The Equality Act 2010 requires housing associations to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ which allow disabled people to access the same opportunities and services as non-disabled people. It requires employers and providers to consider disability in everything they do and to actively anticipate the need for reasonable adjustments as far as possible. The onus is on landlords to make sure that disabled people are not disadvantaged.
A Catalogue of Transgressions
This is the theoretical protection given in law, but is an aspect of law which landlords feel at liberty to ignore.
“It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs to look at my landlord Clarion’s track record … there was a time when as Circle 33 they had a distinctive and committed approach to provide decent housing and decent services to the most vulnerable in society. That is how I was housed by them in the first place, because of my vulnerability. I met the criteria for housing. They had a mission statement to that effect. Those days are long gone it seems.”
Kay, Clarion tenant
A new report published by SHAC brings together testimonials from disabled tenants and residents and from carers who typify the transgressions that our disabled members experience on a daily basis.
Danni’s daughter has a disability which causes her pain and discomfort when moving around. The family were left for long periods with no toilet while she waited for landlord L&Q to carry out bathroom repairs. Instead of prioritising Danni for the work, she was told the family could “pee in a bucket“.
When it comes to making adjustments, landlords regularly quibble over the minutiae of costs despite the wealth increasingly amassed in the sector.
Graham, a 65 year old Clarion tenant suffers severe osteoarthritis, Sjogrens Syndrome, and numerous other conditions. When he was offered a two-bedroom bungalow in 2006, he was assured that adaptations would be made to help manage his disabilities.
In 2019, the kitchen needed replacing but Graham was told to contribute £5k. This was too much for Graham. Clarion by contrast has a surplus of £259 million. He says “We are now in 2022. My kitchen has still not been replaced and Clarion are refusing to do it”.
Even when the costs are minimal or non-existent, the effort still seems to be beyond landlords. Carl is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and L&Q tenant. In 2018, he made a formal reasonable adjustment request asking that the landlord give reasonable notice of appointments by their own staff or sub-contractors, rather than just turn up unannounced at his door.
The cost of changing current standard practice would be minimal. Applied universally, the benefits would be experienced by all tenants, not just those with disabilities. Even so, the most basic adjustments are beyond many landlords like L&Q.
Four years later, Carl is still battling for the adjustment. He has also been subjected to heavy legal artillery from the landlord for refusing entry without appointment as per the reasonable adjustment.
The impact on tenants and residents of their experiences, and the added burden of stress trying to engage with their landlord compounds the difficulties they already face in dealing with their disability day-to-day. The testimonials make harrowing reading and call out for action to address the sector’s discrimination against disabled people.
The law as it stands is not protecting disabled tenants. Cuts to legal aid, a lack of time, energy, and expertise by the tenant or resident, the protracted and bureaucratic complaints procedures of landlords, regulators and the judicial system, all conspire to let landlords get away with it.
The simple truth is that the law and access to justice needs to be made swifter and easier for tenants and residents. The power of enforcement of legal rights must be made meaningful. Landlords must face much more punitive sanctions for transgression.
SHAC is bringing together tenants and residents to self-organise for positive change. We are working with disability campaign groups to bring better practice into being.
The personal experiences described in our Disability Dossier will help us to do so, and form part of our wider Disability Visibility action.
12 March 2022
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