The UK’s first legislative attempt to address the unique difficulties of the disabled population was the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It was introduced by the government of John Major in response to years of campaigning, protest and civil disobedience.
It came two decades after similar provisions regarding race and sex, and it represented a milestone on the journey to a society free from discrimination.
However a milestone is not a destination, and although the 1995 Act covered important areas such as employment, education and transport, it was largely silent on the private rental sector (PRS).
In 2010 the rights of people with a disability were incorporated into the Equality Act under which disability became a protected characteristic. Section 33 of the Act deals with housing, and provides legal remedies for disabled people who have been discriminated against by individuals or companies who rent property or manage a home where a disabled person lives.
However, the landlord has a defence against a claim if they can prove they didn’t treat a disabled person differently from anyone else or that they acted reasonably.
Although the 2010 Act goes much further than the 1995 Act, its provisions are a long way from sufficient. Insofar as it deals with the question of accessibility and making modifications, the 2010 act imposes a duty on the landlord or letting agent to make reasonable adjustments.
The term ‘reasonable’ is always open to interpretation in law, so ultimately each case is judged on its circumstances and the act made no definitive prescription.
In 2018 the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published a study which showed that 93% of the 8.5 million rental homes in the UK were unfit for disabled tenants owing to problems with either access or everyday use. This meant that some 365,000 disabled people were living in unsuitable properties.
Landlords in the Private Rental Sector
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is pursuing an active campaign to improve the availability of properly adapted rental accommodation in the private rented sector. The association is partnering with local authorities both to raise awareness of the issue and to educate landlords regarding what they can do and how it will benefit them to do so.
The difficulties and discrimination endured by the disabled in the private rental sector have always occupied a blind spot in legal provision and public policy. However it does seem that the focus of the NRLA’s action is more to do with age than disability.
The English Housing Survey reveals that an increasing number of over 65’s are turning to private rented accommodation. At the same time those in their 30’s and 40’s are three times more likely to use the PRS than 20 years ago, and expect to remain in rented housing for the rest of their lives.
These are significant demographic changes which point to a steady increase in tenants who are or will become elderly and infirm. It just so happens that the kind of action needed to modify rental properties accordingly will also benefit the disabled.
Valuing decency as well as assets
Landlords are slowly but surely waking up to the idea that adapting properties is an opportunity to reach a wider, larger pool of potential tenants rather than just a logistical nightmare and a financial burden.
Not only is it a means of increasing their potential customer base by including hundreds of thousands of tenants who are currently excluded because of a lack of facilities, it is also a way of future-proofing their properties for even more drastic demographic changes to come.
Carrying out upgrades and improvements to cater for those tenants who are impaired or have a disability adds considerable value to a landlords assets.
Although the potential cost of modifications and even understanding the needs of disabled tenants may feel like too much for most landlords, many of the concerns expressed when faced with this dilemma are not always well-founded.
According to the NRLA, 49% of landlords are happy to accept tenants who will need alterations, and that number rises to 68% as they understood that financial support exists, such as the Disabled Facilities Grant.
If the current position is simply that landlords must make changes that are reasonable, then real progress will come from initiatives like that of the NRLA, which would be helped by a government programme of education to make landlords fully aware of the grants and reliefs available to them.
Many of the most pressing needs ought to be fairly obvious. They include:
- wet rooms
- widened doorways
- access ramps
- security systems
- lowered worktops
- light switches and handles
The Leonard Cheshire Disability charity estimates the cost of a thorough overhaul of a standard home to be about £20,000. So once landlords are willing and subsidies from the local council are made available, implementation becomes cheaper and so much easier.
Disability and property reports – What should clerks know?
For inventory clerks, who provide vital property inspection reports, the prospect of an increased wave of modifications raises questions of awareness and training. While there is no requirement or a formal qualification for inventory clerks, Inventory Base Academy is a source of CPD training, advice and guidance.
Being a professional inventory provider is a specialised service that needs to meet professional standards. It is therefore vital that anyone in this role is fully conversant with the needs of disabled tenants and the legal requirements that properties must fulfil.
Inventory Base specialises in providing property management software for inventory clerks, landlords and letting agents. Our property inventory software is flexible and customisable, enabling users to add categories which can specifically relate to disabled needs.
However in order to include this information, an inventory clerk needs to know it matters. Every clerk should ensure they remain up to date with government guidance, advice and all mandatory provisions that cover a persons physical limitations and disability.
Disability equipment and support aids
Disability equipment that at first may seem unusual should become as familiar as boilers and washing machines. At the same time, it is essential to know exactly what should be in place so that if it is absent, this can be clearly noted in the inventory report.
Make sure all reports identify the equipment or support aids such as:
- handle rails
- chair / stair lifts
- alarm pull cords
- sloped access
- slip resistant surfaces
If unsure then refer to the agent or landlord as if they have invested in supportive aids and equipment for the new tenant they will have the receipts, product information and also provide an understanding of the type of suitability or impairment which will further help you develop a detailed report.
The road from 1995 has been a long, slow one, but with greater awareness and willingness the goal of a private rental sector that is fully accessible to all is coming a little closer.
Useful guidance and links
Citizens Advice – Asking for adjustments to help with your disability
Living Made Easy – Access and mobility aids