Housing policy must ‘dismantle barriers’ in IRC sector, says review

Professor Les Mayhew

A shortage of retirement units and a lack of modern apartments of sufficient size to appeal to downsizers is contributing to inertia that is holding the sector back.

Only around 7,000 retirement units are being built each year, which falls short of what is required, according to Professor Les Mayhew of the International Longevity Centre – UK and Bayes Business School, who argues government should build 50,000 homes for older people each year to tackle the UK’s housing and social care crisis. This represents one in four of all new homes, his latest report suggested.

Prof Mayhew was commissioned by the Association Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) in March to lead a review into the case for integrated retirement communities (IRCs) and the scale of provision needed from now until 2038.

Initial findings presented in summer, found there were three potential scenarios for the sector, which were to ‘tread water’ and build 10,000 homes a year, the minimum target of 30,000 per annum or an ambitious 50,000.

Prof Mayhew said the number of over-65s is set to race past 17 million by 2040 and that the government needed to initiate an accelerated programme of constructing older people’s housing.

‘Housing policy needs to focus as much on last-time buyers as on first-time buyers and to dismantle barriers to the strategic shift required. Around 80% of the 65-plus population own their homes outright. The potential to redeploy that wealth is a key factor driving investment in the sector, which is supported by pension funds and other investors,’ Future-proofing retirement living: Easing the care and housing crises said.

The 7,000 units built each year is out of a total new-build of about 200,000. Currently, specialist retirement housing only accounts for 10% of all older households in the UK. ‘If business carries on as usual, the report estimates that 87% of the older population will live in standard housing compared with 81% now, resulting in three million extra older households. In other words, today’s shortages in specialist housing will be magnified,’ the review said.

As well as more homes, the report recommended launching the older people’s housing taskforce immediately; expanding the number of IRCs each year in all regions; repurposing high streets; reforming planning rules; tax and grant incentives that would increase downsizing; and financial advice for people who want to move into retirement housing and provision of social care assessments.

Prof Mayhew believes achieving the growth recommended would help older people stay healthy for longer and reduce the burden on the NHS and care homes. Each new home would free up properties and surplus bedrooms for younger families and first-time buyers, making housing more affordable.

Additionally, as many as 6.2 million older people are set to live alone by 2040, worsening the loneliness epidemic and stretching social services, the review said.

Damian Green MP

Damian Green MP, chair of the parliamentary group on longevity, said: ‘We’re not just talking about a drop in the ocean in terms of the new homes needed for older people, we’re talking about tens of thousands that need building each year.’

Michael Voges, ACRO chief executive, added: ‘The debate on social care is not just about levels of funding, but also what kind of settings older people have available to them to receive the best care possible.

‘As today’s report shows, housing-with-care settings like integrated retirement communities have a pivotal role to play owing to the transformative impact they have on health, wellbeing, and reducing the burden on the NHS.’

The review drew on evidence and input from over 40 groups and organisations.