A new report from Age Scotland is calling on local authorities to make it easier for older people to access home adaptation services after findings revealed that local authority adaptation services vary widely in quality across the country and in many cases getting help is confusing and unsatisfactory.

The new report, ‘Making Adaptations Work for Older People in Scotland’, from Age Scotland and the University of Stirling, is headed up by Dr Vikki McCall.

Research for the report was funded by the Scottish Government, and it was launched in Edinburgh on 30 May with Housing Minister Paul McLennan MSP.

The experiences of hundreds of older people across Scotland were gathered through a national survey and focus groups and highlighted the significant challenges faced in accessing housing adaptation services.

Housing Minister Paul McLennan said: “We know that adaptations can make a huge difference in helping people to live safely and independently in the comfort of their own homes. Every local authority is required to assess housing need and demand, and to set out in their Local Housing Strategies how they will deliver the homes that are required for their communities.

“As this Age Scotland report highlights, there is more to be done to improve how adaptations are accessed which is why we are undertaking a review of how best to improve and simplify the system.”

Challenges faced include the lack of good-quality publicly available information; gaps in local support; funding constraints for applicants; limited design options; and a lack of available tradespeople to carry out essential repairs and changes to the home.

Michelle Supple, Age Scotland Deputy Chief Executive, added: “This new research outlines how important home adaptation services are to improving someone’s quality of life but demonstrates the significant gap between what should happen and reality. We’re grateful to the Scottish Government for funding this work and the partnership with the University of Stirling to deliver it.

“The path to getting adaptations that will allow an older person to live well and safely at home isn’t always clear and varies widely between local authorities. Many older people cannot afford to adapt their home but are completely oblivious to the financial support which should exist to help them do so.

“Major reforms and national consistency are needed to ensure people get the support they are entitled to, quickly and that it is cost-effective. This includes ensuring that all Care and Repair services are funded appropriately.”

A key recommendation is for each local authority to establish a single adaptation agency to direct, manage, and assist older homeowners in navigating the complex, and at times stressful, process of making their home safe to live in. Age Scotland believes this is especially important for older households reacting to a recent health diagnosis or crisis.

Councils have a legal responsibility to provide adaptations support to older people through the Scheme of Assistance, but the research found that only seven of Scotland’s 32 local authorities had easily accessible information available about this support, with nine having no information whatsoever.

The report highlights that information and signposting from local authorities was unsatisfactory, with many using vague terms such as “particular needs” for web pages promoting their adaptations services.

It was found that that there is no common local authority department across the country responsible for delivering these crucial services, creating an overly complicated system that can seem impossible to navigate.

Age Scotland believes that these disjointed services have led to most older people who need to adapt their homes, many of whom are already on low incomes, self-financing these essential changes and missing out on grants and other available financial support.

Many home adaptations are minor in nature, such as the installation of grab-rails and ramps, but they can have a tremendous impact on quality of life and the ability to live independently at home, says Age Scotland.

The process is found to be “incredibly challenging” for older people requiring more significant changes to their homes such as wetroom conversions or wheelchair access.

The report has 15 recommendations for reform including investing in a one-stop shop for all adaptations support; developing a home upgrade campaign for older and disabled people; consistent inclusive language in adaptations information and advice; and ensuring that all care and repair services are funded appropriately.

Michelle continued: “We would like to see a better system in place with every council offering a ‘one-stop shop’ for accessing support and delivering all stages of the adaptations process, and a national ‘home upgrade’ campaign to deliver investment in upgrading existing housing stock to improve design, accessibility, energy efficiency and assistive technology.

“This would help older people think proactively about their future housing needs and make staying in their own home for as long as they want a more viable and reassuring option.”

It was recently announced that older and disabled people in the Republic of Ireland are expected to benefit from national funding for Housing Adaptation Grants in 2023.

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