Hayden* says he is exhausted. Since 2019, he’s been fighting to get a ramp installed to enter his home.
The 31-year-old wheelchair user applied to his local council for funding to build a ramp that leads to his doorway, replacing a row of stairs stacked below the doorframe. When it is built, it will allow him to leave the house independently, rather than relying on his parents for assistance.
Hayden is one of thousands of disabled Scots who have applied for a funding grant to adapt their home. He still doesn’t have a ramp to enter his home, and is applying for assistance for the second time, after his first application was rejected.
Under the Scheme of Assistance, local authorities have a legal responsibility to provide funding for disabled people to adapt homes, installing the likes of ramps, stairlifts and rails in bathrooms so they are suitable for use.
But new data – obtained after a freedom of information request (Foi) was submitted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism – has revealed that holes in the grants system are leaving thousands of disabled people at risk of being “stuck indefinitely in inadequate and inaccessible housing”.
Since 2018, more than 31,000 people have applied for adaptations to be made to their homes. The figures, taken from the records of 28 local authorities in Scotland, show that just over 12,000 installations have been completed, only a 38 per cent success rate for those who apply.
The shortfall is leaving people like Hayden living in unsuitable homes, with some living in properties without vital accessibility adaptations.
“I didn’t even get as far as approval or installation with my application,” Hayden told The Ferret. “ I was told by the council that because I bought my motorised wheelchair privately, the local council has zero obligation to accommodate me.
“I was confused. I fundraised for mine because it’s difficult to get a decent customised wheelchair via the NHS”.
Even though Hayden’s GP said he would support his application, he didn’t have any luck progressing it.
“I contacted the council’s access team, and they never got back to me,” he said.
Though he needed the ramp, during the pandemic, Hayden said he “couldn’t find the energy to challenge the council”. He spent most of his time indoors, and avoided going outside. He requested that The Ferret change his name in case it affects his new application.
“The experience knocked me down a bit,” he added. “I have mental illness as well as physical disabilities, and things like this and getting constantly rejected for PIP, a benefit payment which helps with extra living costs, takes a lot out of you.”
As Hayden has experienced firsthand, multiple obstacles stand in the way of securing a grant, with thousands falling at the first hurdle of proving eligibility for funding.
After the grant application has been processed, occupational therapists visit the home to assess the need for the adaptations. If they are approved, the applicant may have to cover some of the costs. If they don’t have the funding to move forward, then the work stalls.
In the last year, 28 out of 29 local authorities decided need to cover adaptation costs. A total of 3275 adaptations were approved with 100 per cent funding, while 7197 received the cash to cover 80 per cent of the costs.
Hayden’s application might have had a different outcome if he lived in a different area of Scotland. As disability adaptation funding is provided at a local level, he is dependent on the decision his local authority makes, rather than the government.
In the Shetlands, a disabled person could expect an average wait of 13 months before any adaptations are completed.
In North Ayrshire, 1300 people were referred to an occupational therapist for assessment between April – October 2021, but just 36 of households’ adaptations were completed.
The FoIs also found seven local authorities don’t collect data on how many disability adaptations they’ve approved and installed in homes year on year. None of them kept a record on how many applications were rejected following the recommendations of occupational therapists, who visit homes to assess need, raising questions about how well the scheme is being monitored.
Susie Fitton, policy manager for Inclusion Scotland, says improvements in legislation in 2006 led to the creation of the scheme which allows adaptations to be made in Scotland. But she claims there are still fundamental problems for disabled Scots who need to adapt their home.
“The impact of not being able to adapt their home, either because they can’t get grant funding or can’t afford to meet a funding shortfall can be profound for disabled people and their families,” Fitton told The Ferret.
“We have heard of cases where disabled people have had to be carried in through windows for a lack of a ramped front entrance, disabled adults having to be washed at the local leisure centre, or disabled children being washed at school because their bathrooms are inaccessible. This is simply unacceptable. It’s a breach of disabled people’s human rights,” she added.
Danielle Bell said she has given up on securing any funding for adaptations altogether. She is beleaguered by the process.
Bell, a disabled woman who lives with her partner in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, said there are “just too many hoops to jump through” to receive a grant for the installations.
“I find it startling that occupational health has to come over to assess what my needs are, then determine if I need the work,” she told The Ferret.
“I could be spending a lot of money, making only small changes, because it depends how well you are on the day of the assessment.
“It’s just exhausting to have yet another ‘yes I’m disabled, come watch me struggle’ meeting,” she added.
For private renters, the picture is even more complex. One private renter, who asked not be named, said she had to use a bucket to shower after a landlord refused to allow adaptations to be made to the home.
As the housing crisis means there’s a lack of suitable housing stock, landlords can be increasingly selective about what tenants they select, and to what extent they help disabled renters.
“There are issues with landlords obstructing the process for disabled people in the private sector or problems with funding shortfalls and very few ways of meeting these,” added Fitton, from Inclusion Scotland.
MSP for Glasgow Pam Duncan-Glancy said she has spoken to constituents who waited close to a decade for an adapted home.
“There are nowhere near enough accessible homes in Glasgow. This means disabled people are living in conditions which are completely unsuitable for them,” she said.
“The demand for accessible homes hugely outstrips supply. Having a home you can get in and out of, with a bathroom and kitchen you can use are the very basic things people should have. It is a human right but it is not being met for so many disabled people.
“Unless the Scottish Government takes urgent action, including setting legal obligations on accessible homes, I’m worried that many disabled people will continue to be stuck indefinitely in inadequate and inaccessible housing,” she added.
Frances Leckie, is editor of the Independent Living, a publication which provides advice on mobility access.
She said the data shows that “people are waiting far too long for essential adaptations to make their home safe and accessible for them to live in”.
“When they do eventually get assessed for the grant-funded work, they sometimes feel obliged to accept unsuitable changes,” Leckie said. “There is a sense that the person whose home is being adapted is having it done to them, rather than with them”.
Disabled people should have choice, dignity and freedom
Fife council’s service manager Paul Short said that challenges involved in carrying out adaptations in people’s homes during the pandemic had an impact on the number that could be completed, and the length of time it took to complete work.
He added: “We were working within the covid restrictions in place at the time which did cause delays. Also understandably, many people who were vulnerable decided to wait until restrictions eased before getting adaptations done.
“We’ve been working closely with our partners and contractors to catch up on the backlog of delayed works, and our capacity has now increased as restrictions have eased.”
A spokesperson from Shetland Islands council said “if any home adaptations are needed, these can take some time to safely plan and complete any building works, which for larger projects, may also include the necessary building consents”.
A spokesperson for South Ayrshire Council said since it responded to the Freedom of Information request, “38 of the 56 adaptations have been fully completed with the remainder either approved, being processed or closed.
“The application process for adaptations can also be quite lengthy and there have been delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has impacted on assessment visits, quotes from contractors, physical works and quality assurance checks.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said it “wants disabled people to have choice, dignity and freedom to access suitable homes,” and it has “issued new guidance for local authorities to deliver more wheelchair-accessible housing”.
“However, we know there are issues with the way adaptations are being accessed and delivered locally. We are looking at how the process can be streamlined and made easier for people who need adaptations,” it added.
COSLA has been contacted for comment.
This story is written in partnership with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Image Credit: Danielle Bell