Disability and Housing: is independent living a luxury?

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.


Housing finally made it on to the political agenda in the run up to the general election but since then all we have heard about from the government is about extending Right to Buy and a reduction in social housing rents in last week’s budget. Whilst a chosen few may benefit from the Right to Buy scheme, it is not going to solve the housing problems for the vast majority of the population that need housing, including disabled people.

Disabled young people have always had to stay in the family home well into adulthood and now this is the case for most young people who simply do not earn enough to leave the family home, something that many of us just accept as a fact of modern life with independence being a luxury.

The big difference for disabled people that need care is that by remaining in the family home, they not only rely on their families for housing, they often rely on them for care too. Independence is simply not a luxury for disabled people, it is a fundamental need and right that the UK government has signed up to under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.

Disabled people have always had to fight for housing, even in stronger economic times. Few big housing associations really think about the housing needs of local disabled people and we end up with a few adapted properties to fight over and that in no way meets local housing need.

Cuts to social care budgets mean that local authorities are not clambering to help disabled people get their own homes and the support they need to live there. People are really having to fight to get what they need.

Whilst this is all a bit depressing, we have to hang on to the fact that disabled people have rights to housing like anyone else and I would argue sometimes more than others. But do you, as a disabled person, know what your rights to housing, social care and independent living are? Even if you do, the local authority is often ignorant about your rights or simply trying to protect the resources they have for the most needy people.

So does the local authority’s financial position override your rights in law? Yes and no. There is a legal duty to provide disabled people with the housing and care they need but they can take money into account and provide it in a way they deem affordable as long as they meet their duty of care. This could be through a supported housing scheme or residential care but the Care Act has sharpened the right to have your needs and wishes taken into account and a focus on your wellbeing- there is explicit mention of housing being a key to wellbeing. None of this has been tested through case law yet but it needs to be.

My advice is to understand your rights and assert them. Don’t take no for an answer when it comes to your independence. But also understand the climate and pressures that local authorities are working within – you need to help them find your solutions. There are private landlords that will adapt properties and let on a long term basis. Shared ownership is an option. Local authorities and housing associations should be ensuring that they have enough adapted or adaptable properties for disabled people in their newbuild programmes but they cannot magic up a property that does not exist. You need to be inventive and determined.

Think about how you can get the support you need in the most cost effective way. Can assistive technology help? Can you offer a spare bedroom to a support tenant in exchange for some help? Can you club together with other disabled people to form a network or share some aspects of support? Doing this means it is more likely that you will get what you want and make independent living a reality.

By Alicia Wood

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