalf of the whole House just how sorry we are to hear about the tragic accident that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, experienced. We all wish her a speedy recovery.

In response to the noble Lord’s question, it is important for me to say that this Government are going further than any previous Government in making new homes accessible because for the first time ever we are bringing two new access standards into building regulations. That has never happened before. Local authorities are best placed to decide the housing needs of older and disabled people in terms of applying those standards and having those national standards will now make it much simpler for developers to comply.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need a national campaign to build more bungalows to the lifetime homes standards because they are accessible and adaptable? Will she look at ways in which the community infrastructure levy could be adapted to encourage builders to build more homes to the lifetime standards?

We need a range of different types of housing to meet a range of needs. One of the things that the Government are doing is providing special funding for accessible homes that are aimed precisely at older people and adults with disabilities. We are expecting 3,500 of those homes to be delivered before 2018.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one disabled person is six lives in unsuitable accommodation? Is she further aware that, while it costs £28,000 to treat a hip fracture, it costs about £1,800 to put in a stair lift? Does she agree that it makes absolute economic sense to invest as much as possible in accessible housing? She has spoken about new regulations. Can she assure me that they will require all developers to build new houses to the lifetime homes standards?

We certainly want to make sure that more and more homes are available and that more and more of them are at a standard to meet the needs of a range of people. The noble Baroness makes an important point: investment in this area saves money in the longer term. Having those national standards will ensure that developers are much more inclined to comply with this requirement in future.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Habinteg Housing Association, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Best, has built homes to these standards for more than 40 years? Leonard Cheshire has done much the same. Surely we should all aim at housing that people will not be forced to leave because they are old or a bit disabled, even apart from the more special adaptations that might be required for those who are more severely disabled.

The more we can ensure that this is achieved the better, but we think the right approach is the way we are following, which is to have a national planning policy in place that requires local authorities to determine and plan for the needs of their local people.

My Lords, there is provision in the Deregulation Bill to incorporate lifetime home standards and wheelchair accessible standards in regulations, to which I think the Minister has referred. To give them a statutory basis for the first time is obviously very much to be welcomed. However, the housing standards review consultation suggests that planning authorities will be able to enforce these standards only if they apply a particularly rigorous needs test. Is there not a danger that this could undermine the progressive intentions of the Deregulation Bill?

Under the terms of the National Planning Policy Framework, local authorities are required to assess the needs of their population in their approach to planning. The important thing about these regulations is that when they are put in place as part of a requirement for planning approval, the work will be checked properly for the certificate to be applied after the work has been completed.

My Lords, I spoke to my noble friend Lady Wilkins yesterday and I know that she will be delighted by the good wishes from the House. She is very grateful for all the personal messages that she has received and for the support of the officers of the House.

Perhaps I may follow up the question of my noble friend Lady Andrews. Slips and trips when housing is not truly accessible for disabled people ultimately mean a cost for the NHS. Does the Minister agree that one way of easing pressure on the NHS, as well as supporting the well-being of disabled people, would be to have a more robust accident prevention component of the public health agenda, which in turn would help with the housing problems that disabled people face?

The noble Baroness raises a specific point that I will certainly take away and explore further, but I am afraid I am not familiar enough with the detail to respond comprehensively.

My Lords, will my noble friend encourage local authorities to keep a register of accessible housing?

I shall certainly explore that if it is not something that local authorities do. However, the important point for me to stress again is that local authorities are very much responsible for meeting the housing needs of the people in their areas.