Nov 14, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

AKW discusses the ever-evolving accessibility needs of the UK’s ageing population

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There are six major challenges faced by today’s social landlords that mean that the pressure to provide accessible housing will only increase. James Dadd, Marketing Director at AKW, a leading provider of mobility and accessibility solutions, discusses what the growing challenges are, how it is possible to build flexibility into housing stock and the success of a particular accessibility solution – AKW’s ‘Bathroom for Life’.


Our rapidly-changing population

In the social rented sector in England alone, there are over 1.6 million people over 55 years of age; representing almost 45% of all socially rented households. Of particular concern to social landlords is the fact that a significant percentage of the extra 6.3 million ‘elderly’ (60+) people who will be living in the UK by 2035 will already be living in, or looking to move to, social housing. Importantly, approximately 40% of those new 60+ residents will have some degree of disability.

Poor health and disability

Disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to be social housing tenants, almost half (48.5%) of all socially rented households have at least one person whose illness or disability limits their activities. This is much higher than other tenures. A survey of local authority waiting lists showed that 23,886 wheelchair users are in urgent need of wheelchair-accessible social or affordable housing in England alone.

The movement of older and disabled people from other tenures

The private rented sector contains a large proportion of older residents and those in poor health, however, it is hard for private tenants to find suitable adapted properties, or to get their private landlords to agree to adaptations due to these changes reducing the general letting appeal of their properties. Inevitably, many of these will apply for social housing, putting further significant pressure on housing managers.

The hidden burden of dementia

The number of people in the UK with dementia is currently over 800,000; numbers are projected to increase by 40% over the next 12 years. The quality of life of those with dementia can be significantly improved by making some key home improvements, particularly in the bathroom.

Sheltered housing

More than two-thirds of all sheltered housing is in the social rented sector and over 40% of social tenants over 85 years of age live in sheltered accommodation. With most of the sheltered housing stock built in the last century, much still needs upgrading and this delivers a range of challenges to social landlords.

Younger people with disabilities

More disabled children are surviving infancy and children under 16 are the fastest-growing group of disabled people. One child in 20 is disabled and 99% of these live at home supported by their families. Surveys have also shown that families with disabled children make up 5% of all households in the social sector.

Allied to our rapidly-ageing population and the rising number of people developing dementia, the need to provide safe social housing for those who are older and/or disabled is becoming increasingly urgent and intense.

Building flexibility into the UK’s housing stock

Recognising that one style of bathroom does not suit everyone, AKW has introduced a ‘Bathroom for Life’ solution that is proving popular with private and social landlords alike. It enables bathroom accessibility to be built into an existing or new facility quickly and cost-effectively and embraces the possibility of the bath being changed to a wetroom – and back again – with minimum effort.

The Bathroom for Life concept is a conventional bathroom layout that includes a bath. The difference, however, is that this bath can be very quickly and easily adapted to become a level-access wetroom showering area (and back again, if required). The bath effectively becomes more like a piece of furniture, so it is possible for landlords to keep the bath in place for families or remove it for older people or those with disabilities, as required.

The Bathroom for Life solution minimises any adaptation costs for a housing provider by reducing the amount of building work needed. It also reduces disruption to tenants. Once installed, it takes approximately half a day to either install a bath or take the bath out and return it to a wetroom, making it easy for new residents moving into a property, as they can have the choice of a bath or shower depending on their needs or preference.

Sovereign Housing Association – Bathroom For Life in practice

AKW has been working with many social housing providers to enable them to build flexibility into their housing stock. The benefit of an AKW Bathroom for Life has already made a big difference to a wide range of housing associations. A case in point is Willow Close in Newbury where AKW’s Bathroom for Life was installed in the seven bungalows.

Paul Clayton, Contract Manager from Sovereign Housing, comments: “When tenants move in they start off wanting and needing a bath, but as time moves on, their needs change. When this happens with a ‘Bathroom for Life’, very little disruption is experienced. A trusted local installer is employed to undertake minor adaptations without any structural damage. The bath is simply taken out and, because the plumbing is already in place, they only need to fit a waste adaptor to create a level access shower room.”

This flexible approach has already proven its worth, as within two years of installation, some tenants have already had their bath taken out and, so, they can have a shower for health reasons.

Although there is increasing pressure on housing stock to become ever more accessible, there is now the bathroom equipment out there to make this a reality.

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