ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Inaccessible housing - time to end a human tragedy

23 April 2021

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has joined with Rights & Inclusion Australia to welcome the ACT Government’s decision to support the inclusion of mandatory provisions for Universal Design in the National Construction Code (NCC). The two organisations believe this is a great opportunity for the Australian Government to demonstrate leadership and make a positive response to the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission by ensuring that future housing can sustain people into old age, as well as provide an adequate stock of accessible housing for people with disability across Australia.

ACTCOSS Head of Policy, Craig Wallace said: “We welcome the announcement by the ACT Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction, Rebecca Vassarotti MLA, that the ACT Government will be calling for the inclusion of mandatory regulations for Universal Design in the National Construction Code. 

“This is a big issue. In 2018, 19.4% of Canberrans had a disability. This has increased from 16.2% in 2015. The rate of disability generally increases with age. The ACT is expected to experience a significant ageing of its population. The number of Canberrans aged 85 years and over is expected to increase by 509%, reaching a total of 22,500 persons in 2056.

“Time and again we have heard gut-wrenching stories of people with disabilities and older Canberrans unable to find suitable housing in Canberra. We have people trapped in housing where their wheelchairs can’t get out the door, they can’t reach their cooktop and older people who risk a devastating injury every time they take a shower or go to the toilet.

“A lack of well-designed housing is limiting the real housing choices available to people with disability and is one reason people with disabilities are overrepresented in congregate settings. These are often places where people are abused and lack choice, independence and dignity. 

“The lack of accessible housing is devastating because it doesn’t have to be like this. If we made some modest, manageable changes to design requirements during the initial builds we could avoid people becoming homeless, entering nursing homes and losing their independence. 

"The ACT Government has the opportunity to take direct action. We look forward to the ACT Government implementing commitments made in the Parliamentary Agreement to amend our building legislation to require a set proportion of new residential properties meet Universal Design standards, making them able to be adapted and accessible to all people,” Mr Wallace said. 

Michael Bleasdale, Executive Officer of Rights & Inclusion Australia, a national group that has campaigned for Universal Design in Canberra and throughout Australia, said: “A change to the NCC will future proof Australian housing, improving the lives of all Australians over time. In the immediate future, though, it will significantly impact upon older people who wish to remain at home, as well as upon people with impaired abilities, their families and carers. Currently, nearly three quarters of Australians with mobility impairment are unable to find housing that meets their needs. This includes people with disability, older Australians, people with chronic illness and those recovering from injury.

“More than ten years after the voluntary Livable Housing Design Guidelines were adopted, it is estimated that only around 5% of new home builds meet these voluntary guidelines. Only regulatory standards will meet the growing demand for accessible housing - demand that is only going to increase as our population ages.

“Independent economic analysis undertaken for the University of Melbourne’s Disability Institute found that the benefits of implementing a mandatory accessibility standard clearly outweigh the costs. The benefits include more opportunity for people with disability to live independent, productive lives, more choice for older Australians to age at home, and improved support for people with chronic illness or injury. Moreover, mandatory accessibility standards will have clear financial benefits for the federal, state and territory governments, with significant savings expected across the aged care sector, the health sector and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“Research suggests that incorporating Universal Housing Design principles upfront has a minimal impact on the cost of construction. The Victorian Government has estimated the cost to the homeowner of including four adaptable and visitable housing design features in a new home is 22 times cheaper than retrofitting those features into an existing home,” Mr Bleasdale said.

For more information or comment, please contact:
Craig Wallace, Head of Policy, ACTCOSS, on 0477 200 755 or
02 6202 7200, or

Michael Bleasdale, Executive Officer, Rights & Inclusion Australia,
on 0499 900 006.

Craig Wallace will be available for comment at 12 noon today, Friday 23 April 2021, outside the ACT Legislative Assembly.