Search Guidance

Tenant Search Advice

Guidance on finding wheelchair accessible property in the private rented sector (PRS) in the U.K. - i.e. properties that are rented out by private or corporate landlords rather than local authority and housing association (social housing).

Background

According to valuable research by Abode Impact, 91% of wheelchair users have experienced barriers to accessing the PRS, with 62% saying this was due to a lack of accessible properties. Yet 50% would still like to move to a privately rented home. Concerning is the fact that 4 out of 5 of the survey respondents stated that their present homes do not meet their needs.

For some excellent and thorough knowledge on the subject of your rights for housing and disabled people, have a look at the information pages set up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which covers both private and social housing and separates its guidance into PDFs for England, Scotland and Wales.

Searching for a wheelchair accessible rental home is gruelling, so here's our checklist to optimise your search.

1. Searching Online

Searching online is a major challenge because most listings have no thought for accessibility. The majority of lettings listings do not include floor plans. Additionally, many of the images show a property in it’s best marketing light but do not provide the specific detail that informs the searcher, at a glance, whether a property is likely to be suitable, nor whether a viewing will be productive, or even possible.

Take Action: email politely reinforcing that (1) floor plans provide valuable information at a glance for disabled property searchers; (2) they provide equality of opportunity by enabling searchers to make quick decisions about pursuing a property, whilst searching online, rather than having to follow up every possible property with a call to the agent; (3) this saves huge amounts of wasted time and frustration. They know it already because we've had a constructive meeting about it, however, adding voices to the call can help.

  • Register with your preferred search platform/s (e.g. Rightmove), so that you can access their tools and platform functionality.

  • Check regularly: you can save listings you like and review listings added in the last day - which breaks the task into bitesize pieces. 

  • Use keyword searches - e.g. wheelchair, accessible, disabled, disability. The reason for doing this is that the platform will logs search term volumes. As they become significant, the development team invests resources to improve - lack of evidence of users was cited as a hesitation to act in a meeting with Rightmove.

    However, whilst important this search is likely to be fruitless. We're aware of the online petition to make Rightmove add basic wheelchair access facts to listings. It's a nice idea but it doesn't understand how the platform works or the context to successfully implementing functionality which would help. The listings are all created by the estate agents. Most people do not have the experience to understand what is required for people accessibility, and getting it wrong provides a different and equally frustrating set of issues. Our view is that adding floor plans as a standard would be the single biggest, and easiest to implement, ticket item that would go a long way to helping. 

  • Learn to “read” the estate agent descriptions and use the platform tools effectively. Set time aside to go through the newly added listings looking at the images, note the square footage, and look for keywords which might seem promising (e.g. ground floor, new build, open plan, direct access, wet room, etc..) and bookmark or save these properties, so that you can use them as a list to go through and eliminate or visit with calls to the agents. Being the first to call on properties will give you the best change. A good routine is to look each evening, and call the agents the next morning.

  • Check and refine your search criteria. If you are too specific, and you get too few search results, work out what is essential in your filters and try ditching the rest. You can always set up different search alerts and label them, for example, Ideal Search, Expanded Area Search, Increased Price Range, etc..

  • Search "accessible property" platforms such as Accessible Property Register.

    It was set up by three people with disabilities to address the issues they experienced, but is now run by The House Shop. Originally the site listed second-hand properties of sellers who had adapted their home and, understanding the issues they’d experienced, were enthusiastic to find a buyer also with disabilities who could benefit from these adaptations. Now, they mostly feature new-build properties which should conform to certain Part M building regulations. Though this can mean that (1) they are really only catering for sales properties, which doesn’t help the renter and (2) they risk becoming an opt-out for large house builders and developers who need to market M(4)3 Wheelchair Accessible or Adaptable properties, according to their planning permission, but aren’t doing so clearly within their own websites or via mainstream platforms.

    Like many platforms, The House Shop state they have specific accessible property navigation search options. However, with the searches we performed, it wasn’t clear what was accessible about the search results. 

2. Dealing with Agents

Accept your reliance on letting agents. Breathe deeply. Know that the rights and wrongs of any conversation or situation won't help you. Stay focussed on the objective of finding your next home - and not trying to change the mindsets of anyone along the way who isn’t interested.

Meanwhile, practical advice to help you get the best out of agents - understand their constraints and pressures, and manage them accordingly:

  • Expect to do all the work: anything more is a bonus. Call the agent regularly (start at once a week) and ask what has come on and what they know is about to come on. Agents have regular internal meetings to discuss this stuff. 

  • Be organised: catch up with what’s on the market and check daily use notifications and alerts to immediately see when new listings are added. 

  • Visit agents: regularly, if you can, as this will help them remember you when they’re looking at new property instructions. 

