Bathrooms can be a danger zone and entirely unsuitable for disabled people in many homes across the UK. Stuart Reynolds from AKW, explores the challenges facing both landlords and tenants and considers solutions to the problem
When is a house not a home? When the layout or fittings could put a tenant in danger of accidents or prevent them from performing basic tasks, such as washing and toileting. Inaccessible bathrooms, in particular, rob people of their right to independence and dignity, and yet this is the reality for thousands of disabled people living in unsuitable housing across England.
One in five British people is disabled, with 49% of them experiencing mobility impairments, including the country’s 1.2 million wheelchair users. More than half of socially rented homes (55%) have at least one household member with a long-term illness or disability. In the private rented sector, that figure is almost a third (29%).
However, just 9% of all homes across the country feature the main requirements to make them even visitable, such as a flush threshold, sufficiently wide doorways, and a toilet at the entrance level. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the problem even further as people were told to stay in their homes during lockdowns. Research at the time showed that almost one in four disabled people did not have a home that met their access needs. Bathrooms proved especially challenging, with disabled people 22 times more likely than non-disabled people to be unable to use all parts of the room without assistance during lockdowns. Separate research shows that falls in the bathroom are almost two and a half times more likely to result in injury than in the living room.
Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) exist to overcome these problems and to allow disabled people to afford to make adaptations to their homes, such as installing ramps or improving the accessibility of the bathroom. But securing the grant proves difficult for thousands of people across the UK. The DFG application and delivery process has a government-mandated timescale: a maximum of six months to approve an application and a further 12 months for the adaptation work to be completed. However, these deadlines are not always met because of local authority delays, leaving disabled people sometimes waiting for years in unsuitable housing.
When adaptation work is complete, the positive impact on tenants’ wellbeing is significant. A quarter of people who have had even minor adaptations to their homes need less help than before the work was carried out, and 95% said their quality of life was better.
As policies are aimed increasingly at ensuring equality for disabled people both in and outside of their homes, and the government works to tackle DFG backlogs, ensuring bathrooms are accessible is essential to meeting future needs. Equally, bathrooms that are safe and future proof are among the most important factors to housing association managers when it comes to specifying and installing these rooms, research carried out by AKW found. An inclusive bathroom for life that meets the needs of all people benefits landlords, housing managers and tenants alike.
Knowing precisely what current or future tenants require at the time of building, renovating, or installing a new bathroom can be tricky though, because of the unique needs of each individual. What disabled and non-disabled people need can change over time too. But typically, it is wise to include features such as a walk-in shower with either a low- or level-access shower tray or wet room, a shower seat, shower screen, a raised height toilet and easy-to-use paddle taps on an ergonomic washbasin.
One thing to keep in mind is the time it could take to upgrade or adapt a bathroom. Wet rooms can take between five and seven days to install, which can result in considerable labour costs besides those of materials. Landlords also need to be confident of a long-lasting solution, and that can change through the years according to tenants’ needs and industry regulations.
An easy and affordable option
Striking a balance between the competing goals of keeping costs down and meeting accessibility targets may sound challenging, but there are solutions that could help achieve both. A stand alone cubicle, for example, is a stylish, futureproofed showering and toileting solution that takes two to three days to install – reducing the time taken to complete a traditional wet room conversion by up to 60%. Such solutions offer true flexibility because the shallow 26mm anti-slip show tray can be fully recessed or used with a ramp for wheelchair users, and mobility aids; shower seats and grab rails, can be fitted at any time. Plus, it can be removed as easily as it is to install. The cubicles are often competitively priced to make DFG-funded installation a reality, while lifetime guarantees provide confidence in the solution’s ability to stand the test of time.
Everyone deserves a home that feels safe and comfortable and supports independent living. Landlords and housing managers can also benefit from futureproofing their properties as accessible, flexible bathroom solutions allow for a fit-and-forget approach. It is time to take control of any accessible bathroom installation backlogs and enjoy peace of mind that tenants’ wellbeing is protected as their needs are being met.
Stuart Reynolds is head of product and marketing at AKW