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Housebuilding: Accidents in the Home

Volume 800: debated on Tuesday 5 November 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what guidance they have given to the housebuilding sector in order to reduce the number of accidents within the home.

In begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as vice-president of RoSPA.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that all homes are safe and that people feel safe in their homes. We have banned combustible cladding on tall residential buildings and are embarking on a process to systematically review the approved documents to the building regulations on a range of safety measures in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s review. Moreover, we introduced building safety legislation in the Queen’s Speech to provide a tougher new regulatory framework.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Some 11.5 million adults over 65 live in the UK. The NHS says that around one in three will have at least one fall every year, and about half of those will have more frequent falls. Falls continue to be a leading cause of accident-related A&E attendances and overnight hospital admissions. With their goal to build 300,000 houses a year, will the Government advise and encourage house builders to adopt the recommendations of RoSPA’s proposed safer by design framework? This embraces not only elements from the British Standard 5395 code of practice for the design of stairs and steps but other significant fall prevention measures that cost so little to implement at the design stage.

We welcome the work of RoSPA and take note of its design standard, Safer by Design: A Framework to Reduce Serious Accidental Injury in New-Build Homes, which I have here and have read. We are developing a programme to review the building regulations guidance and will carefully consider any relevant recommendations from RoSPA. However, the noble Lord makes a more important point: the figures are pretty awful. We have a figure of 255,000 fall-related emergency hospital admissions per year for older people, and the annual cost to the UK of hip fractures is estimated to be around £2 billion, so this is an important matter.

My Lords, accidents in the home are bound to increase with the rapidly ageing population. Does the Minister agree that if homes today are not built to accessible and adaptable standards, it could be very difficult even to fit grab rails in the bathroom, for example?

The noble Baroness is right. That is why we are reviewing all the schedules, particularly in her case Part M of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 2010, which sets requirements for access and use of old buildings. We are looking very carefully at this, because it is extremely important, when people move into their homes and then become disabled, that there is that adaptability.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that removing some of the biggest hazards in the home would save the NHS almost £335 million per year, according to research done by the Building Research Establishment? This could be achieved if the Government incentivised the building sector to build category 2 homes to accessible and adaptable standards. What are the Government doing to ensure that this is achieved sooner rather than later, to ease the burden on the NHS and allow disabled people to live independently in the community?

We are looking closely at category 2, to see whether we can raise the minimum standards from category 1 to category 2. Also, the national planning policy, which we have updated, sets out that local authority plans should meet the current and future housing needs of a wide range of people, including older and disabled people.

My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right: safety is of paramount importance. Can he explain why plug sockets, which are not allowed in bathrooms because of the humidity, are allowed in kitchens?

My wife would say that I am no electrician. However—and perhaps I can see whether the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, is nodding or shaking his head—my understanding is that in bathrooms you have a greater build-up of condensation, and a greater likelihood of water splash or even flooding. Therefore, it is essential that you do not have plugs in bathrooms, whereas in kitchens, you do not have quite the same hazards.

My Lords, what apology can the Minister make on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government for the promise that was made to build 200,000 low-cost homes for sale, a promise that was echoed in David Cameron’s manifesto? Is it not a fact that as of today, not one of those 200,000 homes has been built? Can he tell us how much of the £200 million that was set aside has been spent? I can help him by suggesting that it is £187 million for not building a single home. Can he tell us when they are going to honour their promises?

As the noble Lord will know, we are already building a lot of homes. This has emerged from an NAO report, and it will be for the Public Accounts Committee to take evidence on that report in the normal way. The Government are delivering on a package of interventions to support people to achieve their aspirations and own a home of their own. Since 2010, over half a million households have been helped into home ownership through government schemes. This includes more than 220,000 households benefiting from Help to Buy equity loans and our £9 million investment in the affordable homes programme.