Friday, 13 July 2012

Guest Post: Supported Mortgage Interest and Welfare Reform

This is a guest post from @_louhicky.

A limited range of accessible housing restricts the lifestyle choices made by disabled people. There has been a lot of discussion about accessible housing in the media recently. Last week The Guardian published the article ‘Young disabled people failed by estate agents and property websites.’ The study ‘Locked Out’, recently compiled by The Trailblazers, a group of young disabled people, highlighted the common failure to understand the needs of wheelchair users; particularly with respect to what makes an accessible property. (NB: I know there is a glaring disability hierarchy at play here, for the sake of this blog I am going to put this argument aside. I’m taking note of it.)

The lack of social mobility is worth a mention here and the long-term implications of suffering restrictions within the housing market. In clarifying what I mean by social mobility: to many this signals the ability to move vertically or even horizontally within social classes. To progress, to study, to live independently, to obtain employment, to buy a car, maybe even an annual holiday, or simply to aspire to something. I’m not so interested in movement between social classes, but rather the importance of having choices - even if they are related to materialistic desires. One comment by user cycleloopy on The Guardian’s feature, states:

Estate agents want to do the least amount of work for the most return. Recognising the needs of people with disabilities sounds too much like hard work.

There is a stinging element of truth here, but let’s reframe this comment. Estate agents desire profit, this limits the housing stock or profile for those who seek accessible housing. The private rental market is not a realistic choice for people who require adaptations to be made. Again, the ‘Locked out’ report found that seven out of ten say they find it difficult to identify accommodation that is accessible to them, largely because estates agents have poor knowledge of adapted properties in their area.

The chances of successfully appealing a decision are quickly evaporating under the coalition government, leaving disabled people left without choices, trapped within their own circumstances. What’s next, the property ladder? Yet, the [Locked Out] report found that nine out of ten people say that they are just as keen to get onto the property ladder as their non-disabled peers.

Home Ownership schemes (which have been mainly brought about by the Labour government) such as HOLD (Home Ownership for Long term disabilities) increase the availability of accessible housing, especially if these free up local authority properties. Effectively, this creates a small-scale economy for people with disabilities, and, as a result, creates demand and opportunity for others. Ownership is currently, albeit rather precariously, available with the assistance of Supported Mortgage Interest (SMI), which has been extended under this year’s budget until January 2013. However, SMI is presently under review (the consultation period ended in February 2012), and it would seem that the coalition government is underestimating the power of ‘crip economy’ and its potential as a source of fiscal stimulus. The DWP’s SMI impact report shows that there were roughly 239,000 recipients benefiting from this scheme in 2011/12, at a cost of £400m.

Under welfare reform it has been suggested that SMI will be further incorporated into the Universal Credit system, however this complex process of streamlining benefits would undoubtedly mean that some people are likely to be left out. A Guardian feature from late last year, Disabled people pay price for cuts to mortgage relief revealed that regardless of these changes, SMI payments have become unpredictable, as they already have been subjected to cuts. When, for instance, average interest rates fell below 6.08% some people enjoyed a surplus on their payments, whilst when the rate was cut to 3.63%, others found their payments falling short of what was in fact owed. Under pressure, then, from both Welfare reforms and unpredictable SMI rates, disabled people are prevented from making the move onto the property market that they ostensibly desire, and as a result fully adapted homes are lying empty.

It is evident therefore that the long waiting list for accessible properties substantiates the idea that there is high demand and no supply. Indeed this is not helpful whilst transferring between local authorities with care packages. The ‘Locked Out’ report reveals that eight out of ten people are not confident that they would be able to access the same level of care and support if they moved out of their local authority. Similarly, relocation for a new job is almost impossible. As Channel 4’s No Go Britain highlighted in its interview with Hannah-Lou Blackall. No housing means no job.

A lack of housing options denies disabled people the basic right to make choices about their lifestyle. The ‘crip economy’ shows potential for growth, but the enforcers of housing policy need to ensure that local authorities are building all new housing options to the Lifetime Homes Standard, and even further that ten percent will be built to wheelchair standard design.
This post hasn’t even begun to tackle the adaptation of existing homes, or cooperation of private landlords within the letting market. In the United States, an accessible apartment is defined ADA (American Disabilities Act) accessible, clearly labeled, and clearly following the lines of the disability law - most importantly defining a standard within the marketplace. In order to be classified as ADA accessible, properties have to meet certain legal requirements: there is no room for subjective interpretation, or making do with already-existing properties and their flaws. If the British government adopted tougher measures, recognizing the value of choice, whilst sustaining the current growth of both social and private markets they could offer people the chance of taking their dream job, or ensuring that family growth and long term security is achievable, or even, quite simply, the chance to live with flat mates without complex bureaucracy.

More information: My safe Home -

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