According to the Family Resources Survey, 14.6 million people in the UK had a disability in the financial year 2020/21, representing 22% of the population.
But thousands of disabled people struggle to find a home that adequately meets their needs.
The latest available figures show that in 2018/19, local authorities left 119,621 disabled people or people with a medical condition waiting for an accessible home - many in the private rented sector (PRS) were in similarly unsuitable properties.
In its report, The Housing Experiences of Disabled People In Britain, the Equality And Human Rights Commission found that 'when searching for accessible homes, common challenges faced were: a lack of availability across all tenures; housing providers' and local authorities' failure to understand their needs and communicate properly; accessibility difficulties with housing application forms; frustration with allocation systems; and deterioration in mental wellbeing caused by the stress of living in unsuitable accommodation and facing an uncertain future.'
Disability charity Leonard Cheshire reported in 2020 that 67% of councils said disabled people were not having their home adaptations completed within the 12-month deadline.
And 23% of councils reported that disabled people were waiting more than two years for the completion of work.
Naturally, such damning statements aren't positive reading, especially for those looking for accessible housing. However, this suggests there's a large market of potential tenants in need of homes that offer independent living, which landlords in the PRS could provide.
This opportunity offers mutual benefits. It helps those in need of disability-friendly housing find somewhere that affords them a decent standard of living, whilst private landlords will have their properties occupied by people who may otherwise have struggled to find somewhere – potentially meaning more long-term tenancies.
However, there are several factors for both parties to consider, such as legal requirements and providing suitable facilities and accessibility.
In this tips piece, we look at these requirements in closer detail and provide information for both landlords and those with disabilities to help make any potential lets as straightforward as possible.
Disability rights in the UK – what are they?
Introduced to protect 'people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society', the Equality Act 2010 aims to make 'the law easier to understand and strengthen protection in some situations.'
The Act sets out a definition of what having a 'disability' is, stating in Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 6 that:
'A person (P) has a disability if-
a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and
b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.'
it's important to note that The Equality Act 2010 doesn't apply in Northern Ireland, where instead, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is in place. This shares very similar principles to the Equality Act 2010.
These Acts provide protections which extend into the rental sector. As a result, provisions must be put in place to ensure that a home meets these standards. It's also illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a disabled tenant. To find out more about the rights of disabled tenants, this helpful advice page from Shelter will come in handy.
What might your property require?
As we know, the nature and severity of individual disabilities can undoubtedly be quite varied; therefore, what needs to be in place within a property can be quite varied.
Landlords in the PRS considering providing housing for disabled tenants or those with tenants whose circumstances have changed might need to make several alterations.
Some of the main features to offer independent living in a rental property might include level, solid approaches to the property, a ramp to the main entrance, Doors of at least 750mm in width for wheelchair users, switches and handles to be at a height between 750mm-1,200mm and bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchen and a bathroom (with DDA-compliant toilets, showers and washing facilities installed) all on the ground floor.
However, it's important to remember that you don't just need to make physical and structural changes. Extra 'auxiliary aids and services' may also be necessary to ensure disabled tenants aren't disadvantaged in any way.
Citizens Advice suggest providing a copy of your tenancy agreement in an accessible format if the tenant's visually impaired or has a learning disability. Another change you may need to make could be to change a tenancy agreement term - for example, you could change a term saying pets aren't allowed in the property could be changed to allow a disabled person to have an assistance/guide dog.
Making changes – what are the costs?
In a 2015 study from Leonard Cheshire Disability, titled 'The Long Wait for a Home', which analysed how long some disabled residents were waiting for improvements on their homes, they estimated the costs involved with some of the above jobs.
They calculated the expenditure of comprehensively adapting a standard home 'could be more than £20,000' and broke these down individually in this table:
|Adaption||Cost of adaption in a standard home|
|Installing a ramp||£450|
|Widening entrance door||£2,500|
|Widening internal doors||£2,000 (estimation based on four doors.)|
|Installing a stair-lift||£9,600|
|Installing ten grab bars||£2,500|
|Wet-room conversion of bathroom||£3,500|
|Initial buildings cost||£0|
Adaptation – what are the costs for a typical home?
Landlords have the simple option of financing the changes themselves, but you can get help to cover the costs of adaptation. A disabled tenant – or indeed a landlord with a disabled tenant – can apply for what's known as a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).
A DFG provides a grant from the local council to help subsidise changes needed for a home. Landlords can use a DFG to widen doors, install ramps, improve access to rooms and facilities, provide a suitable heating system or adapt heating and lighting controls to make them easier to use.
Each application is subject to an eligibility test to assess whether the work is appropriate and can be completed.
If you're renting to someone with a disability, any necessary alterations must be completed correctly, no matter the cost. If not, you could face significant legal costs if you fail to offer suitable facilities for disabled living.
Keep it transparent from the start
It's crucial, as a landlord, to have complete clarity – from the beginning of the tenancy or application process – regarding the nature of your tenant's disabilities. This will help the tenancy to run smoothly and ensure that all work can be considered and completed much more efficiently before the tenancy begins.
In addition, a suitable tenancy agreement that caters to the tenant's needs can be drawn up or agreed upon with any external parties who might be in charge of their finances. This, in turn, helps prevent complications at a later stage.
Tenants looking for accessible housing can search for suitable rental properties in the PRS, including from websites like Accessible Property and The House Shop, which list private rented homes specifically for people needing adapted living.