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What needs to change for disabled people in temporary accommodation

  • 4 min read |
  • Posted by Justlife
  • On 18 May 2023

My legs went bad about 6 years ago. I’ve not been out of the house for 6 years, (…) I’ve been inside all the time.

Temporary Accommodation (TA) is temporary housing where people experiencing homelessness are placed while waiting for stable housing, or while it is being assessed whether they are owed a duty of care. Disability is highly prevalent among people living in TA, from problems with mental health to physical impairments.

People living with a disability are more likely to experience poverty and be in need of support, making them more vulnerable to homelessness. Once in TA, the environment can exacerbate symptoms and heighten experiences of disability. Although temporary by name, this situation can carry on for years due to the shortage of suitable housing.

We are delighted to see that a comprehensive new report from CHI, Homelessness and Disability in the UK, gives clear evidence highlighting the many barriers people with disabilities face while experiencing homelessness, making it harder to get support and move on out of homelessness. It is long overdue.

Stories reveal hazardous housing

A recent call for evidence by the APPG for Households in TA, for which Justlife is co-secretariat alongside Shared Health Foundation, gives ample illustration of the unacceptable consequences people with disabilities face when placed in unsuitable TA.

Respondents from across England revealed shocking disrepair, black mould, overcrowding, lack of basic household goods and people placed in housing that is so unsuitable that it can be dangerous.

“Have had three fires since I’ve lived here. All related to dodgy wiring”

“…when an ambulance came to her when she was having acute vomiting and body pains, the paramedics could not get her down the stairs and she had to be carried on the back of her eldest son.”

These stories add to the growing evidence that too many people are left in undignified and sometimes dangerous situations due to being placed in unsuitable TA. The added stress of not being able to do basic things, like leaving your room or accessing the shower, takes a heavy toll on people’s physical as well as mental health.

“What I do need is a shower, a decent shower. (…) I haven’t had one for about half a year”

Under the Equality Act of 2010, someone is considered disabled if they live with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative impact on their ability to do normal daily activities. The focus is on the effect rather than the diagnosis.

By this definition, TA is all too often a disabling environment that adds barriers and hardship for people who are already disadvantaged.

How many people with disabilities are affected?

Official DLUHC figures, released in May 2023, reveal that 101,300 households were staying in temporary accommodation at the end of December 2022, including over 127,000 dependent children. A household can include single adults, couples or families with children, so the number of individuals in TA is somewhat higher. In January 2023, Shelter estimated this figure to be around 250,000.

Previous research by Justlife has estimated that more than 35% of residents of TA live with a disability compared to a national figure of around 20%. Using these estimates, at least 87,000 individuals with a disability currently live in TA.

However the real figure is likely to be higher, as many people in TA are uncounted, and disability often goes unrecorded. People with disabilities are routinely left to fight for themselves, which not everyone wants, or has the capacity to do, suffering additional avoidable hardship as a consequence. There are no records showing how many of the 87,000 live in unsuitable or hazardous housing.

My client has a severely disabled daughter who is blind & in a wheelchair & has Multiple Health conditions (…) [She] has to be carried up & down the stairs which is a hazard and quite dangerous as mum is terrified of her falling.

What needs to change for disabled people in homeless temporary accommodation

There are many reasons why disabled people find themselves in these situations. Housing officers are not trained to assess or talk about disability, and even if they do, there is a dire shortage of appropriate housing to place people into. Building this housing will take years, but there are interventions we can make now to prevent further harm.

We call for the Legislation and Homelessness Code of Guidance to be updated to include minimum basic facilities in TA, including disability adaptations such as handrails and door-openers. Collaboration across sectors with disability organisations, and people living with disability in TA, should help inform these changes.

Further, housing officers and other support staff should be trained in how to deliver services for people with special assistive needs, and repairs and maintenance must be considered a priority, particularly where broken lifts leave people in dangerous situations stuck indoors.

And where things have gone wrong, we call for a new, national regulatory body overseeing standards in temporary accommodation, with sufficient powers to meaningfully intervene on behalf of some of our most vulnerable citizens. It is long overdue, people with disabilities deserve better.

This is an edited version of a blog that first appeared in Left Foot Forward on March 23rd, 2023.

You can read more on the subject, including recommendations, here.