Disability and housing: choices, choices, choices

Alicia Wood is the housing guru and chief executive at Housing & Support Alliance. H&SA is delighted to join with Disability Horizons to offer a monthly article with help and top tips on housing. This month, we’re talking choices.


It is an honour to be asked to be the Disability Horizons housing ‘guru’ and write my first column. Something you probably need to know first is that 1. I am not a guru and 2. I am not a real housing professional. What I do have is bags of experience in helping disabled people find a place to live that works for them.

Some people want their own place, to live with a partner or start a family. Some want to share with friends, some people are happy with supported housing, some want an independent extension on their family home and some want the bigger community experience. Achieving what people want requires really listening to what is important to them and finding every means possible to make it happen (including begging, charming, shouting, calling in favours as well as good old rights and the law).

I first got involved in helping disabled people get housing in the 1990s when I worked as a psychotherapist with people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. What really struck me was how little social care, health and housing organisations thought about where people live and who they live with, and the impact that this has on their wellbeing. So many of the people I worked with to treat their ‘problems’ were living in shared living environments where they had no privacy, lived with people they didn’t like and had very little control over their lives. This is a recipe for poor mental health and sometimes caused the problems they were experiencing.

What I came to learn was that having the right home was the foundation for getting everything else in your life right. If you live with people you don’t want to be living with, it can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and relationships breaking down. If you get a house in an area that makes it difficult to get to work, connect with family and friends or build more relationships, you become isolated and more dependent on care. If the physical building isn’t right, you also end up being more dependent.

But if you really think about what is important to you, what is essential to your wellbeing and what you can compromise on, you are building a strong foundation to live, learn and grow in other areas of your life. Physical access is important but that is often the only thing housing and social care professionals think about. When I start helping someone get a place to live, I ask the following;

Is there a particular geographical location you want to live in?

What kind of community do you like?

Do you want to live near friends or family, a workplace, shops, schools, train station etc?

What makes you tick? What does that mean for where you live?

Do you want to live alone or with others, is there anyone in particular?

What do you love and hate in a flatmate?

Do you want a long term solution, or just to try out different ways of living?

How do you see your future? Work? Family?

This is the important stuff and will make or break how your life pans out. Once you’ve worked this out, you can then think about design, aids and adaptations, tenure etc.

Some will snort at this approach. ‘There isn’t enough housing, take what you are offered’, ‘disabled people are too skint to be choosy about where they live’ I hear you say….

There is a distinct lack of aspiration, vision and imagination when it comes to planning housing with and for disabled people. Money is used as an excuse to limit choices when it often costs more to give people housing that doesn’t work for them. I say that if we invest in good housing solutions, we have healthier, happier and more independent disabled citizens and that is good for all of us.

By Alicia Wood

Check out…

Living costs: my disability shopping list
How to make your home accessible for you
Would you consider shared home ownership with your family?

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  1. What would you advise someone who is moving into an unsuitable area because they’re told it’s tge only suitable housing available?

    1. Hi Helen. You can challenge the council if they have made an unsuitable offer. If the housing is temporary, then it is more difficult to challenge but if it is an offer of permanent accommodation, it is worth challenging if living there will be detrimental to you. Here is a very clear factsheet from Shelter about what counts as unsuitable.
      hope this helps

  2. The Localism act being brought in for most LAs has further limited where the disabled can choose to live making it even more difficult to live nearer support. I have argued that these policies can be discriminatory to the disabled that need specialised housing solutions , because abled bodied people have the choice to privately rent even if not allowed on a local housing register but higher need disabled people are reliant on charity and social housing for rental properties, we have found that private landlords will not help with adaptations, will not give secure tenancies to allow for application of DFG. There is not enough discretion built in to the rules, so even if you put together a good case as to why you need to move to a particular area you are stuffed.

    Also OT’s are not sufficiently trained on the differing needs of those that live independently as opposed to those that have care teams to allow them to stay at home. Expect unrelated people to live 24/7 together in a shoebox and then get surprised when the disabled person deteriorates. LAs fail time and time again to identify their disabled on their housing lists that need out of the box solutions, instead blame the disabled person for being a square peg in a round hole. The whole system is a mess and has hardened the people working in the system not to give a sh*t about the people on their lists,

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