Older people’s housing choices ‘constrained’

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A more focused approach is needed to meet the changing demands of housing for older people, with ‘little progress’ having so far been made.

A report by the House of Lords building environment committee has argued there will need to be a mix of more suitable, accessible ‘mainstream’ properties and specialist homes for older people if the housing market is to be sustainable in the coming years as the population ages.

One of the most important challenges will be ensuring there is a good supply of suitable housing, as one in four people in the UK will be over 65 by 2050, increasing from 19% in 2019.

‘Older people’s housing choices are constrained by the options available,’ the committee’s report, Meeting housing demand said.

‘Little progress has been made on housing for the elderly. As demand changes as the population ages, a more focused approach is needed. The government must take a coordinated approach to the issue of later living housing, between departments and through the national planning policy framework.’

Christopher Pincher MP, minister for housing at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, had told the committee there was an opportunity to encourage downsizing and the growth of the later-living sector to help free up the two- and three-bedroom homes in the mid-market.

However, Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research pointed out older people used the additional space as many worked into retirement, cared for grandchildren, and housed multiple generations of their families at various points.

The committee was also told barriers to older people ‘down-sizing’ or ‘right-sizing’ included emotional bonds to their home; fear of change; the cost of stamp duty land tax; reluctance to lose an important financial asset; and a lack of choice in appropriate accommodation to move to.

‘We also heard that some housing schemes for the elderly are based on unfair terms and can result in additional costs,’ the committee’s report said.

The document, which covered housing demand and demographic tends, said planning reforms had a ‘chilling effect’ on housebuilding and created uncertainty for planners and housebuilders.

It called on government to set out its strategy for the planning system. ‘Only 40% of local plans are less than five years old or have been updated or reviewed in the past five years,’ the report said. ‘The lack of local plan-making means the system is not “plan led” and creates an uncertain environment for housebuilders.’

Responding to the report, Michael Voges, ARCO executive director, said: ‘We urgently need cross-government action to create the housing and care options that our ageing population so desperately requires, which is why we reiterate our call for a cross-department housing-with-care task force to be established immediately.

‘The Meeting housing demand report is absolutely right to highlight the huge growth in the older population that we will see in the next few years – particularly those living alone – and the need to vastly expand specialist housing options to meet this surge.

Integrated retirement communities, in combining independent living with high-quality support and care, and great opportunities to meet new people and reduce loneliness, have a key role to play in enabling older people to thrive.’