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Accommodation for disabled people

The legal definition of disability and the options for disabled adults who wish to move to more suitable accommodation.

This content applies to England

Legal definition of disability

Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. People who have had a disability in the past can also fulfil the definition.[1]

Normal day-to-day activities

This term is not defined by the Equality Act 2010 and the statutory 'list of capabilities' issued under previous disability legislation has been repealed to make it easier for individuals to meet the definition. Professional and specialised skills may be considered normal day-to-day activities.[2]


Any medically recognised condition could amount to a physical or mental impairment. Mental illness does not need to be clinically recognised.[3]

Some conditions such as cancer, HIV infection and multiple sclerosis automatically amount to a disability.[4] Certain categories of blind person are deemed to be disabled.[5] A severe disfigurement (apart from tattoos and non-medical piercings) is to be treated as impairment with substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.[6]

Regulations may specify conditions which do not amount to impairment (and so to a disability).[7] Current regulations exclude addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance unless addiction was originally the result of administration of medically prescribed drugs or other medical treatment.[8] Tendencies to set fires, steal, physically or sexually abuse other persons, or engage in exhibitionism or voyeurism, are also excluded.

Long-term effect of impairment

Under the Equality Act 2010, an impairment has a long term effect if it either:[9]

  • has lasted for at least 12 months

  • is likely to last for at least 12 months

  • is likely to last for the rest of the life of the person affected. As such, a terminal illness will meet this criteria regardless of its duration

Substantial effect

Substantial effect is now defined as one that is greater than the effect which would be produced by the sort of physical or mental conditions experienced by many people who have only minor or trivial effects.[10] Determining whether an impairment has a substantial adverse effect requires a comparison between how a person would carry out an activity with and without it.[11]

Children under the age of six with an impairment that does not have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities are to be treated as disabled if the impairment would normally have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability of a person aged six years or over to carry out normal day-to-day activities.[12]

The positive effects of any medical treatment and/or the use of prosthesis or other aid are to be disregarded when determining whether impairment has a long term adverse effect.[13]

Intermittent and recurring conditions

If an impairment ceases to have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, it is to be treated as continuing to have that effect if the substantial and long-term adverse effect is likely to recur.[14] A substantial effect is likely to recur if it 'could well happen'.[15]

The correct test applicable to questions of whether a substantial adverse effect of a condition is recurring has been formulated by the courts.[16]

Progressive conditions

If a person's ability to carry out day-to-day activities is affected by a progressive condition, that condition is to be treated as an impairment having a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out day-to-day activities if the condition is likely to result in the person developing such impairment.

Regulations may provide for a condition of a prescribed description to be treated as being, or as not being, progressive.[17]

Statutory guidance on the meaning of disability

Guidance on the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010[18] is in force since 1 May 2021, subject to transitional arrangements covering cases arising out of acts of discrimination occurring before 1 May 2011.[19]

The statutory Code of Practice on Services, Public Functions and Association, with effect from 6 April 2011, replaces the old Codes subject to transitional arrangements and can be used in evidence in legal proceedings brought under the Equality Act 2010.[20] It covers discrimination in services and public functions under Part 3 of the Act, and discrimination by associations under Part 7. It applies to private and public providers of services, those exercising public functions and membership associations.

Both Code and Guidance must be taken into account by courts and tribunals when they appears to be relevant to any questions arising in proceedings brought under the Act.

Registering as disabled

Some disabled people may be registered as disabled with their local social services department. This can give them access to services such as reduced fees for facilities and blue badges for parking. If a person is not registered and wishes to be, they should contact the local social services office.

However, it is not necessary for a person to be registered as disabled in order to access the majority of the housing and support options mentioned in this section.

Accommodation for disabled people

The wide range of types of disability and the various ways in which disability affects people's lives means that many different housing options may be suitable. With support or adaptations it may be possible for a disabled person to live in any type of housing. There are also specific types of accommodation, available via local authorities or private registered providers of social housing, which might be appropriate for disabled people.

Where a disabled adult needs alternative accommodation to meet their care and support needs, they can request a needs assessment from social services.

Rented accommodation

Private rented accommodation usually provides very limited security of tenure, and the landlord's permission is usually required for adaptations to be carried out. These factors may make this type of accommodation unsuitable for a disabled person.

