Disclaimer: This is my personal experience of social housing in the United Kingdom, specifically with the social landlords in one of the Midlands areas. Other disabled people in the UK may have had a better experience getting social housing that fits their needs.
Hi, my name is Anj. I'm 28. I live in the United Kingdom - specifically the Midlands. I'm a wheelchair user.
I also happen to be homeless, one of tens of thousands of people in the UK this year who will find themselves without or at risk of not having somewhere to live.
I'm no stranger to homelessness and the bureaucracy that surrounds being homeless - I experienced homelessness and the ineptitude of the system as a child when my mother left my abusive father and we spent two and a bit years couch-hopping, moving from friend to friend, slowly outstaying our welcome with every person we knew. I experienced it again when I exited a psychological abusive relationship and spent fourteen weeks of my life in a woman's refuge waiting for somewhere to restart living my life as opposed to existing. Now I'm here again through no fault of my own - I fled my own home after prolonged harassment and abuse and returned to my family home, which is now being repossessed. (Long story.)
This is the first time I'm going through this experience as a disabled person with extra housing needs - needing level access, needing an adapted bathroom, etc. The last time I was homeless, I wasn't at a stage where I needed adaptations to my home, so it was just a matter of waiting for a property to become available. Back then, you gave a list of areas you'd be willing to live and when a property became available, that would be where you'd live, with little recourse to say no. Now, the big thing in social housing - farmed out to housing associations after councils sold all their stock off - is 'Choose and Move'
, where you apply for housing and then look at a weekly published list of homes available for rent. Each property has its own criteria for allocation, usually based on a banding scheme - the one in use here is a three-tier 'bronze/silver/gold' system where those with the highest need are gold status. The name of the scheme and the banding system in use may vary from place to place but the concept is pretty identical.
After months of being bronze status due to the ignorance and general idiocy of the largest housing association in my area, I got a decision on my homeless application. My Section 184 paperwork arrived and I was informed I'd now being elevated to gold status, though having looked at how the system is run, having a priority need doesn't seem to mean much - 50% of properties are for silver and bronze only. (Whilst I see the need for giving these groups a chance in the system, this effectively eliminates the choice of anyone with gold status to bid on a property somewhere they might want to live. And the idea is supposed to be that people with gold status are the most in need of housing.)
However, the thing that has bothered me most throughout this isn't how the system works now. It's the discrimination against younger disabled people
that makes it almost impossible to get a bungalow or a ground floor flat - since almost all of these properties are allocated to the elderly. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against older people, but the fact that my own mother - who doesn't have a disability - can get housing that I need more than she does just appals the both of us. I sift through the raft of housing on the Choose and Move website every week when the new properties are added and it's the same thing every time - a load of properties that would be great but that I cannot bid on since 'I don't fit the criteria'
- basically: 'You're too young'
. (Even the 'general needs' housing choices are limited, since the information given about access is limited to 'Disabled - No'. If they were a bit more specific, like 'Level access - No', that would be a start.)
This is compounded by the fact that I was recently sent to view a property by our local adapted housing service
- an organisation who are supposed to help people like me find a place to live by matching disabled people up with appropriate housing. I was informed that the property was adapted and accessible, so it was a shock when I got there and found that there was no way I could live there independently since there were no kerb cuts, the path into the building was very uneven - I actually fell out of my chair when I hit a raised slab and it tipped forward - and there was a huge-ass step into the building. (I actually partially dislocated my shoulder getting inside with how awkward it was to manoeuvre me and my chair inside.) It was a shame since it was a nice area, somewhere I'd have liked to have lived. There was just no way I could have managed that every day and when asked about the possibility of a ramp, I got the old favourite - "It's a health and safety issue."
Also, just down the road from where I live, a housing association is building a lovely block of accessible flats. Guess what? They're for over 55s.
The worst is being placated by people with stupid comments like, "Don't worry." What? Don't worry that in short order I'll have no home to go to? What an easy thing to say when you know you have a roof over your head for the foreseeable future, and even if you don't, your age AND being disabled won't be a huge barrier to getting the housing you really need.
The message I get from this is that if you're under-55 - and most especially under-30 - disabled and in need of social housing, forget about choice.
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