Housing Minister Grant Shapps recently announced an allocation of £13m to 50 local authorities to make it easier for older social tenants to move from larger family housing into smaller more manageable properties. Many councils are looking at how they can make better use of scarce housing resources and will welcome this allocation.
Despite this, some of us are puzzled by the Minister’s approach given that many housing options and advice services, working with older people, are already in place but struggling to survive cutbacks. Wouldn’t it make more sense to link this new funding into to current housing options services operating across different tenures? Councils are to receive practice support from the Institute of Housing to develop services but it is still unclear how this will link into existing services and networks already in place.
The Minister’s statement does not indicate that older tenants will in anyway be forced or coerced to move on. However, without safeguards some providers may be tempted to put undue pressure on older tenants to move into small cramped properties against their wishes.
It may be true that older tenants need less space but that doesn’t mean they should have to accept minimal space standards. Many older people expect two-bedroom properties, often for practical reasons related to health or care needs. They need space for storage, space to cook meals and have friends round, space to pursue hobbies and interests and space for grandchildren to stay. Local authorities and housing associations must bear this in mind when considering what a reasonable and attractive offer means for older tenants and their individual circumstances.
The range of housing options is becoming increasingly restricted. For instance, older tenants who may have considered sheltered housing have found it no longer meets their needs. The withdrawal of wardens, reduced investment, and rising charges means that a cost effective and desirable alternative to general needs housing is vanishing.
There is a clear logic to offering incentives for older tenant to make it easier to move on but this in itself does little to address the overall lack of housing choices that older social tenants on low incomes want and deserve.