State and territorial leaders have agreed on minimum standards for barrier-free living in new houses in order to attract advocates of age-appropriate design.

At the latest summit of the building meeting, it was determined that the national building law should contain minimum provisions from 2022, including step-free access, wheelchair-accessible doors and a toilet in the entrance area.

National Seniors Australia, which was part of the “Build Better Homes” campaign to campaign for the changes, said it was a milestone decision.

National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke said it would overturn the current standard for new builds, where only 5 percent of homes have had such features over the past decade.

“For years we have been committed to changing the code from voluntary to mandatory,” he said.

“We have spoken on behalf of elderly Australians and these large numbers of Australians with disabilities and, ultimately, ministers have listened.”

The updated national building guidelines contain features at the level of the silver standards of the Liveless Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG).

This focuses on the future-proof aspect of the real estate with important structural and spatial elements for flexibility and adaptability on the route. Livable Housing points to the significantly reduced construction costs for the features instead of 22 times less retrofitting.

Specific changes mean a safe, continuous and level path from the street entrance or parking lot to the entrance at least one meter wide, accessible interior doors and corridors, a toilet in the entrance area, a bathroom with a hobless shower cubicle; Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bathroom that can later carry grab rails; and stairs that are designed to reduce potential injuries and can be modified in the future.

The building ministers had a majority agreement saying they “took into account the feedback from industry, lawyers and the lived experience of members of the community affected by the lack of accessible housing”.

“The decision made by the majority of ministers recognizes the costs identified in the RIS decision, but reflects their assessment that a regulatory solution will bring significant and lasting benefits to Australians who need access to homes with accessible features,” said the communique.

The building ministers also agreed that states and territories can voluntarily upgrade to a mandatory gold standard under the NCC.

However, they failed to set a timeline for implementation, realizing that they have “considered the potential impact on the industry as they continue to adapt to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Each state and territory is free to determine whether and how the new rules will be applied in its jurisdiction to minimize the regulatory impact on the construction sector,” they said.

The Building Better Homes alliance has pushed for the changes to increase the availability of accessible housing, which they believe will improve quality of life, employment opportunities and productivity.

It points to the growing number of Australians with reduced mobility due to disability and aging, from an estimated 3 million currently to around 5.75 million, and the desire of many people to stay in their homes.