Visitable, accessible, adaptable


In the past, local authorities could require housing developers to provide some specialist housing on new development sites as part of their Local Plan; for example Lifetime Homes and homes for wheelchair users.

In its review of housing standards, the government sought to reduce the burdens placed on developers in an effort to make it quicker and easier to build homes across the country. The rationalisation of building standards is outlined in these slides.

The situation now

This page aims to give a simple guide to the ways local authorities can secure "specialist" housing, in Autumn 2017. It is not a legal guide and has been worded simply, as the subject is fairly complex. But hopefully it gives a starting point to help us all understand how we can work to need the housing needs of residents who need more than a "regular" home design.

The Building Regulations

Our national Building Regulations apply to all new build homes. This link will open an on-line version of Building Regulations Part M, in a new window. Part M, titled  "access to and use of buildings", contains standards about visitability, accessible and adaptable homes, and wheelchair homes. Visitability is part of the "regular" building standard, applying to all homes. Accessible, adaptable and wheelchair standards can be required by local authorities through their Local Plans if they wish to secure some dwellings with these higher access standards.

M4(1) Visitable dwellings: requirement for new homes built to 'visitable dwellings' standard, This is mandatory for all new dwellings. 

M4(2) Accessible and adaptable dwellings: standard for homes to be built to an optional higher access standard. This standard replaces the old Lifetime Homes standard. This useful briefing note from Habinteg compares the old Lifetime Homes standard against the new accessible and adaptable standard and highlights the differences.

M4(3) Wheelchair user dwellings: sets out the standard for homes to be built as wheelchair user homes, drawing a difference between 'wheelchair adaptable' and 'wheelchair accessible' as follows:

  • Wheelchair adaptable dwellings are constructed with the potential to be adapted for occupation by a wheelchair user.
  • Wheelchair accessible dwellings are constructed for immediate occupation by a wheelchair user.

Local authorities can choose whether to include a requirement for one, or a mixture of both of these options for wheelchair user homes within their Local Plans.


If a local authority wants to include a policy in its Local Plan that sets a requirement for either M4(2) or M4(3) it can only require these optional standards if

  • it can demonstrate that the standard will address a clearly evidenced need; and
  • the viability implications of introducing the standard have been adequately considered.

Local authorities cannot impose their own locally set standards, they can only apply the national standards set out in the Buliding Regulations.

National Planning Policy Guidance

National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG) states that Local Plan policies requiring 'wheelchair accessible' homes should be applied only to those dwellings where the local authority is responsible for allocating or nominating a person to live in that dwelling. This means that wheelchair accessible homes can only be required as affordable housing, whereas wheelchair adaptable homes can be a policy requirement on both market or affordable housing.


The government commissioned E.C.Harris to carry out a review of the cost impacts of the various new housing standards. The report was published in September 2014 and can be found here.

On page 38, table 45 sets out a summary of costs associated with the different access standards for a range of dwelling sizes.

This indicates that wheelchair accessible houses are significantly more expensive to build than wheelchair adaptable houses (also, please bear in mind the report was published in 2014).


With many thanks to Anne Keogh, Housing and Strategic Planning Manager at Peterborough City Council for her help drafting this page.

If you have feedback on this brief introduction, please contact