Our homes are where our hearts are. So it’s not hard to see why we attach so much importance to finding a safe, convenient, and comfortable one to settle down in.
Whether we rent or own our own home, those things can be an almighty challenge to find even with the Internet at our fingertips: searching the listings, arranging a viewing, saving a deposit, putting in an offer, and waiting for the chain or the background checks to be completed. It all takes time, effort and money. Imagine if you’re a wheelchair user too. Things can be even harder. Not all websites are user-friendly, some listings don’t have all the information you might need so you’re left wondering if it’s worth a viewing or not. Getting to the property might be tricky depending on where it is and how well it’s connected to the transport network.
Even if you make it to the property without too much bother, viewing it can turn into something of an obstacle course. Narrow doors – and doors that automatically swing shut on you when you’re only half way through – light switches and handles that are at awkward heights, and broken or poorly maintained lifts, are still all-too-common a feature, especially in older buildings. To a fully-abled person, none of this would register but to anyone with any kind of limit on their physical mobility, each hurdle – no matter how small – can add up to an unwanted marathon.
But let’s say you’ve found a place to match your budget and it’s more or less in the right location. But let’s say it’s not perfect: it’s not totally suited to your physical needs. What next? It’ll need adapting, not least because being able to get around your own home unhindered is an essential part of living an independent life, but also because having a place that’s tailored to you and your needs means it’s more likely to be a place your heart can call a home.
If you happen to find yourself with less mobility than you once had – perhaps simply due to age – or if you suddenly become dependent on a wheelchair, a once well-suited home may end up impacting your quality of life in unexpected ways too. Doors and doorsteps, worktops, windows, stairs, handles, light switches, taps, and wall plugs are all obvious things that might suddenly and literally become out of reach and unusable.
Whatever your situation, the choice is the same: your home, or would-be home, needs adapting, and that brings with it a new challenge. With such a variety of adaptations available it can be hard to know where to begin. Not to mention the worry about how to fund the changes. Fear not. Here are five steps to make things quicker and easier:
1. Creating a list of required adaptations
The most critical decision you’ll make. Start with steps and stairs because those are the things that will stop your wheelchair from even getting through the front door! Can they be ramped, removed, or otherwise adapted to improve access? If the stairs are no longer an option, think about installing a downstairs bathroom or a lift to the first storey.
Chartwell Insurance have put together a useful home modification guide that will help you make an informed choice about the type of changes you might need to make. You might also need to think about getting some form of assistive technology like a care alarm or fall detector.
2. Funding the adaptations
You can apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) from the government to help fund your home adaptations. The grant takes into account things like household income, savings and where you live. In England, for example, you might be entitled to a grant if you earn up to £30,000 a year but in Wales it’s £36,000. Under 18s can apply for a grant without their parent’s income being taken into account as well.
Grants also depend on your owning or renting the property and intending to live there during the grant period (five years). You might not be eligible for a grant if you start adapting your home before the council receives or approves your application, so it’s best to wait for the formal go ahead first.
3. Claiming for a grant
Getting an application form to apply for a grant is easy. Simply contact your local council’s housing or environmental health department. The Trust Mark site can also help you with finding a reliable tradesman or contractor to help estimate and carry out the work.
When claiming for a grant, you’ll need to provide the following:
– A list of the adaptations
– The type of work e.g. plumbing, electrical, carpentry
– Two written estimates of the costs involved
4. Receiving a grant
You can be paid in instalments or in full when all your home adaptations are complete, but possibly only after the council has received your contractor’s invoice. The council may also need to approve the standard of the finished work as a condition of paying the invoice.