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Old people need more choice to help them downsize

More needs to be done to help pensioners downsize, according to many responses to the Government’s Housing White Paper.

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “It is welcome that the Government has recognised that helping older people downsize keeps the housing cycle moving by freeing up homes for the many families across the UK who need them and it means that older people can move into accommodation which better supports their independence and health. A question remains on the future of supported housing and we would urge the Government to establish a long-term funding model for this vital type of accommodation.”

Ian Burnett, chief executive of United Living, said: “It is a complex picture to say the least, but the steps to encourage people to move from under-occupied homes and into more manageable sized properties as they get older, are certainly a move in the right direction.

“The issue to date hasn’t been so much that people don’t want to downsize or ‘right-size’ as they near retirement age; it’s more of a matter of not having the right choices available in the first place. At the moment many older people wait until they have little option to move because of illness or a change of circumstance. So more purpose-built homes for the over 55s offer a promising response to this problem and will help to unlock a key part of the housing chain. The success of this approach will only be guaranteed by ensuring measures are in place to build high quality properties – for a variety of needs – and not just a quick-fix solution.”

Neil Brearley, director of Cast, said: “The government’s commitment to support elderly people looking to downsize can provide much needed relief to the housing market, freeing up existing housing stock. With the possibility of hundreds of thousands of extra homes being released, it is vital that effective frameworks of incentives are given to older people. The emergence of a dedicated senior living sector, with houses designed specifically for the elderly, will help address the challenges posed by downsizing. But there are a number of key obstacles currently preventing its fuller emergence in the UK.”

Russell Quirk, founder and chief executive of eMoov.co.uk, said: “Kicking pensioners out of their homes with the offer of some poultry compensation will be of cold comfort to them. Downsizing may seem like a nice concept on the face of it but it really is just that, a concept, and one that has not been considered properly in terms of what it actually involved, which is essentially kicking people out of the homes they have worked hard for.”

Clive Fenton, chief executive of McCarthy & Stone said: “Millions of older homeowners are considering downsizing but have become ‘Generation Stuck’ due to a lack of good, high-quality housing that suits their needs. The country’s first housing strategy for six years commendably offers the opportunity to finally address years of undersupply and we are particularly pleased to see positive references to increasing provision of housing that meets the needs and aspirations of older people, including building more specialist retirement housing.

“In light of the UK’s serious housing crisis, including the need for housing for our significantly ageing population, we welcome the Government’s proposals for long-term sustainable solutions.

“As only c.141,000 units of owner-occupied retirement housing have ever been built, many older people are forced to struggle on in unsuitable property or move into care, even though that might not be the best solution for them. Better and more appropriate housing in later life helps maintain independence, keeps older people happier and healthier for longer, and out of care, and at the same time frees-up under-occupied homes for use by younger people.

“Such policies could encourage a valuable addition to overall housing supply: currently only around 5,500 units of retirement housing are delivered each year across all tenures, but research suggests that with the right planning environment this could be increased to 20-30,000 units per year. This is a prize worth seeking.”

Nick Sanderson, chief executive of Audley Retirement, said: “We had hoped that the Government would use [the] White Paper to finally introduce incentives to downsize, but we have been left disappointed once again. The paper has a gaping hole: it acknowledges that people face barriers to downsizing, but fails to make any commitment to action. Further conversation is simply delaying the clear need to act. And act now.

“The Government has missed a valuable opportunity. The paper includes a proposal to bring a statutory duty on local planners to show they are meeting the need to provide suitable housing. Good. But delaying putting in place any actual initiatives lacks drive, and misses the point. The point that our population is getting older. And fast. A commitment to ‘all types of housing’ must include the swift provision of high quality retirement housing, which, alongside financial incentives to downsize in the form of long-overdue reforms to Stamp Duty, will address the lack of movement at the top end of the market. If the view is that the housing model is broken, a continued laser-focus generating supply at the bottom end is not the answer.”

Meanwhile, thinktank the International Longevity Centre UK (ILCUK) has presented research that found there could be a retirement gap of 160,000 houses by 2030 if the Government fails to address the housing needs of so-called last time buyers, despite 90% of 65-79 year olds likely to be under-occupying their home.

According to the research:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 of the 65-79 age group live in under-occupied housing – over 50% live in homes with two or more excess bedrooms
  • There are around 515,000 specialist retirement and extra care homes in England. However, this means that there is only enough specialist housing to accommodate 5% of the over-65 population.
  • According to ILC-UK calculations, there could be a retirement housing gap of 160,000 retirement housing by 2030 if current trends continue. By 2050, the gap could grow to 376,000
  • The ILCUK also found that those in retirement housing are significantly more likely to be living in homes with adaptations than those who do not. Approximately 87% of those in retirement housing have home adaptations, by comparison to around 60% in other types of housing

As well as freeing up a range of properties throughout the housing market, downsizing in later life could help to ensure more people can stay in their homes for longer, reducing pressure on the residential care sector, the organisation said.

Surveys conducted by the ILCUK have also found that there are several reasons why older people do not downsize. One is a supply problem; the lack of suitable housing on the market. Another is financial considerations in terms of moving; stamp duty can be a major barrier.

Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive, ILCUK said: “[U]nless Government acts to encourage local authorities and developers to meet the needs of last time buyers, there could be a retirement housing gap of 160,000 retirement homes by 2030. If current trends continue, the gap could grow to 376,000 homes by 2050.

“Local Authorities must have a duty to assess the needs of their older population when making housing plans, and ensure that these needs are met before plans are put in place. Government should also consider what changes can be made to Stamp Duty to remove the perceived financial barrier of downsizing.”

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