‘Left stranded’: Wheelchair users wait years for a home with accessible toilet
PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 February 2020
Wheelchair users have today described the distress of waiting years for an accessible home.
It comes as a charity warns disabled people's freedoms are being taken away by the lack of homes being built or adapted for wheelchair users.
They called on housing associations to adapt more accessible homes.
Benjamin Jeckell, from North Walsham, has been waiting for three years for a home with a bathroom adapted for his wheelchair, leaving him feeling humiliated and helpless.
The 39-year old suffers from functional neurological disorder (FND) which has left him immobile from the waist down.
The former plumber uses a wheelchair which cannot fit through some doors in his home, including his bathroom.
His wife Michelle Jeckell, 37, is his full time carer and has to lift Mr Jeckell, who is 6ft 3in, for him to use the toilet.
"I spend the majority of my week in my lounge or kitchen - that's all I can see," he said. "It really gets you down."
The father-of-four has been on the social housing waiting list for three years and has been bidding for homes.
"We have to bid on homes that can be possibly adapted or are already accessible but the stock is limited," Mr Jeckell said. "I'd like to see more properties built for the disabled and for housing associations to work together instead of independently."
Kimberly Myhill, from disability charity Equal Lives, based in Framingham Pigot, said many disabled people who are discharged from hospital are taken into care homes rather than placed in social housing due to the lack of homes.
"Some people are just sitting and waiting for something to change, they develop additional health needs such as depression and anxiety."
She said one of her clients, who needs a hoist in his home, has been waiting in a care home for nearly a year.
Tanya Fisher, 34, from Great Yarmouth, is unable to go to the bathroom in her flat without someone lifting her out of the wheelchair, as it does not fit through the doors.
But Ms Fisher, of Stephenson Close, was told it could be years before she can move into a more suitable home.
She began using a wheelchair in August last year after losing muscle strength in her legs from peripheral nerve damage.
But she was told by Great Yarmouth Council that there were no suitable properties available and she was offered a move to a care home while she waited.
The council said it had no record of how many wheelchair accessible homes there were in the area, but they said the longest someone has had to wait was three years and eight months, with an average wait of two years and one month.
A council spokesman said not all ground floor properties could be adapted for wheelchair users.
"This does limit the supply of suitable homes and can increase the amount of time an applicant will wait to be offered a new home," they said. "We do appreciate this can be frustrating for individuals if a property is not readily available."
Ms Fisher, who lives with her partner Jason Eldred, 42, said she spends most of her time in her bedroom.
"That is my life," she said. "I don't go out at all. I can't walk, the pain is horrendous."
Housing associations say there are measures in place to ensure disabled people are matched to the right property.
A spokesman from Orbit housing association said: "When we have a property that is suitable for a disabled applicant, we make that clear on the property details and expect the nomination or the prioritisation of the shortlist that have bid, to be weighted in priority of those customers who need that suitable property."
Adrian Barber, managing director of Victory Housing, based in North Walsham, said they had invested around £400,000 in the last two years making adaptations.
But for those who choose to stay in their homes, getting adaptations is another challenge. Stefania Shearwood, 67, of Nottingham Way, Great Yarmouth, requires a ramp to leave her home of nearly two decades.
She is unable to walk long distances after getting major surgery following a fall in May last year.
Ms Shearwood now uses a mobility scooter and has bought a makeshift ramp which she assembles herself outside her front door.
"I used to walk the dogs in my neighbourhood," she said. "But walking is extremely hard. I have been left stranded."
The wait for homes
There are at least 135 wheelchair users on the social housing waiting list in Norfolk and Waveney, but this figure could be much higher.
We asked all councils for the number of wheelchair users waiting for a home, but only some could provide an answer.
South Norfolk said there were 23, with another 22 in Waveney and one in Breckland.
There are 13 wheelchair users on the housing waiting list in Great Yarmouth, with a further 76 waiting in the North Norfolk area.
In Norwich, there are 187 people waiting for an accessible home, although the council does not record how many of them are wheelchair users.
Only Waveney and Breckland councils held information on the number of wheelchair accessible homes in their areas - 170 and 97 respectively.
West Norfolk and Broadland councils said it did not hold any information on the number of wheelchair users on the waiting list.
New houses built since 2015 have had to follow Building Regulation guidelines on making homes more accessible.
Category one, which is mandatory for all new build housing, states homes should be 'visitable' and requires homebuilders to make reasonable provision for people, including wheelchair users, to approach and enter the property, and for easy access into rooms and a toilet on the entrance floor.
Homes also need to allow easy access to wall-mounted switches and sockets in rooms for people who have reduced reach.
Category two guidelines are for accessible and adaptable homes while category three outlines the design criteria for wheelchair-accessible homes.
The day-to-day needs of most wheelchair users may only be met by category three homes.
Categories two and three are optional but a local authority can justify imposing higher standards on the basis of need.