The search for the right home is causing disabled people physical and mental harm, according to researchers.

A study led by academics at the University of Stirling said some were experiencing emotional and mental distress due to shortages of suitable housing.

The 18 month project, which was carried out with Housing Options Scotland and Horizon Housing Association, found that lack of appropriate accommodation meant disabled people faced inequality of access to housing. While problems could include the stress of waiting for an allocation, in some cases unsuitable homes risked putting people at physical risk. 

In interviews, one participant described how, even with a stair-lift installed in her current accommodation, she had to make eight transfers between chair, wheelchair, stair-lift and toilet – and back again – just in order to use the bathroom.

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The report called for efforts to improve the effectiveness of allocations and lettings practice for accessible and adapted social housing in Scotland.

Of 28 disabled home-seekers based in three local authority areas, who took part in the research, the majority received inappropriate housing offers, or no offers at all, during the course of the study.

Professor Isobel Anderson, who led the research team, said: “Disabled people’s extended lived experience of inappropriate housing, while waiting for a more accessible home, clearly causes considerable physical and mental harm."

While local housing providers were generally proactive, there could be a big distance between their aspirations and the reality experienced by disabled people, she said.

“Disabled people and their families should have equal housing opportunities and the right to an accessible home in the community that ensures and protects their human rights. This academically rigorous report gives all stakeholders the opportunity and evidence to shape lettings policy and practice to optimise effectiveness in matching disabled people to suitable homes, as well as increasing our stock of accessible housing.”

Agenda: Fighting for the rights of those with learning disabilities

The study saiid assessment of the suitability of a property should not only consider the access and internal features of the home, but should also look at the accessibility of the external environment and the opportunities for the applicant to maintain local support networks.

Interviewees suggested that the needs of the entire household should be taken in to consideration – not solely those of the main applicant.

The final report offers practical and policy recommendations to Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), local authorities, Scottish Government and the Scottish Housing Regulator linked to housing allocations, adaptations, design and new supply.

Moira Bayne, Chief Executive, Housing Options Scotland, added: “Serving over 600 disabled households in need each year, we see first-hand the impacts of effective allocations policy and practice, but also what happens where services have not been accessibly designed and are insufficiently flexible to deliver the individualised solutions often needed.”