The launch of a new Age UK report, ‘Housing in Later Life’, coincides with several important policy developments which are likely to impact on the housing options open to all older people, both now and in the future.
These include the forthcoming announcement on accessibility standards for new homes; the results of Government research on older people’s housing; concerns over the future of home adaptation grants (Disabled Facilities Grant); Care Act guidance – giving a more prominent role to housing – and further calls for a dramatic increase in the supply of retirement housing, backed by the Home Builders Federation.
In this context, our report aims to ensure policy makers are engaged with the wide diversity of housing needs among older people. It sets out the key principles and issues behind the current debate and what these mean in terms of offering real and affordable housing choices to more older people.
The report makes the case for a balanced policy approach that recognises the differences between older people, but still pays attention to the needs of the majority who live in ordinary mainstream housing.
INCREASE THE SUPPLY OF RETIREMENT HOUSING
There is an undoubtedly a powerful argument, given demographic trends, for an increase in the supply of retirement housing schemes. This would help to stimulate housing markets and increase the availability of larger family homes, from older people who choose to downsize.
But can we accurately predict the future demand for specialist retirement housing and will it appeal to future generations? It seems likely that as well as age specific schemes, many older people considering downsizing are more likely to be interested in smaller houses, flats and bungalows (offering sufficient space) that do not have a specific ‘retirement’ label attached to them.
At the same time they will want much greater control over how care and support is delivered to their homes – if it’s required. Many others will choose to stay in their current homes, especially in areas where there are limited or unaffordable alternatives.
ALL NEW HOMES MUST BE ACCESSIBLE
Despite the potential benefits of retirement housing, the majority of us will continue to live in mainstream housing (where possible), not specialist housing. That’s why Age UK believes we need to ensure that all new homes are accessible, inclusive and flexible to everyone, making it possible for more people to live independently at home, and easier for families to provide care in ordinary houses.
The Care Act 2014 recognises that many more of us aspire to live independently at home rather than move into specialist or institutionalised forms of housing. Despite, this we are failing to offer sufficient practical help to older people who need to adapt their homes to cope with restricted mobility or to avoid falls and accidents.
This doesn’t make sense given the proven benefits and savings related to adaptations, aids and the deployment of innovative new technology that supports independent living.
Offering both affordable housing support designed for mainstream housing and increasing the the availability of retirement housing would dramatically increase the range of housing options open to older people. Our report makes the case for extending these options.
REGIONAL INEQUALITIES IN HOUSING WEALTH
It also calls on the Government to give further consideration to the growing regional inequalities in housing wealth that will impact on the options available to older people – depending on where they live.
Although we know that many older people have significant equity wealth stored in their homes, especially in London and the South East, this wealth is not evenly distributed. We need to offer older people a range of affordable options and services, regardless of where they live.
Developing an older people’s housing strategy that just works in London and the South East is not good enough.
Finally, older people need access to independent advice that allows them to make informed housing and care decisions that reflect their individual circumstances and wishes. Making the right housing choices often requires consideration of a complex range of factors involving difficult financial decisions.
Although some information and advice can be provided over the phone or via the internet – this cannot replace comprehensive advice involving a proper assessment and understanding of people’s home situation, to work out the range of possibilities that are relevant to a specific individual.