4 Jul 2012

Young disabled feel ‘locked out’ of property market

As a report accuses the property industry of being “oblivious” to the needs of disabled people, a young wheelchair user tells Channel 4 News she is being denied an independent life.

Hannah-Lou Blackall suffers from myopathy. It’s a neurological condition which has left her in a wheelchair needing 24-hour care. But despite her condition she went to Hull University and after graduating, secured a job as the assistant manager of a care organisation.

It was a life-affirming achievement that confirmed Hannah-Lou’s belief she could lead an independent life. But soon a problem arose – where to live.

“I signed up to lists with the local housing authority, housing associations and estate agents,” she explained.

“But slowly it became clear they couldn’t find anything suitable.”

“There was no lack of effort or discrimination. Everyone was very kind. But they would find a property without steps only to find the bathroom was on a different floor”.

They would find a property without steps only to find the bathroom was on a different floor. Hannah-Lou Blackall

Eventually Hannah-Lou had to make do with bed and breakfast type accommodation in a conference centre.

Hannah-Lou’s tale of the disabled struggling to find a home is behind the launch of a new campaign, Locked Out, today at the House of Commons.

The All Parliamentary Group for Young Disabled has published a report that accuses the property industry of being “oblivious” to the disabled market. It claims.

Key findings:
• 85 per cent do not feel confident that access advice given by estate agents, local authorities and other housing providers is accurate.
• A lack of information has prevented or deterred half of this group of young disabled people from living independently.
• Eight-out-of-ten people are not confident they would be able to access the same level of care and support if they moved out of their local authority.
• Almost a quarter say a landlord has refused to carry out minor adjustments or refused to let them make their own adjustments to property.
• Seven-out-of-ten say they find it difficult to identify accommodation that is accessible to them because estates agents have poor knowledge.

Estate agents regularly take wheelchair-users to see properties with stairs where the client cannot get through the front door.

Major search engines offer no criteria for young disabled people to narrow their searches to step-free access.

The report is partly the work of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, a 400-strong young disabled campaigners group. Its project manager Bobby Ancil says: “It seems that the UK property industry is truly in the dark ages when it comes to catering for disabled home-seekers.”

Today Hannah-Lou meets property representatives to explain the problems they face and believes there’s an incentive for them to do better.

“The rental market really doesn’t seem to realise that young disabled people now live and work independently,” she said.

“There is a big potential market out there if they take the right approach to catering for disabled customers.”

Locked Out is the result of findings taken from a survey of 200 young disabled people and 12 focus group meetings across the UK over a period of nine months.

If you are disabled and have had problems finding accommodation tell us on Twitter @nogobritain