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Backflip threatens national standards

The NSW government has delivered a blow to national agreement on accessible housing design. What does it mean?

Key Points

  • Building ministers agreed to a national approach to mandatory minimum accessibility standards.
  • NSW says it won’t adopt the standards.
  • National Seniors fights back as part of our Better Housing campaign.

Earlier this year the nation’s building ministers agreed to include accessible design on the National Construction Code (NCC), creating better housing options for older Australians in the future.

However, what should have been a national approach to ensuring building accessibility, especially for seniors, has unraveled with NSW confirming it won’t adopt or implement the Code’s mandatory minimum accessibility standards.

The NSW Housing Minister says they would increase the price of housing, making it even less affordable. The government also says its standards exceed those of the NCC ‘Silver Code’.

NSW says under the agreement governments are free to determine whether and how the new provisions would be applied in their jurisdictions.

What did they agree to?

Governments, including NSW, agreed that seven minimum accessibility features from the Silver standard would be mandatory under the NCC:

  1. A safe, continuous and step free path of travel from the street entrance and/or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level.
  2. At least one, level (step-free) entrance into the dwelling.
  3. Internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces.
  4. A toilet on the ground (or entry) level that provides easy access.
  5. A bathroom that contains a hobless shower recess.
  6. Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grabrails at a later date.
  7. Stairways designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and also enable future adaptation.

It was hoped these minimum design features, which were previously a voluntary standard to improve the accessibility of housing for older people and people with disability, would make future housing safer and better.

So, what does this mean for better housing for seniors?

The NSW decision is a major disappointment to National Seniors and other groups advocating for better housing for seniors and others across the nation.

National Seniors has long advocated that the National Construction Code include accessibility standards enabling people to age in their homes. Our Better Housing campaign calls on governments to implement practical measures to support housing for seniors and address the growing preference of older people to stay in their homes, supported by aged care and health services.

It appears counterproductive for the NSW government to oppose these changes, given they have a proposal to replace stamp duty with a land tax which would reduce one of the key financial barriers to downsizing. Removing stamp duty without having appropriate housing available, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

National Seniors will continue to lobby the NSW government and all governments to commit to implementing the accessible design in the National Construction Code.

What is accessible housing?

The Aged Care Royal Commission recommended funding for seniors to modify their homes to allow them greater independence, and to prevent “inappropriate admission to long-term residential care.”

The commission also recommended as a matter of priority, that “governments should work together to increase accessible housing, including private rental housing and social and affordable housing, for the ageing population”. Australian social enterprise organisation ProBono says 80% of Australians aged over 55 want to live at home, according to recent research.

The COVID-19 lockdowns show how important it is for seniors to, in the words of the commissioners, “remain in their own homes for as long as possible."

Designing better age-friendly housing

Disability advocacy organisation, the Summer Foundation, and La Trobe University recently concluded a study of different accessible design features in new homes.

The study found a lack of accessible features in homes makes the process of discharging patients from hospitals slower, as lengthy home modifications are needed.

Equally, the lack of basic features such as a step-free shower entrance also makes it harder for the elderly to live at home for as long as possible, rather than moving to aged care prematurely.

National Seniors Better Housing campaign

Our campaign aims to improve housing options for older Australians, enabling them to age safely and comfortably in the place of their choice.

Mandating accessibility in the national building code is a major priority, as is ensuring the accessibility provisions are implemented nationally. Another priority is improving options to enable people to downsize should they need to. Read more about our campaign and join up to support what we’re doing.

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