At present, as well as complying with building standards, new build homes delivered by Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and local authorities with the aid of grant funding, should, as a minimum, meet the design criteria indicated "basic" in the Housing for Varying Needs Design Guide. The design criteria which is indicated as "desirable" should also be included where possible.

"Off the shelf" new build purchases from developers with the aid of grant funding through the affordable housing supply programme should also aim to incorporate these requirements and projects comprising the refurbishment of existing residential properties or conversion of non-residential property and housing should maximise accessibility as far as is practicable.

The Housing for Varying Needs Design Guide for Housing and Flats was produced in 1998. The Scottish Government is consulting on updates to the Design Guide to meet the change in needs and expectations of society in the past 25 years. Scotland has an ageing population; the number of people aged 65 and over has increased from 16% in 2001 to 20% in 2021.

The Covid pandemic changed the way we use our homes and the Scottish Government is phasing in the requirement for all homes delivered by RSLs and local authorities through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme to have private or communal outdoor space with room for people to sit outside as well as space for home working or study. The proposals are designed take advantage of improvements in technology and ensure that our homes are digitally enabled from the point of construction.

The proposals seek to strike an appropriate balance between delivery of quality, accessible housing to meet a variety of needs whilst maximising the number of affordable homes that can be delivered. Grant funding arrangements can however be flexible to ensure that specialist housing provision can continue to be provided to those in need.

The proposals in the consultation fall under three broad headings of Accessibility, Usability and Adaptability and also introduce principles to underpin the all tenure Scottish Accessible Homes Standard which will apply to all new build homes and homes delivered through the conversion of non-residential buildings into housing.


  • It becomes standard (rather than preferable) for entrances to be step free and have an accessible threshold.
  • Increase in size to the minimum clear width of entrance doors to communal areas offering improved access and navigation to all building users, but in particular wheelchair users and people with prams and buggies.
  • To provide as standard, automatic opening and power swinged doors with a pad type button to improve the accessibility of communal entrances.


  • All homes, except those specifically designed for wheelchair users, should have the ability to have a wet room with a shower area or grab rails to allow for changing needs and making future wet floor shower installations easier, quicker or less costly to complete.
  • Likewise, bathrooms are to have the ability to plumb a bath, if required in the future, to give flexibility.


  • Increasing circulation space within properties to standardise minimum width corridors within all homes which would allow wheelchair users to be able to visit friends and family and also help people with temporary injuries that impact on mobility, and for delivery of furniture.
  • It is expected that houses for wheelchair users will be constructed on one level but if there is more than one level then a floor lift is to be installed as standard so that a wheelchair user can access and use the whole of their home.
  • Within the living accommodation there should be space for a desk or workspace with a chair so that new social housing offers space for home working or study.
  • Telephone and television outlets for all dwellings to be digitally enabled at the point of handover, as standard, so that internet can be connected without having to provide additional cabling.
  • All homes should have a private or communal outdoor space with room for people to sit outside including balconies within flatted developments where provision for private or communal outdoor space cannot otherwise be provided.

Whilst a number of these proposals are simply to standardise preferences in the existing Design Guide, it is an opportunity to alter design requirements to meet the needs of the 21st Century and ensure that our homes can grow with us.

The consultation closes on 21 December with a view to updates to building standards and guidance being introduced next year.


Fiona Dromgoole

Legal Director