The costs of introducing requirements into the National Construction Code (NCC) to make new homes accessible for elderly or disabled Australians may outweigh the benefits of doing so, a new report has found.

Prepared by the Centre for International Economics (CIE) and published by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) has analysed the costs and benefits of five regulatory approaches which are being considered to improve the volume of new housing which is accessible for those who are aged or who have disabilities.

Using what it refers to as a ‘problem reduction approach’ (see below), it found that costs exceeded benefits for each of the five options under consideration.

Under an alternative ‘willingness to pay’ approach, only one option delivered net benefits.

In its report, the CIE urged caution in rushing to introduce new accessible housing standards.

“Based on the preliminary evidence gathered for the Consultation RIS, the costs associated with including an accessible housing standard in the NCC are estimated to outweigh the benefits under the central estimates for all of the options tested,” it said.

The latest report follows a 2017 directive from the Building Minister’s Forum which required the ABCB to undertakes a regulatory impact analysis on the possible inclusion of accessibility requirements for new homes and apartments in the 2022 update of the NCC.

Broadly speaking, options under consideration are based around the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) developed by Liveable Housing Australia.

Under these, homes can be rated to the silver, gold and platinum levels according to the accessibility features which they contain.

To achieve a silver rating, for example, homes must have:

  • step free access from street and parking areas
  • at least one step free entrance into the dwelling
  • internal doors and corridors that facilitate easy access
  • a ground floor toilet
  • a step-free shower
  • reinforced bathroom walls to support grabrail installation; and
  • a continuous handrail on stairs.

For gold or platinum ratings, meanwhile, additional features are required in areas such as kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and flooring.

In its report, CIE examined five options:

  • Introduction of a mandatory accessibility standard which broadly reflects the LHDG silver standard into the NCC applying to new single-storey homes and apartments (Option 1).
  • Introduction of a mandatory accessibility standard which broadly reflects the LHDG gold standard into the NCC applying to all new single-storey homes and apartments (Option 2).
  • Introduction of a mandatory accessibility standard which broadly reflects the LHDG gold standard (with some platinum features) into the NCC applying to single-storey homes and apartments (Option 3).
  • Introduction of a mandatory accessibility standard which broadly reflects LHDG Gold standard into the NCC applying to all new Class 2 buildings (apartments) only (Option 4).
  • A subsidy to encourage additional availability of accessible rental properties (Option 5).

Using what it called a ‘problem reduction approach’ which quantifies the effect of issues arising from a lack of accessible housing along with the extent to which alternative options would avoid these issues, the analysis found that costs would exceed benefits under each of the above options.

Using a different approach known as ‘willingness to pay’ – which uses survey data to measure the value which people place on accessibility features proposed – it says costs exceed benefits under all options except for option 1.

In its report, CIE found that the introduction of an accessibility standard into the NCC for homes could deliver benefits across several areas.

These include reduced incidence of: injuries arising out of falls, hospitalisation, loneliness, need to modify homes, need for carers, need to move house, premature entry into aged care and broader social loss to the community.

These benefits, however, were more than offset by additional costs involved.

Apart from the direct subsidy in the case of option 5 (subsidy option), these include additional construction costs along with opportunity costs associated with space occupied by accessibility features not being available for alternative uses.

Feedback on the RIS is open until August 31, 2020.