  • Be nice: treat agents respectfully, and do not vent your frustrations on them or try to win fruitless arguments. Whatever the rights or wrongs, if you are rude, you’ll go to the bottom of their list. They take instructions from just about everyone - their boss, their landlords, their applicants - they’re human, and usually powerless to fix this accessible housing mess. You’re unlikely to convince them of anything and it doesn’t help people who go after you.

  • Relationship build: you need a good relationship with the agents so that you're first through the door as soon as a suitable property comes up. If they call you first, move quickly. Even if it's not suitable, they're likely to call you first again.

  • Give few & clear directives: identify your top priorities and stick with these for the first round of enquiry - e.g. ground floor, open plan, flat floor shower, etc.... You can hone in on detail after you’ve seen properties which don’t work for you. But treat this as a conversation rather than treating them as ignorant or deliberately rude for not considering your every need.

    Understand that agents are subject to commission based earnings and will likely have to compete against their colleagues as well as other lettings agencies in the same area. It's not a nice working environment. Some agencies are very competitive and shame employees for not performing - so the pressure is to do the fastest deals. 

  • Take a ramp to viewings: if you can. This will make getting in / out of properties easier. If a property is accessible with a ramp, you may be able to make a reasonable adjustment with the landlord’s permission. And it’s better to be more independent at viewings. If an agent is embarrassed at a viewing, because they can’t get you in or out, they may not want to repeat the experience. Again, it’s not right, but this is about getting you somewhere to live.

  • Take a tape measure to viewings: it may be that you can’t get in initially, but you can ask an agent to measure a couple of critical internal doors. At least then you’ll know about following up on this property or not, and this simple access may change the way that the agent thinks about properties in relation to you. That's an exciting and proactive prospect!

  • Ask to speak to the landlord: speak up if you think somewhere could work with some minor works - e.g. ramping the entrance or taking a door off a hinge. We spent 11 months looking for a place, before viewing somewhere which would work with some adaptations. I asked about the landlord and it turned out they lived next door, so we asked to see them during our first viewing, and they were delightful and helpful. Left to the devices of the agent, we would have missed a wonderful home.

  • Persevere: this is soul destroying work and it shouldn’t be this hard. We feel your frustration.

  • Register with us: the more people who register with AccessiblePRS, the better the conversations we can have with bigger landlords.

3. Specialist Housing Organisations

  • AccessiblePRS works with tenants, landlords, design professionals and developers. We’re good at relationship building and joining dots. Our remit, experience and way of working is unique to this sector. And our list of potential tenants connects landlords and tenants more quickly. Best of all, it’s free for the tenant. Remember, we always welcome your experiences and stories.

  • Abode Impact is also creating change within the private rented sector, in London. They will buy new-build, wheelchair accessible flats, and rent a proportion of them out at a somewhat subsidised rent. Though, the fund is on hold currently.

  • Habinteg is a registered social housing provider with 50 years’ experience building and promoting accessible homes and communities. They own and manage more than 3,300 homes and operate in 86 local authorities across England and Wales. Only a percentage of their homes are fully wheelchair accessible. They do an amazing amount of influencing and lobbying government on policy, as well as valuable research. 

  • Aspire is a spinal injury charity which helps with short-term housing needs - e.g. if you want somewhere to live while you’re having adaptation works done on your own place. It’s worth checking the Aspire vacancies page. They have waiting lists, and remember they’re only a temporary solution.

    Aspire highlighted the issue of the lack of accessible housing with important research using the Freedom of Information Act asking all Local Authorities (LAs) two questions: (1) how many wheelchair accessible properties they have and (2) how many wheelchair users they have on their waiting lists. Not all LAs responded, many don't collect the data, and those that did showed excessively long waiting times to clear their lists.

  • The Papworth Trust exists “to make a positive difference to the lives of disabled people,” part of which includes housing. They are classed as social housing providers, renting at either social or affordable rents. Many, but not all, of their properties are wheelchair accessible.

  • Branch Properties is a specialist accessible property search agency which acts across the sector to find suitable, accessible properties and adapt where required.  They are based in London and work across the UK.

  • Ability Housing provides housing, care and support services for people who want to live more independently. They have 721 properties, across 32 local authorities in the south east.

  • Enham Trust is a charity which has accessible flats and houses for rent in Hampshire.

4. Could you purchase instead?

As crazy as this sounds, there is a (very) little known shared ownership scheme for people on disability benefits, called Home Ownership for people with Long-term Disabilities. If you are a first time buyer, with a household income of less that £80,000 per year, and no outstanding credit issues (such as CCJs) then you may be eligible. This is not for everyone, and there are several parts to it, including, finding a home, securing a mortgage, considering care or support. 

MySafeHome is a good place to start, with a lot of information on the HOLD scheme. Peabody have a helpful article on their website called Shared Ownership for Disabled Homebuyers. There’s a Local Government Association Factbook. And have a look at Advance UK, a housing association that claims to be the foremost provider of HOLD.

