31 October 2011 Locked out? - Housing investigation launched today
Estate and letting agents will go under the microscope from today, as Trailblazers launch a nationwide investigation and survey into how the firms are handling disabled customers and accessible property.
Agents' awareness of wheelchair accessible features, how accessible properties are being advertised and whether disabled customers can access agents' premises will be examined, as part of a study on housing issues affecting young disabled people.
The investigation was sparked following an ongoing flood of reports of Trailblazers waiting years to find wheelchair-accessible homes to rent or buy, despite local authorities funding adaptations to thousands of UK homes each year.
The group say that young disabled people who have relocated for work have been brought to financial breaking point after being forced to stay in hotels or Bed and Breakfast accommodation for up to a year before wheelchair accessible rental accommodation can be found. Others have been forced to buy property and take on mortgages in order to secure grants to adapt a home, despite not feeling financially secure enough to do so.
While the shortage of wheelchair accessible accommodation in the UK has been described as "significant" by organisations like Habinteg, there is evidence to suggest that inefficient allocation of both adapted local authority and private housing is leaving disabled home-seekers out in the cold. Habinteg's report Mind the Step also stated that between 2008-2009 less than a quarter of local authority and housing association "wheelchair standard" properties were allocated to wheelchair-users, meaning adapted homes may often be inhabited by those without a need for them.
Trailblazers also believe that estate and lettings agents are failing to advertise properties' accessible features and are even advising home-sellers to downplay any adaptations - or even remove them before sale. The group also would like to see property websites allowing users to search for accessible homes.
Hannah-Lou Blackall tells of how she decided to be involved with the project after struggling to find accessible rental accommodation after moving from Norfolk to Hull to take up a new job. Hannah-Lou was forced to live in a conference centre for a year before a suitable home could be found, which at a cost of £1000 a month, put her under severe financial pressure.
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 that an accessible property doesn't just mean wider doorways and no steps up to the front. I need a special kind of bathroom in a property so that I can use the shower, which they just didn't get it at all.
The rental market doesn't seem to have caught up with the fact that young disabled people now live and work independently. Letting agents need to recognise that there is a big potential market out there if they take the right approach to catering for disabled customers.
We hope this investigation well tell us more about how we can support them to do that.
Bobby Ancil, Trailblazers Project Manager said:The purpose of our investigation is to hear directly from young disabled people on where and how they are struggling to find their own homes, and what could be done to support them. Young disabled people heading to university, moving out of home with friends, or trying to settle down with a partner are coming up against a brick wall when it comes to finding a home. Yet each year, thousands of properties are adapted with local authority funds, so we know the stock is out there. We need to get to the bottom of how estate and lettings agents and housing associations are marketing wheelchair-accessible property and whether it is reaching the people who need it most.
Hear Trailblazer Hannah-Lou on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours.