An age-old issue?

The nation’s getting older. Which means our housing needs are changing…

In its White Paper in February this year, Fixing our broken housing market, the Government said it would consult on options for introducing a standardised approach to assessing housing requirements, and that this would take into account the needs of different groups. In particular, it mentioned older people – adding that local planning authorities will be expected to have clear policies for addressing their needs.

Why is this important?

Because the nation has an ageing population, and because the housing needs of older people are changing. Figures from the most recent Retirement Confidence Index (RCI) published by McCarthy & Stone reveal that almost half (48%) of over-65s would consider downsizing. That equates to 5.7 million people – which the company points out is way more than the estimated 141,000 units of owner-occupied retirement housing built in the UK to date.

In addition, house builders say, this figure is set almost to double to more than 11 million by 2036.

If these figures have substance, it would make sense to accommodate the needs of older people as much as possible. Not just for their own sake, but because by downsizing they may create new opportunities for younger families in need of accommodation.

That said, any encouragement to downsize needs to be offset against first, emotional factors such as attachment to the family home and the desire to be close to children and grandchildren; and second, practical issues such as the cost and upheaval of moving.

So – what can be done?

Local authorities

In its White Paper the Government said it would introduce a new statutory duty through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill on the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities on how their local development documents should meet the housing needs of older and disabled people. They want planners to think about supply, and in particular about supply close to the amenities that older and disabled people might need.

The Government also said it would explore ways to stimulate the market to deliver new homes for older people. Part of this, perhaps, was the announcement we saw in August, when the Government launched a £54 million package to release land for thousands of new homes. Consisting of first, £45 million in the Land Release Fund to release unused or surplus council-owned land for new homes, and second, a further £9 million from One Public Estate to support more councils in delivering ambitious property-focused programmes.

Approaches to building

The White Paper looked at different models of supported housing, including sheltered, step down and extra care housing, “ensuring that the new supported housing funding model continues to provide the means for older people to live independently for longer while relieving pressure on the adult social care system.”

By way of example, it referred to a mixed-site development in Saffron Walden in Essex, consisting of new detached houses for market sale, affordable family houses and smaller homes for the over-55 market.

Several house builders at both national and local levels are responding to demographic demands with schemes of this kind. Public policy is clearly in their favour: the February White Paper asked for their contributions to the debate and also sought feedback from mortgage lenders; clinical commissioning groups; housing associations and local authorities; and of course older people themselves and the groups that represent them.

The consultation period closed in early May this year, and some market watchers have predicted updates by the autumn.

So watch this space for further news…

By LABC Warranty