The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was amended earlier this year with an extension to its remit known as the Disability Equality Duty. The new duty requires public sector bodies, such as local authorities, to promote disability equality. It builds on the DDA's current requirement for public sector bodies to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people have equal access.
However the new duty goes beyond the requirement for simple 'adjustment' by requiring active steps to be taken to promote equality of opportunity rather than simple restitution. A practical example of how this new duty could be met in practice is the use by local authority housing departments of an Accessible Housing Register (AHR - also known as a Disability Housing Register).
How will an AHR help meet the Disability Equality Duty?
With very few exceptions; local housing authorities do not have an accurate, up to date list of the accessible, adapted or adaptable properties within their own area. As a consequence disabled people can face considerable obstacles in locating and obtaining a suitable house to live in. Pressure on councils to let empty houses quickly can mean that many adapted properties, suitable for disabled people, are let to non-disabled people because the housing department cannot locate a suitable prospective tenant in time.
Using an AHR, a housing department would compile and maintain a database of accessible and adapted property in their area. It would also build a list of disabled people who require accessible housing and their access requirements. The AHR would then match people to available property.
The service would be offered to any disabled person who experiences problems in finding suitable housing - not just people with mobility difficulties but also people with sensory impairments and special learning needs. When an adapted property becomes available which matches with an identified need, people from the register who qualify would be notified and asked if they would like to view it.
Do Accessible Housing Registers restrict choice?
No. A matching service does not mean that the disabled person will be forced into accepting the first property that the register identifies for them. It simply allows the disabled person to exercise a wider choice on the housing options available rather than choosing the least worst option for their housing needs. Sadly this is the housing situation which faces many disabled people at the moment.
Are Accessible Housing Registers consistent with the move to "choice based lettings" which the Government require all housing departments to adopt?
Yes. Indeed without a clear duty on local authorities to inform disabled people about suitable housing options, choice based letting systems can mitigate against choice and empowerment for disabled people.
Choice based lettings systems rely on a high level of personal motivation and drive to compete for attractive, accessible, conveniently located properties. Many disabled people lack the ability to benefit from such a system and so risk losing out. For this reason many AHRs are linked to a specialist housing advice and support service.
Accessible Housing Registers enable better planning for future housing needs
By using an accessible housing register, local authorities will start to develop a more realistic knowledge of the housing needs in the area that they serve and the unmet housing need amongst disabled people. This information can be used to set realistic targets for developing accessible housing in local development plans.
Do Accessible Housing Registers save money?
Yes. Registers have already been developed in Bradford, Reading, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow. All found that the cost of setting up and running an AHR is more than offset by the savings in other areas.
Local authorities estimate that they have saved anything between £200,000 and £800,000 per year. Savings come from not 'unadapting' empty properties and reducing delay in discharging people who need accessible properties from hospital or institutional care.
Can Accessible Housing Registers help improve the quality of service to local people?
Yes. The Audit Commission inspects housing departments to ensure they are meeting central Government quality standards (or 'Key Lines of Enquiry'). One of the key standards states that to deliver an excellent service a housing department:
'Has an allocation policy that records, collects and takes account of individual's needs and support requirements in order to match their needs with appropriate housing.
- a reasonable definition of what a local authority can expect from using an AHR.
Where can my local council find out more about accessible housing registers?
For more than two years Ability Housing Association has been operating a pilot internet -based AHR in partnership with Reading Borough Council and Reading Primary Care Trust. It can be found at www.disability-housing-register.co.uk .
The pilot scheme has been such a success that Ability will shortly be launching the UK's first multi-authority register, with 7 authorities in the South-East already signed up. Housing associations, private landlords and disabled people will be able to use the web site to provide and check information across the participating authorities to help in finding the best possible match of people to property when adapted properties become available.
Alternatively ring David Williams, Chief Executive of Ability Housing Association on 01784 490 910 or e-mail him on firstname.lastname@example.org