Social housing green paper – good news for older people?

6288745178_5dea300396_zBlog written by Joe Oldman, Housing and Transport Policy Manager, Age UK.

Reaction to the new social housing green paper has been lukewarm. This is because it seems to dash hopes for a significant increase in the supply of new council and housing association homes for people on low incomes. Despite the recent Government announcement of an additional £2bn over 10 years for social housing, the green paper fails to suggest lifting restrictions on local authority borrowing which would make a real difference to increasing the supply of social housing.

Renting privately on the rise

Without a substantial increase in social housing more older people are likely to find themselves in unsuitable private rented accommodation, as home ownership even among older groups is likely to fall in future. This can lead to a host of other problems, for example, the lack of tenure security creates a fear of eviction and can restrict older tenants from making home adaptations if they have a disability. Insecurity, rising rents, and benefit restrictions have contributed to an increase in older homelessness, when suitable social housing, offering support, is a much better and more cost effective solution.

Sheltered social housing is essential

Despite this, we have seen positive developments, particularly the Government’s reversal of its decision to restrict housing benefit for sheltered housing. However, the need for more affordable retirement housing remains and this debate is unlikely to go away.

Older people often tell us that a scheme manager or warden is the defining feature of a sheltered scheme. The social housing green paper could be an opportunity to review how to improve housing support for older people and promote greater consistency in the quality of sheltered housing. It’s an opportunity to revisit the CLG select committee’s inquiry on the future of supported housing, with their recommendations going beyond pressing concerns over funding. The Government’s proposals on performance indicators have received criticism but might help to identify sheltered housing schemes that are failing residents.

Safety and complaints

Proposed improvements on complaint resolution, especially on safety, will be welcomed by many older tenants. The Grenfell Tower tragedy means the green paper, as well as addressing fire safety regulations, also focuses on attitudes towards tenants with complaints and a failure to listen and act on their concerns.  Older residents have told us the current system is too bureaucratic and unresponsive and doesn’t give sufficient help to vulnerable older tenants. Where common systemic problems are identified across sheltered housing a new approach needs to trigger action by the regulator – Homes England.

A world of opportunity…

We welcome the reversal in the green paper on the requirement to sell high value council property, which may help to address concerns about the loss of social rented bungalows, which many older people regard as an ideal form of retirement housing. Investment in the social rented sector must increase the supply of affordable retirement housing options, including bungalows.

The proposed review of the decent homes standard may be an opportunity to consider whether it could do more to address the needs of an ageing population, including updated standards on accessibility, fuel poverty and cooling homes in hot weather.

Finally, the social housing green paper needs to say more about the integration of social housing with health and social care services and how housing support in the social sector can reduce pressure on the NHS and social care. There needs to be a clear link between the housing green paper and proposals to be set out in the social care green paper.

There are plenty of opportunities in the housing green paper to improve social housing for older people, however, reforms also need to address what is arguably the biggest failing of the system – the lack of supply. It also needs to be done in conjunction with improving other parts of the housing market, especially the private rented sector, if we are to truly improve older peoples’ housing.

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