Disabled people feel five years of housing hurt

22 December 2015

  • The number of disabled people on council housing waiting lists in England has increased by over 17% over the last five years.
  • The number of people on waiting lists overall has decreased dramatically by over 21% in the same period.
  • Currently one in seven people on housing waiting lists in England is disabled, up from one in 11 people five years ago.
  • Leonard Cheshire Disability say disabled people trapped in inaccessible homes have been let down by councils and housebuilders.

Leading UK charity Leonard Cheshire Disability has revealed the number of disabled people on housing waiting lists in England has increased by 17.3%, while the total number of people waiting for a home has decreased dramatically by 21.4% over a five-year period from 2010 to 2015.

Leonard Cheshire Disability has found thousands of disabled and older people are trapped in unsuitable homes, and are unable to move around freely.

Many people are stuck downstairs and face the daily nightmare of washing at their kitchen sink, sleeping in their living room, using a commode for a toilet, and struggling to get in and out of their front doors.

Freedom of Information requests sent by the charity to every housing authority in England also showed the proportion of disabled people on council housing waiting lists has gone up from one in 11 (9.2%) people to one in seven (13.7%) people.

Case study

In 2012, Sue Frier’s life changed dramatically when injuries from an accident required her to use a wheelchair full time.

Returning home to Torbay in Devon after 14 weeks in hospital, 53-year-old Sue was unable to get upstairs and has been confined to the ground floor of her house ever since, sleeping in her lounge and washing in her kitchen sink.

Once a week she visits a local Leonard Cheshire Disability care home to take a bath. Sue has been on the housing waiting list for three and a half years.

She said:

‘I face spending another Christmas alone, as it’s difficult for me to reach my family who are hundreds of miles away.

‘I’m not easily able to host anyone at home either. If people come to visit, they have to leave the house when I use the toilet because it has no door on.

‘It’s the only way I can get my wheelchair in, and even then it’s a tight squeeze. My life feels like it is getting more difficult.

‘Having somewhere suitable to live, where I can move around freely, be able to shower, and sleep in a bedroom and not on an electric bed in my lounge would make all the difference.’

Leonard Cheshire Disability says inaccessible housing can lead to physical injuries and mental health problems, and increases the demand for social care for people who need help to wash and cook due to constraints in their home. 

The charity believes councils and housing developers are failing disabled and older people, and wants councils to make it mandatory for developers to include ‘Lifetime Homes’ in their building plans. 

A report looking at the cost implication from the lack of accessible homes in the UK by Landman Economics commissioned by Leonard Cheshire Disability found:

  • If all UK homes had been built to Lifetime Home standards, and all the necessary adaptations for disabled people were made to them, the Treasury would now be saving £1.6bn every year, mostly in health and social care costs. If every social home had been built to Lifetime Home standards then the Treasury would be saving almost £500m every year.
  • If every new home was built to Lifetime Home standards, and every necessary adaptation was made to them, they would pay for themselves within 20 years, which is about 40% of the typical lifespan of a house.
  • If housing developers were required to cover the initial cost of building Lifetime Homes, then councils would recoup their investment within 10 years.

In Scotland, the total number of disabled people on housing waiting lists has fallen by 18.2%, while the number of people on housing waiting lists has fallen by 11% over the past five years.

This suggests the positive steps taken by the Scottish government to deliver more ‘disabled-friendly’ homes since 2007 has contributed to the decline in the number of disabled people on housing waiting lists. 

Chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability Clare Pelham said:

‘Christmas is a joyful time for many people, a day spent surrounded by friends and family but thousands of disabled people will be unable to get in and out of their front doors to visit the people they love because they are trapped in inaccessible homes.

‘Worse still, they cannot host people at home when their kitchens are their bathrooms, and their lounges are their bedrooms.  

‘We are urging councils to insist developers build homes to disabled-friendly standards.

‘Doing so costs councils nothing, and will save millions of pounds in health and social care costs now and in the future.

‘Councils should make it their New Year’s resolution to ensure housing in their area is suitable for all their residents.

‘It is not just disabled people who benefit from wider corridors and downstairs toilets. Good design is good for all — parents with pushchairs, older people and toddlers all benefit from Lifetime Homes.’ 

Leonard Cheshire Disability is calling on councils to ensure housing developers embrace being ‘disabled-friendly’ by building all new homes so they are easy to adapt to people’s needs.

The charity also wants 10% of large developments to be fully wheelchair accessible so disabled people can live independently and are able to pursue job opportunities across the country.

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Notes to editors


We sent a Freedom of Information request to 325 local authorities in England and 32 local authorities in Scotland asking how many households including one or more disabled people were on their housing waiting lists over the past five years.

We received responses from 311 local authorities in England and 30 local authorities in Scotland, though some were only able to provide partial data — including many who could only provide data for the current year — and some could not provide any at all. 

The table below sets out how many local authorities provided data by year:

Year England Scotland
2010/11 77 9
2011/12 96 10
2012/13 102 10
2013/14 111 16
2014/15 186 17

In order to ensure the results were comparable across the five years, we scaled up the responses based on the population of the local authorities which were able to provide data. 

For example, in 2014/15 the 186 English local authorities which were able to provide data had a total population of 31.7 million people, out of the total population in England of 53.0 million people (based on the 2011 census).

Those authorities reported there were just over 110,000 disabled people on their housing waiting lists. To estimate the total number of disabled people on housing waiting lists nationally, we divided 110,00 by the proportion of the national population (31.7m/53.0m) covered by the local authorities to estimate a total of 187,000 disabled people on housing waiting lists across England. We followed the same approach in Scotland, and estimate a total of 30,000 disabled people on housing waiting lists in Scotland in 2014/15.

Lifetime Homes are ordinary houses and flats which incorporate 16 design criteria that can be universally applied to new homes for an average cost of only £1,100. For example, Lifetime Homes have walls strong enough to fit grab rails near the bath or shower, wider doors to allow wheelchairs in if needed and wide enough stairs to fit stair lifts. 

Scottish Building Standards: In 2007, the Scottish Government introduced new minimum building regulations which include 14 of the 16 Lifetime Homes standards. The two missing standards are the availability of provision for a through floor lift, and the ability to fit a tracking hoist. While these are clearly important facilities for disabled people, and a key feature of making homes fully adaptable, the 2007 regulations have dramatically improved the accessibility of new housing stock in Scotland. 

Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services for disabled people. Our services include high-quality care and community support together with innovative projects supporting disabled people into education, employment and entrepreneurship. Worldwide, our global alliance of Cheshire partners supports disabled people into education and employment, and works in more than 50 countries. With over 7,500 staff, the charity supports over 7,000 disabled people in the UK.