4 July 2012 Oblivious estate agents and property search sites deepening property crisis say Trailblazers

A property crisis which is preventing  young disabled people from living independently, relocating for work or even moving in with partners and spouses is being deepened by ‘complete obliviousness' within the property industry, according to our new report, Locked Out.Estate Agent in Middlesbrough 

Trailblazers campaigners told of estate and letting agents with little or no understanding of accessible property, failing to list relevant features such as step-free access on their websites and even attempting to take wheelchair-users to view properties up flights of steps.

Trailblazers, also found that many of those who took part had been forced to search through thousands of properties individually as leading property and home share websites fail to offer the means to search for accessible accommodation. One such site offers searches as specific as ‘waterfront' and ‘contemporary', but wheelchair-users must view properties individually to establish whether they are able to get through the front door. 

Watch Trailblazers on Channel 4 News and read the article in the Guardian

The findings of the report came from two hundred Trailblazers who gave details of their experiences dealing with estate and lettings agents, search engines, local authorities and private landlords for the report,  which found that:

• 85 percent of Trailblazers do not feel confident that access advice that was given by estate agents, local authorities and other housing providers was accurate

• seven out of ten find it difficult to identify accommodation that is accessible to them because estate agents have poor knowledge of adapted properties in their area

• 94 percent say that more information on websites about access would improve the experiences of disabled people looking for accommodation

• nine out of ten young disabled people are as keen to get on to the property ladder as their non-disabled peers

• properties listed by agents on the Accessible Property Register, set up in 2003, remain low - a Trailblazer who used the site to search for rental accommodation in Greater London found just one property listed.

The group is now calling on agents to recognise the disabled market, to advertise accessible features and to work with disability groups to improve employees' knowledge of disabled home-seekers' needs.

Trailblazer Hannah Lou Blackall who was forced to live in a conference centre for over a year at a cost of £1,000 a month because she was unable to find a wheelchair-accessible home to rent after relocating to Hull to continue her career in social work, despite registering with multiple agents.

It was very frustrating trying to track down a property near Hull that would actually work for me. I was signed up to every single estate agent, but none of them really seemed to understand what an accessible property was. One agent really wanted to help and contacted me excitedly after finding a bathroom with an accessible shower.The bathroom turned out to be on the second story of a house with no lift.

In the end I was stuck living in a conference centre full of business people all week and being forced to make the trip home every weekend. I couldn't start establishing a life for myself there and eventually was forced to move back to Norfolk.

The rental market really doesn't seem to realise that young disabled people now live and work independently; there is a big potential market out there if they take the right approach to catering for disabled customers.

Over the last financial year, £180 million of non-ring-fenced funding was allocated to 382 local authorities towards Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs). Disabled home-owners can apply for a grant, of up to £30,000 towards installing ramps and lifts, adapting bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens and widening doorways. 

Problems for Trailblazers who took part in the study were not restricted to privately-owned property. Trailblazers reported waiting up to six years for accessible local authority accommodation to become available.

Carrie-Ann Lightley from Kendal was told she would have to wait "until someone passes away" for a property to become free. She said:

I wanted to move in with my partner - now my husband - Darren, and we needed to find a property to buy that would be suitable for both of us. I was living with my parents and was regarded as a low priority. We waited for years. It was only after a family member agreed to give us the chance to buy an empty property at an affordable price that we were able to set up our home. Who knows whether I would be living with my husband now if we hadn't been so fortunate.

Local authorities are currently under no obligation to ensure a percentage of social or private accommodation that meets the needs of disabled people is constructed. However, poor allocation of existing accessible stock has caused concern. In some local authorities the percentage of wheelchair standard housing association lets allocated to disabled people is less than 20 percent*.

The Trailblazers are also calling for:

• local authorities to follow the example of and improve on the work of local authorities that have set up accessible housing registers
• to commit to a housing strategy in which all new housing will be built to the Lifetime Homes Standard and 10 percent will be built to wheelchair standard designs

Bobby Ancil, Project Manager of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, said:

It seems that the UK property industry is truly in the dark ages when it comes to catering for disabled home-seekers. Our investigation exposed estate and lettings agents as well as property websites who appeared completely oblivious to this market.

The public sector is faring little better. Local authorities are being given hundreds of millions of pounds each year towards grants to adapt existing homes, while they fail to set quotas to ensure demand for accessible properties is eased by new developments.

It is the 21st century, and just as their non-disabled peers do, young disabled people hunt for suitable rental accommodation to move out of the family home, while studying, when setting up their careers or when moving in with friends or partners. The need to develop financial security and get on the property ladder is no different. We need the private sector to understand accessible homes and how to market them and for the public sector to allocate fairly and increase stock, if the situation is to improve.

Read more about our Locked Out campaign.


Tags: East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South East, South West, Trailblazers, Wales, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, campaign

1 Comment

  • Conrad Hodgkinson replied on 6 Jul 2012 at 14:20
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    Thanks very much for mentioning Accessible Property Register in this report. We share all the frustrations expressed here when it comes to finding wheelchair accessible property. And finding wheelchair accessible property advertised for rent, particularly in London is nigh on impossible (as your Trailblazer found!)

    The situation with property for sale is better but still very far from perfect so here are some suggestions which from our experience might help to improve things. There is undoubtedly a shortage of quality wheelchair accessible property available but an equally big concern for ourselves is how much property that could be suitable for wheelchair users simply changes hands unidentified. It's such a waste! If it is not identified it is as though it doesn't exist because no one can find it. This, we can change.

    1. Encourage estate agents, landlords, and social housing providers to identify and promote property with wheelchair access when it is available. It's not rocket science (we can provide perfectly straightforward criteria) but it needs to be reinforced to providers that it is in everyone's interests, and that includes the commercial interests of estate agents!

    2. Encourage owners of property websites (social and commercial) to enable searches for property with wheelchair access. This in itself would help to encourage advertisers to identify qualifying properties. We have persuaded Globrix to do this but have completely failed with Rightmove, possibly the most influential property portal.

    3. The lack of wheelchair accessible property available for rent is a huge problem everywhere. If you look at the APR website in any region accessible property available for sale will far outstrip property for rent. Social housing providers could take a lead here by ensuring that this scarce resource is actively and prominently promoted when it's available. Sheffield Homes work with us to do this in South Yorkshire and between eight and 15 wheelchair accessible properties are advertised for rent most weeks. If Sheffield can do it, why not other areas? What are they waiting for?

    4. It's no good waiting for legislation, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything. If everyone demanded access information when they contact an estate agent or social housing provider it would help to increase awareness of just how big the potential demand is. Estate agents are businesses - they will respond if you show them the money!

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