Too many housing associations are failing to prioritise home adaptations and vulnerable residents face a multitude of barriers to make properties fit for purpose, a new report has revealed.

Housing Associations and Adaptations: Finding Ways to Say Yes takes an in depth look at how adaptations are funded and delivered by the sector, including minor adaptations and the use of the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).

Written by housing experts Sheila Mackintosh and Rachel Frondigoun, the report was commissioned by Foundations Independent Living Trust (FILT) and two leading housing associations that specialise in accessible properties, Habinteg and Anchor.

Key findings include:

Home adaptations lack importance – although disabled tenants form a substantial part of housing association populations, most associations see adapting homes as a minor operational issue. It is not part of a strategic plan to make the stock work for everyone.

Rather than saying ‘yes’ to adaptations, barriers are often placed in the way and adaptations may be refused – especially in general needs properties. They may also be removed unnecessarily when tenancies change.

There are issues around funding and delivery – including splits in legal responsibility, a confusing pattern of funding, a postcode lottery in the type of services provided, complex customer journeys and frustration for staff in local authorities and associations.

The report cites evidence from the English Housing Survey showing 56% of properties needing adaptations do not have them. Some 21% of disabled tenants say their accommodation is unsuitable and the proportion of adapted homes in the housing association sector has fallen by around one fifth over the last decade. In contrast, it has increased in retained council stock.

But it also found examples of good practice, particularly in Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) housing associations that control their own adaptations budgets, those fully engaged with their disabled and older tenants, or where there are effective partnership arrangements.

Nic Bungay, director of housing and assets at Habinteg, said: “Unfortunately, as this report describes, the DFG system is sometimes slow and complex, resulting in long waits. This matters. Every day lived in a home without the right access features is a day that a disabled person is limited by their environment and prevented from going about their life with the ease and comfort that non-disabled people take for granted.

“Housing associations have always been proud of the difference they make in their communities and the positive impact that good quality suitable housing can have on tenants’ lives. How we deliver adaptations should be integral to every provider’s strategy.”

The report contains a number of recommendations for housing associations, including:

  • Reviewing adaptation budgets and setting the threshold for minor adaptations at a minimum of £1,000 to prevent long waiting times and cover the rising cost of work
  • Ensuring routine housing reviews include future housing needs – whether it involves adaptations or moving
  • Having a named officer to lead on adaptation cases and ensuring staffing levels are sufficient to meet demand ­– and basing home adaptations services within an integrated inclusive housing or customer service improvement team
  • Matching people to properties and providing practical support for disabled and older people by developing a ‘Managed Rehousing’ process
  • Appointing more disabled people in all departments and to leadership positions

Jane Ashcroft CBE, chief executive of Anchor, said: “Housing associations play a crucial role in ensuring people have choices in where and how to live. Supply does not always meet demand though and it is crucial that, as well as developing new homes which are future-proofed for changing needs, we focus on adapting existing homes. This report offers important practical solutions to the challenges faced when implementing home adaptations and shows how to integrate home adaptations with other housing services. Ultimately, the information in these pages has the potential to improve countless lives. It is down to all of us as providers to learn from it and ensure that as the future brings change, our homes can change too.”

The report follows on from the independent review of DFG in England that was published in 2018 and called for a raft of measures to improve adaptations.

FILT is the charitable arm of Foundations, the national body for home improvement agency and handypersons services and DFG which is funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Paul Smith, director of Foundations, said: “This report highlights that some of the most effective services often involve housing associations working in conjunction home improvement agencies. For example, in Bolton, a combination of timely adaptations and proactive support to move home has ensured more people live in homes that meet their needs. This is in turn reduces risk of falls, hospital admissions and the use of residential care.”

The report was funded by FILT, Anchor, Habinteg and Taylor Wimpey.