In its national planning guidance the Government says:
‘The need to provide housing for older people is critical, given the projected increase in the number of households aged 65 and over accounts for over half of the new households’
Yet, their current review of housing standards has failed to seize the opportunity to age proof all new homes. The measures they are proposing could in fact end up restricting progress on accessible housing. This is terrible news because accessible, well designed houses and flats give all of us the security of knowing that if our mobility is reduced, our homes make it much easier to live independently – hopefully in a location of our choice.
Instead the Government has made improved access standards for new homes an option, to be determined by local authorities. This option, known as ‘category 2’ is based on the Lifetime Homes Standard – a set of 16 criteria which make homes easier and cheaper to adapt.
This optional approach, which requires evidence of need and viability, seems to imply that life time homes should primarily be applied to retirement housing. Most of the house building industry seems to regard retirement schemes as the most sensible response to the projected growth in the older population. The implication is that if your housing becomes inaccessible, due to poor design, it simply requires you to move into retirement housing or residential care.
Despite huge profits in the house building industry at the moment, with the substantial financial benefits from the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, the industry believes the cost of lifetime homes – at around £1,000 for each house – is prohibitive. But this amount is tiny, particularly compared to the massive costs to society of older people being unable to live independent lives. Parts of the industry have consistently opposed lifetime homes against the interests of ordinary consumers and have blocked further progress towards more inclusive, age friendly home design.
In the real world, most of us want to continue living in ordinary housing as we get older, but often discover at a late stage that it’s difficult and costly to make adaptations. For older people who want to move out of large family homes, it’s wrong to assume they will only consider retirement housing. The majority want mainstream houses, flats or bungalows in good locations. The industry and the Government are out of touch with trends in the housing market, especially the financial power of older home buyers.
Over the years there has been progress on reforms to the ‘core’ building regulations (know as Part M). This has greatly improved the accessibility of new homes to visitors with restricted mobility. Even if the Government was justified in making ‘category 2’ optional, we might have expected that at least some of the low cost elements of this accessibility standard would be incorporated the core standards – but this hasn’t happened.
If the Government is serious about curbing the demand on overstretched health and care resources, then universally accessible homes would be a relatively cheap and easy way to make a real difference. Join us in calling for lifetime homes to be the core standard for all new homes.