Finding a place to live is never a straightforward or enjoyable experience but if you happen to be disabled, the process is so much harder. If you have additional access needs, finding suitable accommodation can still be an absolute lottery. I recently went undercover for BBC Inside Out in Bath to experience for myself how bad it can be.
Sadly, it was everything I was expecting.
I phoned 20 different letting agents in Bath to try to find a house.
Out of those, I only managed to book five viewings for properties that were supposedly suitable for my needs. In reality, just one of them turned out to be accessible and that was a brand new build.
‘Lack of understanding’
I found the single biggest problem to be a lack of understanding or information from agents about whether or not their properties were accessible.
Of course, it would be unfair to suggest all estate agents should be qualified access auditors or experts in disability, but just being able to tell a customer whether or not a property has steps at the entrance or not can avoid a wheelchair-user making a completely wasted journey for a viewing. Sadly, this routinely happens.
During my research for the programme, I came across countless examples of disabled people being shown woefully inappropriate properties.
I was personally shown a property in a Georgian town house building that had three huge stone steps just to get into the foyer of the building.
These are not isolated incidents; they are happening every single day right across the country, causing inconvenience and upset on a large scale.
I met some people who have been looking for more than four months and are yet to find a single suitable property – and these are not people with complex needs.
Of course, the blame does not lie squarely at the door of the estate agents.
There are lots of other issues at play, notably a general lack of suitable accessible properties available. However, my experience has been that agents can do so much more to make the lives of disabled house-hunters easier.
What is perhaps most frustrating is that many of the changes needed are not difficult to implement; they do not need any significant investment in terms of cost, only a bit of time and effort.
One suggested solution is to introduce a similar scheme to that used in the hotel and bed-and-breakfast industry.
There, each property has to publish details of the accessibility of its accommodation on its websites or literature, providing disabled people with the tools to make an informed decision.
This is something that could easily translate to the private rental market. Making it compulsory for landlords and/or agents to provide simple information about their properties would be a quick and easy way to improve life for everybody.
It also makes commercial sense – there are about 11 million disabled people in the UK, and neglecting to cater for them is effectively excluding a huge proportion of the potential customer base.
In a statement, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) – the self-regulating body that represents the lettings industry – says that it is important for ARLA members to provide a “professional service to their customers – whether landlords or tenants”.
The statement added: “We cannot comment on the specific cases you mentioned without having seen the programme.
“However, our code of conduct states that members should not discriminate against a client or tenant on grounds of race, colour, creed or disability.”
In my experience, the lettings industry has a long way to go to improve access for disabled people, reducing the opportunities for so many people to live independently and lead fulfilling lives.
bbc By Paul Carter