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Flat in Leeds, modern build with blue paint

UK on verge of accessible housing crisis as poll shows most Brits want homes to suit all ages and abilities

Nearly three quarters of UK adults think all new homes should be built to be suitable for all ages and abilities.

Despite positive attitudes from the public, the English Housing Survey shows that 93% of UK homes don't meet basic accessibility standards – and many developers are not building new homes that are suitable for people as they age.

A poll of more than 4,000 UK adults shows that most people want every new home to be built in a way that is suitable for all people of all ages and abilities. Nearly three quarters (72%) of people polled by YouGov agreed that homes should as standard be built to be suitable for people of all ages and abilities, while nearly half (48%) disagreed that UK society does enough to support people to live at home safely and independently as we age.

The research, commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, illustrates the degree to which people would be happy to buy a home that came with features like level access entrances, walk-in showers or handrails. A third (33%) of those polled said they would be encouraged to purchase a home with these characteristics, with a further 48% saying they would be neither encouraged nor discouraged. Amongst younger people, there is a large market for these homes. A quarter of 18-24s (25%) and 25-34s (28%) say they would be encouraged to buy them, with around half saying they would be neither encouraged nor discouraged.

While national rules say a proportion of every development should include homes that are accessible or could be adapted in future, the responsibility for managing this falls to local authorities. However, national planning policy is fragmented, with no clear guidance, and there is no standardised way to assess current and future need for accessible homes in an area. Local plans which would deliver accessible homes are often rejected.

Safe and accessible homes

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More than three in five (61%) respondents don’t think their current home would be suitable for a person with a disability or an older relative to move around. Amongst over-65s, nearly half (45%) personally worry about themselves struggling with everyday activities like cooking, bathing or eating in the future and almost a third (32%) worry about whether someone else in their household would struggle with the same tasks.

According to the English Housing Survey, just 7% of UK homes meet basic accessibility standards. One in five homes in England is deemed non-decent, with non-decent homes disproportionately lived in by people in later life – many of whom manage long-term health conditions or disabilities. New-build homes are often aimed solely at first-time buyers and do not consider the needs of a diverse range of occupants over the lifetime of the home.

The Centre for Ageing Better is calling for a radical overhaul of housing policy, aimed at delivering accessible homes that are age-proof, flexible and suitable for everyone. Developers and councils should be required to build every new home to Category 2 standard, meaning that they are accessible for someone with a disability and, if needed, can be easily and cost-effectively adapted to meet additional needs.

Dr Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“The woeful state of today’s housing stock is amongst the worst in Europe. With more and more people living for longer, and many of them managing health conditions, this situation is unsustainable. We are facing an accessible housing crisis, putting unnecessary pressure on individuals, families and public services. If we do nothing, this will only get worse.

“There is a big market for homes that everyone can live in, regardless of their age or ability. Our research shows a strong public appetite for age-proof homes which enable people to live active and fulfilling lives – whatever their situation.

“We need everyone responsible for building new homes to get on board and give people what they want. National rules must be strengthened, and planners within local authorities must work with developers and builders to enforce them. As we seek to build more homes, we must make sure that they are suitable for everyone.”

Press release (PDF)