On 30 April 2021, a majority of commonwealth, state and territory Building Ministers agreed to introduce a building access reform which will include minimum accessibility provisions for residential housing and apartments in the National Construction Code (NCC) 2022 based on the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) silver standards.
The reform has come after the work of advocates over decades who have raised issues and highlighted the failure of housing stock to meet community needs. Over the past 10 years, voluntary guidelines have been tried but failed.
ACT Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction, Rebecca Vassarotti, said the mandatory standards will result in significant and lasting benefit to Australians who need access to homes with accessible features. While they are minimum standards, it is a start to ensure universal design in all homes.
“This is a win for the community,” Minister Vassarotti said. “Modest but significant changes will mean housing built in the future will better meet needs. This is important not only for people with disabilities, mobility issues, or who are ageing. This reform is for all of us.”
“The ACT Government believes that everyone deserves a home that fits their needs, regardless of age, disability, background or other factors. I am glad that the majority of my fellow Building Ministers agree with me that all new homes built in Australia should be built to minimum accessibility standards.”
“We will ensure that industry is supported through these changes and I assure them there will be sufficient time between the introduction of these new standards, giving them time to prepare and adapt.”
Ministers took into consideration the feedback from the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), industry, advocates and the lived experience of members of the community affected by the lack of accessible housing to agree on the reform. Ministers also agreed the ABCB will publish a voluntary gold technical standard for accessible housing.
The Ministers are mindful of potential impacts to industry as they continue adjusting to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each state and territory will be free to determine whether and how the new provisions will be applied in their jurisdiction to minimise the regulatory impact on the construction sector.
The Ministers have asked that senior building officials lead work with the ABCB to provide advice to support implementation, including any exclusions, as well as appropriate transition timeframes.
This outcome supports the states and territories with their responsibilities to increase the stock of accessible housing and provides flexibility for jurisdictions to implement in a way that best meets the needs of their communities.
Michael Bleasdale, Executive Officer of Rights & Inclusion Australia, said the inclusion of silver technical standards in the NCC will, over time, ensure that people with disability, older people and many others in the community will be able to find housing across all markets, and will be able to modify these easily and at minimal cost when their individual needs change.
“We have some concern about the option within the BMM’s Communiqué for states and territories to determine whether the new provisions will be applied in their jurisdiction, and will be closely monitoring statements from NSW, Western Australia and South Australia in particular about how they will implement the changes after 2022. What is needed now is certainty for consumers that they will have access to a product that enables all people to live in housing anywhere across Australia, and not another postcode lottery,” Mr Bleasdale said.