5. Care needs and feeling penalised with the extra cost of a room for a live-in carer?

This is a tough one, especially in expensive cities, like London. For example, if you need to live in an area close enough to work which ties in with your care packages, but which is also unaffordable. London is a classic example of this.

If you have a funding gap - i.e. you can afford a chunk of the rent, but not the full amount, or you need it for a set period of time only - have you considered applying to grant giving organisations for help? Livery companies are philanthropic organisations, each with their own set of criteria for giving. And many professions have their own benevolent funds. This route requires a lot of research, but keep in mind that money is given out.

If this is you, we’d like to hear from you with details of your story. We are having some interesting conversations in potentially useful places, and evidencing our narrative with real case studies is incredibly helpful. Get in touch.

6. Already renting, but your mobility needs are changing?

If you’re a tenant and your mobility needs are changing, it may be preferable (and more cost effective) to stay where you are and have minor or major building works done. You will need to speak to your landlord and agree everything in writing. Who will fund and be responsible for the works? Before speaking, it’s a good idea to research some of the issues.

If your landlord is a member of the National Residential Landlords Association, they can seek advice on this as part of their membership services. There is guidance specific to this issue. 

Landlords may take different approaches ranging from keen and involved (understanding of the benefits to them), consenting but at arms length (i.e. you organise and fund all the work which is approved in advance by them), to not amenable to any works on their property. Your rights and legislation are a grey area, and a good place to start your reading on this subject is the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

You could receive grant funding in the form of a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). This is means tested on the tenant and not the landlord. There is eligibility criteria, a payment size cap and an application process, as you'd expect. Responsibilities are devolved to local authorities, so there's variation between them. However, Foundations is an organisation that we know, which is currently funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. They have regional advisors who can provide expert advice and support, and are an excellent place to start. It's worth noting that some local authorities have discretionary grants for tenants of private landlords, which can top up a DFG or be used as an alternative funding source for adaptations, and is sometimes a faster process.

Otherwise, if you're accepting of your position and can fund any works, then talk to your landlord. Be very clear about what you want to do and why, so they can buy in to the concept. Agree what happens at the end of your tenancy (i.e. if you need to return the property to how it was before your works) and illustrate how any works could benefit the landlord, improve their property, and therefore positively impact the value, and remember above all: write down and agree all conversations with your landlord. This should be an open process with you both having access to the same records, to avoid painful issues later.

7. Second-hand vs New Build Homes

We thought it worth adding some context on this difference, just in case it’s relevant to your search. New build properties should be built to certain planning standards. Remember that designs and standards are open to the mis/interpretation of the designers and Building Control (who are responsible for upholding the standards) do not always pick up on issues, particularly ones to do with accessibility.

That said, you should be able to find out to what standard a new build property is built. Ideally, as a wheelchair user, you'll look for M4(3) Category 3: Wheelchair User Dwellings. Unhelpfully, the language around these categories is confusing, so M4(2) lists as accessible and adaptable dwellings, but they're really not suitable for independent living for a wheelchair user. 

And of the M4(3) properties, these are usually not fitted out as wheelchair accessible, but have certain features which make them cheaper to adapt, including, but not limited to:

  • Level access throughout and to private outside space, parking and communal facilities.
  • Internal space for wheelchair users and charging / storage facilities for wheelchairs
  • Reinforced walls, ducts and boxings to WC/cloakrooms, bath and shower rooms (wet room) to support grab rails, seats and other adaptations.
  • Reinforced ceilings in bedrooms and bathrooms, strong enough to allow for the fitting for an overhead hoist capable of carrying up to 200kg.
  • Accessible height switches, controls and sockets.
Second hand homes is the term referred to for old and existing properties. This is a total lottery in terms of what you might find. An advantage of these can be the flexibility to do works when they are freehold and independently owned - meaning fewer people involved in a decision making process. 

8. Londoners…

London is a crazy expensive place to live, but it is essential for many because of proximity to work. London has an advantage for buyers in that in 2015 the GLA made mandatory, optional planning legislation that states that 10% of all new build schemes (over ten units) must be M4(3) Wheelchair Accessible or Adaptable. Whilst this is positive, as ever, we face the reality of implementation. The house builders market these units as wheelchair accessible before they are fitted out, but if no buyer steps forward, they are fitted out as adaptable. Adaptable seems to mean different things to different designers #justsaying. In theory this should mean that they are cheaper to convert, BUT (1) I’m not sure who’s keeping tabs on which properties across London are adaptable, (2) that doesn’t help renters - this is a need that Abode Impact recognised and was working to solve, and (3) this is not throughout the nation (yet?).

Some other cities are considering following London's lead.

While You're Here: Register now!

If searching for an accessible rented home is getting your goat, use the form below to register and let us do some of the heavy lifting. It's a two part form but you only need to complete part one now, if you're in a rush or don't have all the information to hand.

Register - Part 1