Age UK has launched a new report on sheltered and retirement housing ‘Making it Work for Us’, coinciding with a meeting of MPs and Peers to discuss reforms to leasehold housing. The complexity of leasehold agreements in retirement housing makes some older people vulnerable to financial exploitation – an issue we address in our report. Older residents tell us they are increasingly concerned about lack of transparency in leasehold contracts, particular in regard to service charges.
To produce the report Age UK supported a panel of older residents to look at how sheltered and retirement housing could be improved. Most of the residents were positive about what retirement housing could offer, but had concerns about a failure to address issues around bad practice.
Why is this so important? Currently only a very small percentage of older people actually live in retirement housing; the vast majority live in ordinary mainstream housing. Yet there is a growing interest in the role of retirement housing in freeing up larger family homes for younger people. Achieving this is difficult when there just isn’t enough affordable, well designed retirement housing in the right locations to make a real difference.
There are a range of complex reasons for this deficit, which are currently being explored by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care (their own findings on retirement housing will be published soon). Rather than looking at these reasons from a developer’s or provider’s perspective, we wanted to promote a residents’ viewpoint.
One of the surprises from the inquiry was the common ground between older people living in social housing and those in the private leasehold sector. On issues such as consulting with residents about changes to services or residents exercising the Right to Manage, the panel agreed there should be much greater parity between the sectors.
They also agreed that older people need better advice and information about the housing options available to them and that there is an urgent need for much greater transparency and consistency around charging for services. Many had concerns about the impact of losing housing support services, such as scheme wardens, as local authority budgets are squeezed.
Overall, older people want to be better informed, have more control and easier routes to resolving disputes if things go wrong. Although these are the concerns of existing residents, they need to be tackled before future generations will consider retirement housing as an option.
As well as the inquiry report Age UK jointly funded and commissioned a report with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; ‘Affordability of Retirement Housing’ looking at the financial barriers to living in the sector. If you’d like more detailed background information on the role of retirement housing you may be interested in reading the Shelter and JRF report ‘Market Assessment of Housing Options for Older People’. All these studies demonstrate that we need significant reform and greater leadership from the Government if retirement housing is to play a more ubiquitous role in the future.