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Accessible Housing Requirements to be Examined


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With minimum accessible design specifications being considered as a new requirement for residential dwellings in the National Construction Code in 2022, the Australian Building Codes Board is calling for industry feedback on its Accessible Housing Options Paper. There will also be a series of free forums held in all capital cities throughout October to discuss the proposed changes.

Accessible housing is defined as having features that enable it to be safely used by people with a disability, or as they transition through life stages like having a young family, experiencing a mobility-limiting injury or ageing.

Currently, the common areas of Class 2 buildings — multi-residential apartments — have to meet some of the basic accessibility requirements set down by the Disability Discrimination Act. What is being considered is extending the accessibility requirements to apply within individual dwellings, including apartments, as well as Class 1a buildings, such as townhouses, villas, terrace houses, detached houses, and duplexes.

The Options Paper gives an overview of why accessible design requirements are being considered, an initial scoping of possible options and relevant standards, and predicted costs for those options.

Advocates for the change, including the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design and Rights & Inclusion Australia, have been consulting with the Building Ministers Forum and the ABCB on the issue for some years.

There were some initial discussions around the change being introduced as early as the new NCC 2019 which is currently being finalised. However, the ABCB and the BMF have said the introduction of minimum requirements for both new dwellings and for renovations or extensions that are subject to the NCC requires a due process.

The ABCB and the BMF have said the introduction of minimum requirements for both new dwellings and for renovations or extensions that are subject to the NCC requires a due process.

“As with any other potential change to the NCC, a minimum accessibility standard for housing must be underpinned by a rigorously tested rationale, be effective and proportional to the issue, and must generate a net societal benefit,” the ABCB stated in the Options Paper.

“In this respect it is important to note that the initiation of this work is not a commitment to change the NCC, but rather a commitment to undertake a thorough process to determine if changes to the NCC are warranted, and if so, to what extent.”

The Options Paper proposes utilising the Liveable Housing Australia design guidelines as a potential standard for minimum accessibility requirements.

These guidelines are already used on some public sector and not-for-profit residential projects as a client-driven requirement. For example, they may be used for apartments or homes where frail aged or disabled residents are the likely occupants.

The LHA Guidelines comprise a Silver, Gold and Platinum Standard, and the BMF has proposed that LHA Silver and LHA Gold could provide a suitable standard for any NCC requirements.

Three proposals based on the LHA standards have been outlined in the Options Paper.  

The first is based on Silver standard — it would require at least one level (step-free) entrance to a dwelling; internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement; a ground-floor toilet; a bathroom and shower designed for easy and independent access; and bathroom and toilet walls built in a manner that enables grab rails to be safely and economically installed.

The second proposal adds to these a safe, continuous, step-free pathway from the street entrance and/or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level. It also requires stairways, where they are installed, that are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and enable a safe pathway.

The third proposal, Gold level, incorporates all of the above requirements as well as further requirements for kitchens, laundries, bedroom location, light switches and the operability of internal doors.

This month’s consultation forums are an opportunity to have a say on accessible housing during this early stage of the proposal’s development.

The ABCB contracted quantity surveyors Donald Cant Watts Corke to estimate the potential additional construction costs associated with achieving compliance with LHDG Silver and Gold level specifications. This is included in the Options Paper.

Stakeholder and industry feedback on the paper will be considered as part of developing a Regulatory Impact Statement, expected to be released in the first quarter of 2019.

Should the RIS process lead to draft technical changes to the NCC in relation to housing accessibility requirements, these modifications would be released for public comment as part of the NCC 2022 public comment draft in early 2021.

This month’s consultation forums are an opportunity to have a say on accessible housing during this early stage of the proposal’s development. It’s also a chance to pose questions to representatives of the ABCB in person. The forums are free. However, registration is essential. You can find your nearest forum and register to attend here.

The Options paper can be downloaded here from the ABCB website. Comments close on Friday, November 30, 2018.

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