Renting with a disability
Jamie 25, has cerebral palsy. He explains to The Mix how it can be difficult to find suitable housing if you're a disabled person.
Like many students, when I finished university, I moved back in with my parents in Oxford. I have cerebral palsy, a condition that affects my movement, so I need support with some day-to-day tasks and also use a wheelchair.
I’d been living in accessible accommodation at university, but my parent’s house wasn’t adapted so there was no accessible toilet or bathroom. I was itching to get my independence back, so when I was offered a job in London, I jumped at it. Unfortunately, things weren’t as easy as they looked.
Gaps in care
Many disabled people have a care package, paid for by their local authority, which covers the costs associated with their disability. The job in London meant a move to the capital, but, because I was moving out of their borough, the local authority in Oxford didn’t want to continue paying for my care. It was very much a case of ‘you’re not our responsibility any more’.
Then, the local authority from the area I wanted to move to in London told me they couldn’t give me a care assessment – a process where they assess what support you need and what they’re willing to pay for – until I’d lived there for six months. I wanted to move house and I had to delay my start date in the new job while I tried to sort things out. I was so worried that my new employer would think I wasn’t interested in the job any more. In total, the two local authorities spent nine months deciding who was going to pay for what. During that time, I was paying for the full cost of my care – ?800 a month. I’m still paying this off on my credit card four years later.
It’s stressful for anyone to have to move house and there are so many added factors to take into consideration when you’re disabled. Many landlords aren’t aware that there are grants you can apply for to make properties accessible for disabled tenants. My landlady didn’t know this and wasn’t happy about many of the changes I needed to make, thinking that they would devalue the property. It’s useful to know the grants also cover the costs to put the property back to how it was before when the tenant moves out.
I wanted a wheel-in shower, but we ended up coming to a compromise and she allowed me to put some bars in the bathroom. This means that I’m more dependent on someone else to support me and having a bath rather than a shower means I need someone to help me in and out. I don’t really have any privacy because there needs to be someone around and I sometimes feel like I’m living in a goldfish bowl.
When people are planning buildings, accessibility seems to be regarded as an afterthought. The entrance to my flat has been designed around a step entrance and courtyard and there is a lift inside. However, in order to get up to the entrance, there is an outdoor lift. It’s prone to all the elements and often breaks down as a result. Not only was it expensive to install but it’s also expensive to repair. I’m sure if they’d asked a disabled person – they would have told them a ramp is much more convenient and obviously a lot cheaper.
Ignorant estate agents
When I wanted to move again, one estate agent came back to me with a property on Caledonian Road saying “It’s wheelchair accessible – there’s only four steps outside, so as long as you can walk, it’s wheelchair accessible.” It just shows many people don’t understand disability or the needs of disabled people.
And once again I had problems with the care package, even though I was only moving down the road. The new flat was in a different borough, so I had to have another assessment – and another eight months passed before I saw any results. It makes you feel guilty for needing support and that’s not the sort of situation anyone should be put in.
How things can change
There are ways to improve things. As disabled people we need to make sure our voices are heard and we have a say in the way we live our lives. I now work as a Local Campaigns Officer at the disability charity Scope. I support individual disabled people who are campaigning for change on an issue in their local community, whether it’s access to a restaurant or on public transport.
I’d also like to see more disabled people on property planning boards and more disabled people being listened to by their councillors. Involving us in the process would mean the decisions made genuinely work for us. There could also be improvements made to the way care packages are assessed. A single assessment that all local authorities could use would cut costs and make it easier to move house.”
As told to Louis Pattison
Photo of sad boy by shutterstock and posed by model
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
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