The retirement homes sector has come under fire in recent years over reportedly unfair practices by some retirement housing providers – aspects of which have recently been investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Problems include confusing service charges, lack of competitive tendering for maintenance contracts, high transfer fees, high commission charges on building insurance and unfair rental charges for wardens flats.
In response to these concerns, the Association of Retirement Housing Managers (ARHM) – which the majority of providers are members of – has worked with Age UK and a panel of leasehold residents to improve their voluntary code of practice. The ARHM has also given older people and their families the opportunity to help shape the new code to improve practice in the retirement home industry. This consultation comes after a recent roundtable discussion, chaired by the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk, looking at promoting best practice in the sector. This is helpful, but it is vital that as well as listening to the views of the retirement housing industry, residents also have an opportunity to express their views and influence Government policy.
Looking ahead, responses to the code by residents may demonstrate a need for further compulsory measures to tackle landlords who continue to ignore it. A key concern of many residents is the consistent implementation of the code among ARHM members and in particular improvements in the way complaints are dealt with.
Ideally Age UK would like to see changes in the rules regulating the sector. More of the excellent advice and guidance contained in the voluntary code should be placed within the statutory framework. Although the Government is reluctant to introduce further regulation, many in the retirement housing industry believe that regulating some aspects would facilitate a fairer and more competitive market. Most members of the ARHM want to offer a good service to leaseholders for a reasonable rate of return.
The consultation is a positive step forward and reflects a commitment within the ARHM to improve standards in the sector for older leaseholders. We are actively encouraging older residents, as well as their family and friends, to respond to the consultation and highlight any concerns they have. We think that the more people who take part in the consultation, the better the chances that we will see improvements in the sector, which will benefit everyone. Adherence to the voluntary code will help separate good landlords from those who are failing their residents. At the same time Age UK is clear that the retirement industry requires a firmer statutory framework, based on the principles contained in the code, to give older people greater confidence about buying a retirement property.