Accessible features like step free access, first floor toilets and handrails lining stairs are due to become mandatory additions to new houses and apartments throughout Australia after state and Commonwealth building ministers declared their intention to put into place mandatory accessible housing specifications in the National Construction Code (NCC).
At last week’s Building Ministers Forum (BMF) meeting, a ‘majority’ of ministers agreed to incorporate minimum accessibility specifications for residential housing and apartments within the 2022 edition of the NCC.
The provisions will be inspired by the Silver standards specified in the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) which are released through Liveable Housing Australia (LHA).
This indicates that new houses constructed under NCC 2022 or later must possess:
- Step-free access from street and parking areas
- A minimum of one step-free entrance into the residence
- interior doors and corridors that allow for easy access
- a first floor toilet
- a step-less shower
- reinforced lavatory walls to facilitate grabrail installation; and
- a continuous handrail for staircases.
The latest developments come in the wake of years of debate regarding whether accessible housing standards should be incorporated in the NCC.
A lingering concern in the minds of many has been a shortage of houses being built with valuable accessibility features.
A 2010 RIS commissioned by the Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) on a proposal to feature accessibility standards in the Victorian Appendix to what was then called the Building Code of Australia (now the NCC), for example, discovered that 96 percent of new houses constructed in Victoria lacked valuable visibility and adaptability assets.
A 2014 estimate from Liveable Housing Australia showed that less than five percent of new houses adhere to the standard of its ‘silver’ level certification under its Liveable Housing Design Guidelines – the most basic level of certification that can be attained under the guidelines.
Ministers decided in 2017 to study the advantages and expenses of featuring mandatory accessible home features in the NCC based upon the LHD guidelines.
Created and maintained by LHA, these guidelines intend to supply homes easy and safe for all residents. This includes physically challenged people, the elderly, folks with short-term injuries and families with young kids.
Three levels of certification are attainable under the guidelines.
To attain a Silver certification, new houses and apartments must show the basic features referenced above.
To attain Gold or Platinum, extra features are necessitated in rooms like kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and floors.
As a component of the consultations, options under consideration included mandated requirements based on Silver standards as well as with options for intermingling features needed for the Gold standard.
Concerns were expressed that advantages affiliated with the different options may have been outweighed by the expenses involved.
In 2020, a Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement delivered by the Australian Building Codes Board discovered that cost associated with mandatory inclusion of accessibility requirements with the NCC outweighed the anticipated benefits for all options which were considered.
Nonetheless, the BMF determined that the incorporation of mandates based on a Silver standard would fulfill housing needs of vulnerable Australians regardless of the expense involved.
In a communique presented after the meeting, the BMF indicated that a ‘majority’ of ministers supported this move.
While the communique did not specify the states that had supported the measures, states like Queensland and Victoria had publicly supported the move.
“A majority of Ministers today agreed to include minimum accessibility provisions for residential housing and apartments in the National Construction Code (NCC) 2022 based on the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) silver standards,” the communique said.
“In agreeing to implement a regulatory solution, Ministers took into consideration the feedback from industry, advocates and the lived experience of members of the community affected by the lack of accessible housing. They also considered the findings of the Decision Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) prepared by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB).
“The decision taken by a majority of Ministers acknowledges the costs identified in the Decision RIS but reflects their assessment that a regulatory solution will result in significant and lasting benefit to Australians who need access to homes with accessible features.”
The ministers also stated that the ABCB will print a voluntary gold technical standard for accessible housing.
Due to potential cost impacts during a time when the building industry is adjusting to the economic impact of COVID-19, each state and territory will decide whether and in what way the new provisions will be used in their jurisdiction.
Ministers have asked that senior building officials collaborate with the ABCB to advise the implementation of the new requirement. This will incorporate any exclusions and fitting transition timeframes.
This plan aids the states and territories with their responsibilities to up the availability of accessible housing and supplies flexibility for jurisdictions to implement in a manner that fills the needs of their communities, the communique states.
Queensland Minister for Public Works and Procurement Mick de Brenni agreed with the plan, saying that a minimum accessibility standard would guarantee safe, secure and habitable housing particularly for senior citizens, with substantial growth anticipated in the percentage of Australians staying in their houses as they get older.
He said that locating a suitable home to rent or buy can be a challenge for the 3.8 million seniors and the 4.4 million Australians with a mobility-associated disability. These new homes can house these people longer.
The latest plan comes as the public comment draft for NCC 2022 is due to be released on May 10.
The new national minimum standard for accessible housing will now be included in this draft.