Developing a Market

As with most of the UK construction industry, the provision of home adaptations is fragmented and has low levels of standardisation. Schedules of rates and frameworks agreements are not used in most local authority areas despite being recommended in official guidance since 2006.

However, there are pockets of good practice that could be readily adopted more widely; including an online schedule of rates that provides instant costings from local builders, ‘flat-pack’ home extension kits that cut construction times by months and stair lift recycling schemes that reduce costs and speed up installation. We need better adaptation designs that are not stigmatising.

There is potential to use the annual £0.5bn in the DFG to develop the wider market for consumers looking to adapt their home based on price benchmarking and developing common standards. For instance, by using a national accreditation scheme for builders similar to the Certified Ageing in Place Specialists that operates in North America.

Consumer technology

Technology has always been part of the DFG, such as stair lifts and hoists. Other specialist ‘assistive technology’ has developed a reputation for failing to deliver on its promises, but with the rise in smart home technology there is a growing range of low cost solutions that are available on the high street.

Local authorities are starting to use kit like the Amazon Echo to help with medication reminders, remotely control lights and heating, and detect falls. This has clear potential to keep people independent and outside of social care systems. It also forms part of the UK Industrial Strategy to become a world leader in systems that support an ageing population. Making a smart home starter kit part of every DFG application would significantly drive adoption and generate evidence, data and learning in this area.

The majority of disabled people will not be eligible for a DFG or would prefer to organise work themselves, but it is hard for people to get reliable information on home adaptations from retail suppliers. There is an important role for local authorities and home improvement agencies to provide information, advice and low-cost handyperson services.

Recommendations

  • A further five-year funding programme for the DFG to improve certainty and enable local authorities to invest in better procurement.
  • A national accreditation scheme for builders and tradespeople.
  • A smart home starter kit as part of every DFG application.
  • Local authorities and home improvement agencies to provide advice, information, and handyperson services for people outside the DFG.
  • Further research on what people do outside the DFG to encourage more ‘future-proofing’.