State and Territory leaders have agreed to minimum standards for accessible housing in new homes, in a win for advocates of age-appropriate design.
The latest summit of the Building Ministers’ Meeting determined the National Construction Code would include minimum provisions from 2022 including a step-free entry, wheelchair-accessible doorways and a toilet on the entry-level.
National Seniors Australia, which was part of the Building Better Homes Campaign to lobby for the changes, said it was a milestone decision.
National Seniors Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, said it would overturn the current new-building standard where just 5 per cent of homes have included such features over the last decade.
“For years we’ve been lobbying to change the code from voluntary to mandatory,” he said.
“We have spoken on behalf of older Australians and those vast numbers of Australians living with a disability and finally the ministers have listened.”
The updated national building guidelines will include features to the level of a Livable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) silver standards.
This focuses on the future-proofing aspect of the properties, with key structural and spatial elements for flexibility and adaptability down the track. Livable Housing points to the significantly reduced cost of building in the features instead of retrofitting at 22 times less.
Specific changes will mean a safe, continuous and level path from the street entrance or parking area to the entry of at least one metre width, accessible internal doors and corridors, a toilet on the entry floor, a bathroom with a hobless shower recess; reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath that can support grabrails at a later date; and stairways that are made to reduce potential injury and can be changed in the future.
The Building Ministers had a majority agreement, saying they “took into consideration the feedback from industry, advocates and the lived experience of members of the community affected by the lack of accessible housing”.
“The decision taken by a majority of Ministers acknowledges the costs identified in the Decision RIS but reflects their assessment that a regulatory solution will result in significant and lasting benefit to Australians who need access to homes with accessible features,” the Communique said.
Building ministers also agreed to allow states and territories to voluntarily upgrade to a mandatory gold standard as part of the NCC.
But they stopped short of including a timeline for implementation, noting they were “mindful of potential impacts to the industry as they continue adjusting to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“Each state and territory will be free to determine whether and how the new provisions will be applied in their jurisdiction to minimise the regulatory impact on the construction sector,” they said.
The Building Better Homes alliance has pushed for the changes to increase the stock of accessible housing, which they say will improve quality of life, employment opportunities, and productivity.
It points to the growing people of Australians with mobility limitation due to disability and ageing, from an estimated 3 million currently to around 5.75 million, and the desire for many people to stay in their homes.