Local authority accommodation

In addition to general purpose housing that could be suitable after it is adapted, or with the provision of floating support, local authorities may provide the following types of specialist housing:

  • wheelchair housing

  • mobility housing

  • sheltered housing

Allocation of these types of housing is usually be via the local authority allocations scheme.

Wheelchair housing

This is designed to give people using wheelchairs access to all principal rooms including the bathroom and to allow full use of all the facilities.

Mobility housing

This is designed for disabled people who are not confined to a wheelchair, but whose mobility is limited. The entrance should be level or ramped and the corridors and doors should be wide enough for a wheelchair. The bathroom and at least one of the bedrooms should be on the same level as the entrance.

Sheltered housing

This consists of groups of flats with a warden and is mainly intended for older people. Very few sheltered housing schemes exist for younger disabled people. Sheltered housing schemes may include both wheelchair and mobility housing.

Supported housing

Under the Housing Act 1988, private registered providers of social housing (PRPSHs) may be funded by local authorities to provide housing facilities for people with disabilities. Often the PRPSH works with specific voluntary organisations, with the PRPSH providing the accommodation while specialist agencies provide care and/or support.

Housing provided by PRPSHs specifically for disabled people can vary in terms of the type of accommodation (ie it can be shared or self-contained), and the level of support provided (there may be staff on the premises 24 hours a day or floating support). Where support is provided, this type of accommodation is usually known as supported housing.

Local authority housing departments should have information on PRPSHs in their area that have accommodation for disabled people. The National Housing Federation and the Homes & Communities Agency can also provide information.

Most permanent tenancies are allocated through local authority allocations schemes. Some private registered providers of social housing may have their own waiting lists, and make an allocation directly.

Home ownership

There are several ways in which disabled people who cannot afford to buy a home outright may be able to access owner-occupied accommodation. These include shared ownership, HomeBuy and the right to buy schemes.

Most of these schemes are not specifically for disabled people, but it may be possible to adapt a property or access care at home to make the property suitable for the person's needs.

See Shared ownership for details of local authorities and housing associations that operate shared ownership schemes.

Care homes

Where a disabled adult has significant care and support needs, social services may recommend a placement in residential care after carrying out a needs assessment.

Residential care and nursing homes are now both called care homes and they can be run by local authorities, private companies, individuals, or voluntary organisations. Some provide nursing care and are referred to as 'care homes with nursing'.

Hospice care

Hospices may be run by health authorities, NHS trusts, or voluntary organisations. If a local authority wishes to arrange hospice care, it must obtain the permission of the health authority.

Hospice care is free and not subject to a local authority charging assessment.

Last updated: 25 March 2021


  • [1]

    s.6 and Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [2]

    Chacon Navas (Social policy) [2006] EUECJ C-13/05; Paterson v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis [2007] UKEAT 0635/06/2307.

  • [3]

    Hospice of St Mary of Furness v Howard [2007] UKEAT 0646/06/1805.

  • [4]

    para 6 Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [5]

    reg 7 Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010 SI 2010/2128.

  • [6]

    para 3 Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [7]

    para 1 Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [8]

    reg 4 Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010 SI 2010/2128.

  • [9]

    para 2(1), Sch.1, Equality Act 2010.

  • [10]

    s.212(1), Equality Act 2010.

  • [11]

    Paterson v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis [2007] UKEAT 0635/06/2307.

  • [12]

    para 2(1), Sch.1, Equality Act 2010.

  • [13]

    para 5 Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [14]

    para 2(2) Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [15]

    SCA Packaging Ltd v Boyle and Equality and Human Rights Commission (Intervener) [2009] UKHL 37.

  • [16]

    Swift v Chief Constable of Wiltshire Constabulary [2004] UKEAT 0484/03/1802.

  • [17]

    para 8 Sch.1 Equality Act 2010.

  • [18]

    Equality Act 2010 - Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability, ODI, 2011.

  • [19]

    ss.2 and 3 Equality Act 2010 (Guidance on the Definition of Disability) Appointed Day Order 2011 SI 2011/1159.

  • [20]

    s.2 Equality Act 2010 Codes of Practice (Services, Public Functions and Associations, Employment, and Equal Pay) Order 2011 SI 2011/857; s.2 Former Equality Commissions' Codes of Practice (Employment, Equal Pay, and Rights of Access for Disabled Persons) (Revocation) Order 2011 SI 2011/776.