A new research project is trying to understand the ways that people with learning disabilities who are on the ‘edges’ of social care can be better supported to access and enjoy living in their own homes in the community.

The project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, School of Social Care Research and is a collaboration between the universities of Bristol and York, Riverside, Learning Disability England, Housing LIN and Stephen Lee Hodgkins. An advisory group of people with learning disabilities who rent their own homes and belong to self-advocacy groups have also been involved with the project.

One national and eight regional roundtable events were held on Zoom in early 2021. The events were attended by over 100 professionals and experts by experience including: people with learning disabilities, family carers, advocates, social care staff, social and private housing providers, representatives from local authorities, the NHS and voluntary and community organisations and key national policy experts.

What key themes emerged from the roundtable discussions?

While the experiences heard at the roundtable events were diverse, some key themes emerged. These included:

  • There is a shortage of housing in general, which makes it difficult for people with learning disabilities to find a suitable rental property if they not have priority to secure it.
  • Social housing was primarily viewed as the preferred option for people with learning disabilities but this sector is difficult to access.
  • People labelled as having a mild or moderate learning disability were often overlooked and priority was given to those with greater support needs.
  • While there were some positive examples of renting from private landlords, significant concerns were raised about the quality and insecure nature of this rental market.
  • Families were often relied upon to fill gaps in services by providing practical and emotional support for renting a home.

From the concerns raised, the panel agreed that there needs to be better choice, information and support available for people with learning disabilities who wish to rent their own home. Social housing also needs to be easier to access and private rented housing needs to be more secure with better quality controls.

What needs to happen next?

The report concludes that: “People with a learning disability need to be seen as individuals who have the right to access the full range of housing options in their local communities, with appropriate levels of support that meets their needs, rather than being tied to particular forms of accommodation.”

To achieve this, the report suggests that people with learning disabilities need to be given better choices about where to live and to do this, the letting system needs to be made much more accessible.

The social housing and private rented sector should therefore provide reasonable adjustments and access to accessible documents, which clearly lay out information and advice about housing options.

It also suggests that local authorities implement low-level support services that help people to secure and sustain their tenancies. This will require extra funding which the panel say will act as a cost benefit in the long term, as it lowers the risk of individuals presenting in the future with higher levels of support needs.

Ultimately, the panel says there is a need for a long-term national strategy to facilitate more mainstream housing opportunities for people with learning disabilities. To do this, there needs to be better opportunities for the voices of people with learning disabilities to be heard so they can influence policy and be given more and better choice and where they call home.

The next stage of the project will interview those currently living in in the social housing and private rented sectors

The report is part of the first stage of a two-stage research project. The next stage will involve interviewing people with learning disabilities who currently rent in the social housing and private rented sectors, including the use of creative methods to illustrate the meaning of home.

As well as talking to tenants, the researchers also plan to interview those who provide support to them to build a holistic picture of both what works well and what could be improved.