A recent BBC Freedom of Information request has shown that 1,782 public toilets have closed in England and Wales in the last decade. With some councils now offering no public toilets at all.

Under the 1976 Local Government Act, councils in England and Wales have the power to install them in places of entertainment and ‘other relevant places’ but they don’t have to provide toilets.

The Local Government Association said councils were trying to keep toilets open but that budget cuts meant that they are often closed down if the council can’t maintain them. 

Public toilets on UK High Streets have been about for 150 years but now 10 areas in England and Wales have no council-run public toilets at all. 22 Councils only have one public toilet available.

The data supplied to the BBC by 331 out of the 435 councils also shows that that four out of five councils have cut spending on public toilets since 2011. Overall expenditure has declined by a third in four years with £21 million less spent last year than in 2011.

This doesn’t bode well for those campaigning for better accessible toilets in town and city centres across the UK – namely Changing Places and Space to Change facilities which provide a changing bench and hoist - equipment that is essential for disabled children and adults who must be lifted by carers and laid on a flat surface to tend to their toileting needs.

Campaigner Samantha Buck set up a Change.org petition calling for David Cameron to make it law for county councils to put Changing Places toilets in all town centres. The petition currently has over 35,000 supporters.

Samantha commented, ‘This is a worrying revelation for everyone campaigning to put a stop to disabled children and adults having to be changed on toilet floors. People with disabilities and medical conditions are already excluded from so many activities. Our councils need to be leading the way in creating fully inclusive communities, not creating even more barriers.’

Fellow Campaigner, Lorna Fillingham’s petition, which has almost 20,000 supporters is calling for all buildings mentioned in BS 8300:2009 to have a mandatory provision of Changing Places toilets. This includes key buildings in town centres such as town halls, civic centres and main public libraries.

Lorna said, ‘I’m really saddened by yesterday’s report on the closure of public toilets in so many councils especially as it comes just a few months after my council in North Lincolnshire made the announcement that they will provide 10 more Changing Places toilets. It has ring-fenced £90,000 without increasing council tax to make this provision. If my council can do why can’t others?’

The British Toilet Association is a Not-for-Profit Members organisation that works to promote the highest possible standards of hygiene and provision in all ‘away from home’ toilet facilities in the UK.

The Firefly Community asked Raymond Martin, from the British Toilet Association what the BBC report could mean for those campaigning for a bench and hoist provision in public toilets, ‘Yes, it could make it more difficult for campaigners. But the health and well-being benefits of Changing Places toilets are irrefutable. The Government needs to recognise that toilet provision is about health and well-being, social inclusion, equality, decency and dignity. It says that health and well-being is top of its agenda. Toilet provision should play a key role in this. The Government should be leading the way in toilet provision. Undoubtedly budgets have been cut, so we need to work smarter, for example with joint franchising, community toilets and pay per use worthy of consideration.’

Changing Places toilets are provided in addition to other accessible toilet facilities. They are a minimum of 12 sqm and include as standard conventional wheelchair accessible toilet equipment plus a tracking hoist or mobile hoist, height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench privacy screen, grab rails, paper roll, non-slip floor and waste disposal unit.

Space to Change can be an enhancement to a conventional, existing wheel-chair accessible toilet and is a minimum of 7.5 sqm. It includes as standard conventional wheelchair accessible toilet equipment plus a hoist and height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench.

Note: Image taken from Changing Places video. Watch it here.

If you are campaigning for improved accessible toilet facilities in your area or if you have struggled to access appropriate toilet facilities away from home – please get in touch, email [email protected].

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