Centre for Ageing Better: Homes that Help

New research has found that the “home adaptation process is so complex and varied that even professionals working in the area struggle to navigate it” claims elderly persons charity.

Developed by the Centre for Ageing Better, the ‘Homes that help: A personal and professional perspective on home adaptations’ report examines the experiences of individuals who use home adaptations and the practitioners who work alongside them.

Led by a team from Northumbria University, the research was gathered through interviews with older people regarding their experience of home adaptations and focus groups with providers and practitioners involved in the adaptation process, as well as the use of wearable cameras to document how people interact with their home adaptations.

“To help address requests for home adaptations, the Disabled Facilities Grant needs to be fully funded to keep pace with demand.” Councillor Izzi Seccombe

With older people spending more time in their homes than any other age group and with the majority of over 65s living in ‘mainstream’ housing as opposed to residential care, the report says that positive messaging about home adaptations is essential.

This needs to include a wider understanding of the adaptations themselves and the benefits of adapting the home before a trigger event such as a fall compels a homeowner to take action.

According to NHS Digital ‘Health Survey for England 2016’ calculations, more than a quarter of men aged over 65 and nearly a third of women struggle with at least one of the ‘Activities of Daily Living’, such as washing, dressing and eating – approximately 3.3 million people.

With this number only due to rise in the coming years, building more inclusively and improving awareness of and willingness for home adaptations will be vital stresses the research.

The research found that whilst home adaptations proved beneficially and effective in helping individuals retain independence, a number of issues surrounding the system of home adaptations was hindering the process.

Complex and varied process

Emphasising the significant role home adaptations play in the wellbeing of elderly people to live independent lives, the report says there is an urgent need to improve the wider understanding of adaptations themselves, as well as encouraging homeowners to make changes before a trigger such as a fall compels action.

In addition, the report identifies that the home adaptation process is confusing and difficult for many, including professionals in the field.

One anecdote from a professional in the report said: “We’ve got people round the table that all work in a similar field. All of us have got different mechanisms for who we refer to and how. And then all the funding is different. And then the equipment that you put in is different. So, if we’re having this conversation as professionals round the table, look at the quagmire that it must be for the public. To try and negotiate the system.”

The report highlights a majority of participants received information from friends and family with previous experience of home adaptations.

In particular, the report points out that people ageing without the support of children or friends are especially vulnerable to struggling to navigate the system.

A key recommendation of the report calls on adaptation services to work with signposting agencies and health services to simplify the process, providing up-to-date information of locally available services, timescales and criteria for ineligibility of funding support.

Centre for Ageing Better: Homes that Help

More funding to tackle ‘bottlenecks’

As well as a lack of information and difficult process, the Centre for Ageing Better’s report underlines practitioners frustration with the ‘bottlenecks’ where, regardless of available funding in a local area, authorities were struggling to get through waiting lists in a timely manner, resulting in significant delays for people.

Calling on increases to the Disabled Facilities Grant budget to be matched with increases in the funding needed to operate and administer the adaptation process and contractors, the charity underlines that effectively, timely distribution and installation is dependent on other resources.

Echoing the recommendation, Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “To help address requests for home adaptations, the Disabled Facilities Grant needs to be fully funded to keep pace with demand. Government also needs to plug the £3.5 billion funding gap facing adult social care by 2025 and reverse the £600 million in reductions to councils’ public health grants between 2015/16 and 2019/20.”

Meeting emotional and functional needs

In addition, the Centre for Ageing Better states that local authorities need to look beyond their processes to ensure that adaptations are able to meet the wider needs of elderly home owners and prompting contractors to adopt a personalised approach to individuals’ wants and needs.

Calls for a lift on borrowing cap and greater council powers

Responding to the report, Councillor Seccombe contended councils are working hard to provide housing adaptations and mobility to keep residents independent in their homes and that more work is needed between local authorities and the Government.

“There is a shortage of homes suitable for older and disabled people and people in vulnerable circumstances. To help address this, councils need to be given greater planning powers and resources to hold developers to account, ensuring that they build the right homes in the right places needed by different groups within the local community,” she stated.

“Government needs to work with councils and housing associations to provide a sustainable funding framework through which to offer the certainty and clarity to invest in the future development of housing for people with a range of needs.

“The housing borrowing cap should be also lifted so all councils can be allowed to borrow to build as this will help address the growing number of people, including those with disabilities, living longer with increasingly complex needs.”

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