Access all areas

Adrian Sunter of Terry Lifts discusses why it’s so cruial the UK’s housing stock is adapted to suit the needs of everyone and what options are available to housing associations

On 5 November, a new coalition of housing organisations published an open letter calling on the Government “to take urgent action to tackle the growing shortage of accessible homes in the UK.”

The organisation, Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) includes Age UK, the National Housing Federation (NHF), the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Disability Rights UK and Habinteg Housing Association. The letter requests greater action to secure housing suitable for all and highlights a “serious shortage of homes which are safe and suitable for older and disabled people…”

“Currently too many people live in homes that limit their independence – only 7 per cent of homes in England are accessible, meaning 93 per

cent of homes lack the basic features that make them even ‘visitable’ by disabled people.”

The letter also addressed the UK’s ageing population and how, as we get older and experience mobility issues and difficulties with daily activities, we will all be affected by a lack of suitable housing.

The latest projections (2018) from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in 50 years’ time there are likely to be an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 and over. The 85+ age group is the fastest growing and is set to double to 3.2 million by mid-2041 and treble by 2066, equating to 7 per cent of the UK population.

In the social rented sector, 27 per cent of households are headed by a person aged 65 or over (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) 2019).

The impact of inadequate, unsuitable housing is felt widely. “The costs of poor housing to the NHS is estimated to be £1.4bn per annum; of which nearly half (£624m) is attributed to poor housing among older adults,” (House of Commons, 2018).

The needs of a nation

64 per cent of over-55s say that bungalows or single-storey ground floor properties are their preferred housing for retirement (House of Commons 2018) yet, only 2,579 new bungalows were built in 2017/18 compared to 28,831 in 1986/87 (NHBC, 2018).

Prior to its dissolution in November, the Conservative Government was also blasted in a report by the National Audit Office for failing to build any of the 200,000 starter homes promised in 2015.

With such a lacklustre response to the needs of the UK population it appears that the current housing crisis is not only set to continue but is in danger of morphing into something far more damaging for future generations. It’s no longer just about building enough houses rather building more of the right type of houses, a sentiment shared by the HoME coalition: “We urge you to make the accessible, adaptable design standard set out in Building Regulations, Volume 1, M4 Category 2 the mandatory baseline for all new homes, and where need can be demonstrated for M4 Category 3 (wheelchair user dwellings) the next Government should make it easier to introduce relevant planning policies.”

The letter was published prior to the Dissolution of Parliament just after midnight on Wednesday 6 November.

However, until there is radical reform in the way the UK designs and builds its homes, there needs to be a short-term solution, one which addresses the immediate needs of the nation, such as access adaptations.

Freedom of movement

A common area of adaptation is for movement between storeys, as detailed in Building Regulations, Volume 1, M4 Category 2.

Paragraph 2.23 provides guidance on allowing people to move between storeys and to allow a stair-lift to be fitted to the stairs from the entrance storey to the storey above or the storey below where this contains the bathroom.

While a widely recognised access solution, there are far more practical and efficient alternatives to a stairlift.

Through the floor home lifts

Through the floor home lifts enable the elderly and disabled to enjoy the freedom of their home. Coming in all shapes and sizes, many home elevator systems cater for a wide range of mobility issues and accommodate all sorts of equipment, from wheelchairs to walking frames.

The needs of the individual/s and the size of the property will influence the specification of the home lift.

A domestic lift system needs a suitable amount of headroom on each floor and will typically occupy a footprint between 800 x 1,150 mm and 1,600 x 1,525 mm. Planning permission is not required for the installation of a vertical lift system.

Fire protection

A through the floor lift requires an opening to be created for the lift to pass through when travelling from floor to floor. This instantly breaks the fire integrity and removes the fire protection of the first-floor structure – potentially enabling a fire to move freely between floors.

To minimise risk, it is vital that an independently certificated through the floor lift is specified. Look for a product that complies with BS 5900:2012 (powered home lifts with partially enclosed carriers and no lift way enclosures) and is independently tested by an approved notified body. A compliant product will maintain the fire and smoke protection between floors, whether it is parked upstairs or downstairs.

Funding for Lifts

It’s worth noting that local authority and housing association residents are eligible for the Disability Facilities Grant (DFG). The amount of funding

offered can vary up to 100 per cent of the cost. The DFG aims to ensure the disabled person has adequate facilities and access around the home. This includes installing a through the floor lift.

So, until there is sufficient response to HoME’s appeal for change, it’s critical that we continue to future-proof our existing housing stock. By adapting houses, and installing products like through the floor lifts, we can help people live better lives, stay in their own home for longer and access all areas.

Adrian Sunter is commercial director of Terry Lifts