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Findings from Housing4All meeting with BCC: demo to follow, Fri Nov 9th

Housing4All | 31.10.2007 13:03 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Birmingham

Information gained from Housing4All's meeting with representatives of Birmingham City Council's housing department: demonstration in Victoria Square to demand accessible housing for all on Friday, November 9th from 1pm

On Monday 28th October 4 members of Housing4All met with 3 representatives of Birmingham City Council at Louisa Ryland House to discuss the lack of accessible housing for disabled people in Birmingham and to demand statistical information about the number of disabled people on housing waiting lists and the amount and standard of accessible housing available.

The Council were unable to provide Housing4All with precise figures of the number of disabled people on the housing register or number of available accessible properties, but did promise to send us this information.

Key findings from this meeting included:

- All council or housing association housing built within the last 10 years has supposedly been built to "Lifetime Homes" standards - approximately 2-3000 properties.

- "Accessible" housing falls into 3 categories - the fully wheelchair accessible standard (which would be a very small number), the Lifetime Homes standard (which is less accessible than the wheelchair standard), and properties which have been adapted for individual tenants (which should not be counted towards a generic definition of "accessible housing" because the adaptations are so varied and specific).

- There are 2 separate lists which need to be considered when assessing the number of disabled people in Birmingham in housing need, the Disabled Persons' Housing Register and the general housing list. Why these are separate was not made entirely clear.

- The separation between homelessness and housing allocation services was explained - these are not separate departments of the Council but separate parts of one department. Homelessness deals with those who are on the street or likely to be on the street within 28 days (either in temporary accommodation or classified as "Homeless at Home" eg those who have been given under 28 days notice to leave their home) - Housing Allocation deals with those in less urgent need (eg living in "secure" but unsuitable/inaccessible housing).

- The "one offer and one offer only" policy for those who are classified as homeless is not a requirement of national law, but is a "common" local authority policy.

- The medical model questions about the nature of disabled people's impairments that they are asked as part of housing need assessments are necessary for BCC to comply with national legislation - however, the council representatives agreed that it would be possible to tell people that these questions are only being asked because of legal necessity and to ask more genuinely useful (and social model oriented) questions about people's access needs in addition to the medical questions. Because of older medical model legislation persisting alongside the Amsterdam Treaty of 1995 which required all local authorities to accept the social model, both models are "running in parallel" in local authority policy.

- Only 2 hostels in Birmingham have capacity for PA users.

The representatives from the Housing Department admitted their ignorance of the closures of care homes, calling this an issue for a different department (probably Social Services).

Housing4All asserted that the "perception" of a lack of accessible properties reported in the Equality & Diversity Review 2004 was not a mere perception but a reality. There was only a very secondary mention of disability in reference to "priority need", when at least 40% of homeless people have a disability under the DDA definition according to Dudley council (the real figure, taking into account those who have disabilities under the DDA but do not self-declare them, may be as high as 70%). A council representative admitted that when the document was written, homelessness services in Birmingham were "dreadful".

Housing4All pointed out to the Council representatives that:

- For temporary accommodation for homeless disabled people, physically accessible hotels are almost certainly cheaper for the council than hostels, as well as being much better quality accommodation and not putting disabled people at the risk of harassment and intimidation that they would be in hostels (and which is illegal discrimination under the DDA 2005 and Disability Equality Duty). It is also extremely likely that there are enough physically accessible hotels in Birmingham for BCC not to need to house homeless disabled people in hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation at all.

- Residents of the nursing homes which are to be closed down by the Council, who are unable to find alternative accommodation, would be classified as "Homeless at Home" under the Council's homelessness policy.

- Disabled people in housing need are often housed outside their areas of choice because of a lack of accessible properties in those areas - thus getting an unequal service to non-disabled people, again illegal under the DDA & DED.

- The shortage of accessible accommodation is probably the main if not only cause of homelessness for people with physical impairments - for other categories of impairment it is more likely to be attitudes to (in)dependence. This can constitute a "divide and rule" strategy towards disabled people of different impairment groups.

The issue was also raised of Supporting People's idea of "independent living" being based on "daily living skills" (cooking, cleaning, etc) which bear no relation to reality, rather than on a realistic concept of choice and control based around personal assistance, resulting in massive amounts of money being wasted

Perhaps the most important piece of information received by Housing4All from the meeting was that BCC is now doing a review of housing needs as well as homelessness strategy, which are currently yet to be written but will become available some time after December. Housing4All will now get consultation about these documents!

With regard to the issue of adaptations to properties (disabled people being given offers of inaccessible properties and promised adaptations, but these promises not being followed up on), the council representatives agreed with Housing4All that adaptations could and should be done to properties while they were empty, thus bringing them up to accessibility standards.

However, the urgent need was stressed for the building of new, fully accessible properties, but not in "ghettos" separated from the wider community (like the Council's proposed "Retirement Villages"), but scattered throughout all new housing developments (at a rate of at least 5%). Money currently being spent on placing people in temporary accommodation could be diverted to the aids and adaptations budget, enabling them to be given permanent accommodation, which would also prevent people being "homeless at home" due to inaccessibility or unsuitability of their current housing.

We eagerly await the forthcoming statistics of how many disabled people are currently in housing need in Birmingham, how many accessible properties are available, the distribution between areas of these properties and how long it takes on average for adaptations requested by disabled people to make their housing accessible to be installed, and the promised consultation for the Housing needs Review and Homelessness Strategy documents...

In the meantime, given the still urgent need for awareness raising on this issue, Housing4All will be holding another demonstration in Victoria Square, Birmingham City Centre on Friday 9th November, starting at 1pm.

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