Social Housing Allocations
Neil Morland
January 10, 2024

Allocating accessible social housing to people with disabilities

Too many disabled people are inadequately housed.

Too many disabled people are inadequately housed. A YouGov poll[i] found:

Almost one in five disabled people (20%) do not have a home that meets their access needs
Only 9% of homes in the UK provide features that are accessible
400,000 wheelchair uses in England are living in homes that are not adapted for their needs

An inquiry carried out by the Equality & Human Rights Commission, that looked at the provision of accessible and adaptable housing for disabled people provided by local authorities and housing associations[ii], found:

Disabled people are more likely to live in social rented housing, as it is more affordable, tends to provide more security of tenure, and landlords are more willing to install adaptations and provide support
There are long waiting lists for social housing
There are not enough accessible homes to meet demand, with only 7% of homes having accessibility features.
One in five disabled people in social housing live in unsuitable accommodation (compared to one and three in private rented properties and one in seven in their own homes).
Navigating social housing allocations schemes was stressful and challenging.
22% of councils have an accessible housing register.

Accessible housing are homes that are designed to mobility standards, equipped with adaptations (e.g., ramps, grab rails, stair lifts), to make them more suitable for people with various disabilities.

When allocating social rented housing, local authorities and housing associations have been strongly encouraged[iii] to put in place specific arrangements for disabled persons in respect of:

1. Publishing adverts of properties available to-let in an accessible format
2. Informing an applicant of a property’s accessible features
3. Identifying the requirements of disabled applicants.
4. Allowing extra time for disabled applicants if they need it to accept an offer.
5. Providing support in making applications.

Legislation dictates that disabled people applying for an allocation of social rented housing, must be given a reasonable preference over other applicants who have a general housing need,[iv] when their current housing conditions are having an adverse effect on their disability, which as a result is creating a need for them to move. An adverse effect could be caused by the:

Location of the present accommodation
Physical conditions of the present accommodation
Impact of the present accommodation on health
Need to relocate from the present accommodation to be closer to a particular medical facility or a carer
Need to escape adverse environmental factors in the location of the present accommodation

Research[v] recommended that accessible homes (both that are already accessible and those that are adaptable) should be advertised within choice-based lettings schemes, alongside mainstream housing through the choice system. Where accessible homes cannot be let due to a lack of suitable bidders, holding such properties vacant pending re-advertisement was also advocated. The same research also made a strong case for establishing a comprehensive database of accessible housing and for this to be kept up-to-date.

A study[vi] concluded that the ideal model for allocating accessible housing involved assessing properties coming available to let for their accessibility features in the course of initial void inspection and then advertising them within a choice-based letting system, giving bidders with a need for such properties priority over all others.

New official statistics[vii] show that 81% of local authorities advertise accessible properties as part of their choice-based letting scheme, reflecting a research recommendation to do so. However, not all research findings have transferred into policy and practice. Only 58% of local authorities give those with access needs priority for accessible properties and only 11% allow those with access needs to bid on accessible properties. Despite repeated recommendations from numerus studies and investigations, to introduce accessible housing registers, only one-fifth of local authorities maintain an accessible housing register, either on their own or as part multi-authority or sub-regional arrangements.

The most recent data available on social housing lettings[viii], recorded 43,575 new lettings being made to tenants with a disability related adaptation requirement (17% of all lettings made). However, only 28,307 (23%) of properties let were built to or adapted to wheelchair user standards.

The UK Government has acknowledged that the way social housing is allocated doesn’t always result in the best possible outcomes for accessible homes and disabled people[ix] and has indicated it will to take action to improve how accessible housing is allocated to disabled people.

As first step towards ensuring there is adequate housing for all disabled people, local authorities and housing associations can act on recommendations made by the Equality & Human Rights Commission, from its inquiry into housing and disabled people:

1. Embed independent living principles into assessment and allocation policies
2. Increase knowledge of existing accessible social housing stock
3. Use accessible housing registers
4. Publish standards and monitor and review the effectiveness of allocations of accessible housing to disabled people

[i] YouGov survey, commissioned by Habinteg Housing Association. Carried out from August 2020, published September 2020.
(2018) Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis. Equality and Human Rights Commission. London.
Housing and the Disability Equality Duty: a guide to the Disability Equality Duty and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 for the social housing sector. Disability Rights Commission. 2006.
Housing Act 1996, Part 6, Section 166A(3)(d)
Lomax, D., Pawson, H., (2011) Choice based lettings, potentially disadvantaged groups and accessible housing registers: a positive practice guide. Department for Communities & Local Government. London.
Jones, C., Lordon, M., (2011) Cost and effectiveness of accessible housing registers in a choice-based lettings context. Department for Communities & Local Government. London.
Local authority housing statistics data return for 2022 to 2023, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, November 2023
Social housing lettings in England, tenancies: April 2021 to March 2022, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, April 2023
The Charter for Social Housing Residents – Social Housing White Paper, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, November 2020