front door number 76 in black and white

What is a living home standard?

What do we need, want and deserve in our home?

In 2016 the homeless charity Shelter, working together with British Gas, produced The Living Home Standard.

Their aim, was to find out from the public, ‘what an acceptable home should provide’.  

This standard is not a list of high demands. These are bottom line expectations for contemporary living.

This Living Home Standard resulted in 39 attributes comprised of 5 separate essentials.

These are: 


Decent Conditions




…and other ‘tradable’ criteria, according to differing needs/priorities. 

What strikes most about this list is that it is grounded in real experience.

What people want is to be able to maintain close connections to family, friends, neighbourhood.

They would like be able to live life quietly within their home – with the occasional night out, a holiday and a hobby. 

It’s not that much to ask!.  

Home has to be a place where people can feel safe in their neighbourhood, close to amenities, family support networks and transport. A place where the rent is affordable, where noise is not an issue and where that gives them them a sense of stability.

Remarkably, this survey (designed by Ipsos Mori) was the first project of its kind to  involve the public in developing a standard. Because of that, it has yielded rich data based on what people value, need and want.

This is not about what other agencies have decided on their behalf. 

People described ‘Home’ as a place that is: ‘safe’, ‘warm’, ‘secure’.

Emotionally it is a backdrop for ‘living’; the one space where people should be able to feel relaxed and comfortable. 

But, if the roof leaks, if there are draughts, anti-social behaviour, poor ventilation or light there will be little or no emotional pull. Then, it is an occupied space – with added stress. 

This research was not a tick-box exercise.

It was about listening to what people say and think and do. Because of that, it provides a much more rounded view of people’s day to day living.

Rather than quantifying ‘costs’ as weekly income and outgoings, they recognise that people tend to take an overall view on expenditure.

People save for day to day and eventualities: school uniforms, replacement appliances, a new pair of glasses, etc. 

‘Affordability’ is not just what people earn and what they spend. It is a constantly shifting process; according what they have, what they want and what they need. And then there are the unexpected costs.

These are items you cannot budget for, and events you did not expect to occur, which ultimately can push people into debt. 

Top of the list for decent conditions was heating:

You can occupy a space that is cold, but you cannot ‘live’ in it.

Heating impacts so much on how people function in the home: doing homework, sitting watching TV, maintaining good health.

The only alternative might be to go to bed with a hot water bottle just to keep warm, or spend all day in the local library.

Dwelling is not about occupying a space under a roof.

A home needs to be suited to the age of the occupants so they can access all areas.

It needs to have sufficient electrical sockets, bathroom facilities, be structurally sound and hazard-free, mould and pest-free, and secure. 

As one interviewee said: “we want to live, not just survive”.  

For the benefit of mental and physical growth, that must include a social life, friends coming to visit, hobbies and treats.

A standard should reflect basic human needs for a space that is fit for dwelling in the 21stcentury.

It has to be more than a base line because housing is not ‘shelter’, housing has to become a ‘home’. 

The Living Home Standard considers what matters to people at different lifestages. It accepts that people have quirks, non-standard behaviour, and ‘wee ways’. 

We are all different and we live in changing times. A few years ago a mobile phone may have been considered a luxury.

Now it is a necessity.

Issues related to stability – and the opportunity to put down roots – understandably impacted more on people in rented accommodation ( private and public).

The landlord/ tenant relationship can be testy and tested. It can disrupt the sense of continuity that many people desire. Especially if they want to become part of the community and build long-standing social relationships. 

Consider how much it takes before someone is willing to ‘invest’ in a property that it not their own.

The freedom to decorate (in your own style), to make alterations, hang pictures or keep a pet is often subject to rules and regulations. There are set guidelines, authorisations and applications that constantly remind you this space is not yours.

The powers-that-be have ownership of your home and your space. You may have ideas about how to make it better. But they have to approve it.

According to one respondent: 

“If you want your own place and it to feel homey then you should be able to do something that makes it feel like your own home.” 

Being able to make personal choices is about assuming control over your space.

Taking pride in how a space looks gives people a sense of ownership. That is important if they want to feel they belong.

Choosing colours, floor surfaces, tiles, kitchens etc. – these things matter. They connect people to the space that is their home. It engages them emotionally and creatively.

Being allowed to put a little bit of themselves into creating a home for their family, means they are ‘ investing’ in that space. 

In 2016 the survey concluded that four in ten homes in Britain did not meet an acceptable living standard.

By far the biggest issue was affordability. This was most evident in private rented accommodation, particularly in London.  

No surprise there! 

In 2018 the Living Standard, when applied in Scotland, found that one in three did not meet the standard. Again – with affordability and decent conditions being the biggest issues. 

A different location, different context and housing system. A stark reminder that the problems were the same.

These findings surely must set off some alarm bells somewhere?

If we are to continue to shape, inform and improve the design of living conditions  and homes then the Living Home Standard is a very good place to start.

The desire to develop and build more homes is all very well, but affordability has to be addressed.

A home that is free from pests, mould and has hot/cold running water is not an entirely excessive expectation.

And in this day and age having enough space for all members of the family to have privacy and comfort. Adequate pace for storage, bathing and cooking should surely be a given, rather than a luxury

And that is a bigger conversation

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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