Exmouth Home Truths

27 February 2015

Ann Butlerby Ann Butler

I’m a supported housing coordinator at Kempston House in Exmouth, a group of five flats and four bedsits designed to encourage and support independent living for adults with physical and sensory disabilities.

Naturally, people sometimes want to move out of Kempston House to live even more independently in other parts of the city or country — often to be closer to their families or friends. Unfortunately moving out into the community to live more independently is a minefield for my tenants.

Private landlords and letting agents don’t put any information on their adverts to state if a property is suitable for someone with a disability. One recent advertisement I found was for a ‘purpose built top floor flat’ — with no lift. I wondered who it was purpose built for!

One of my tenants found a bungalow for rent. She contacted the letting agents who told her it was perfect for someone in a wheelchair as it was all on the level. But on viewing, she could not actually check the bungalow was all on the level — she was unable to get up the five steps leading to the front door.

The other option is for tenants to go on the council house waiting list and bid on choice-based lettings. Devon has recently put more thought into their homes for rent and added a section  on whether the property needs to be wheelchair accessible. This is a great step forward but still leaves huge issues. 

Most of the bungalow ads say that only people over the age of 65 or who have a disability can bid to move in. This statement rather makes one believe that the bungalow is suitable for someone in a wheelchair. But most of the bungalows in East Devon were constructed in the 1960s for older people. They are small, cramped, often have steps, have no wet room and nowhere for a mobility scooter and other equipment to be stored. 

If — and this is a very big if — someone is actually successful in bidding on a bungalow, it may be miles away from support networks, friends and family. To make the bungalow fit for purpose it would need to be gutted — and at what cost? Surely there is a better way?

In the short term, letting agents would benefit from some disability awareness training.

Longer term, the government has stipulated that a third of all new build homes above 15 units should be allocated for social housing. I feel it would be both achievable and realistic if a proportion (say 10%) of these homes were also purpose built for wheelchair users.

Disabled people deserve as much choice of where and how they live as everyone else.

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