As we welcome a new Housing Minister, James Brokenshire, discussion surrounding housing need is all too frequently focused on the plight of the first-time buyer. That serves to ignore a very important and growing section of the housing market – later life buyers.
It is estimated that by 2020 there will be some 20 million people aged over 60. Today, there are now more over 60s in the UK than there are under 18s. Government housing policy does not reflect that.
Brokenshire will ignore this demographic at his peril. Older people play an important part in the housing market: the grey pound carries much weight and influence, and taken in tandem with the cost of care and support is an important fiscal barometer.
And whilst local authorities and housing providers are responding, much greater choice of housing and tenure is needed.
An individual’s last home should be the pinnacle of the housing journey and not one of compromise. Later life housing should focus less on care and more perhaps on hospitality and lifestyle.
A first step would be to recognise that later life housing cannot be categorised as one demographic. The housing needs of a fit and able-bodied 65-year old will be greatly different from a frailer 85-year old, much in the same way a home for a 25-year old will be very different from one aimed at a 45-year old. One size does not fit all.
When considering a home in later life, people look for very much the same things as when buying a first or family home – space, location, access to friends and family, amount of outdoor space, and transparency in relation to service charges and costs. One thing they certainly do not want is the feeling or appearance of an old peoples’ or care home!
It is interesting to note that whilst the industry caters well for those that are very wealthy and can choose their own care, and for those at the very bottom of the financial spectrum – who together account for some 20% of the market – it is the middle (and larger) 80% who are not particularly well catered for.
And therein lies the first of many challenges for providers and developers. The buying decision, and indeed whether to buy or to rent, is far from straight forward. All too often, the decision is made by well-meaning family members but little input from the person actually making the move. And the decision to make the move is often triggered by a crisis – an event that leaves their current, and often long-term, home unsuitable.
As such, there is a real need for greater amounts of information from all parties that addresses the fears and concerns surrounding later life housing. This will need to come from local authorities, providers, finance housing and developers. This needs to be matched with greater flexibility of tenures and product. A home that can be reconfigured to accommodate changing requirements would, for example, help keep residents in their later life homes for much longer.
The second challenge is finance. The fear of selling the “family silver” or spending the anticipated inheritance of the younger generation, coupled with the loss of control over costs and charges when moving into a leasehold scheme or one where care and support costs are levied at the apparent whim of the provider, can see people remaining in unsuitable properties.
And then there is the cost of the care package itself. The much heralded “cap on care costs” is being slowly eaten away, and with local authorities under ever straightened financial restrains their ability to assist is under pressure from many angles.
The final challenge facing developers is planning (isn’t it always!). In London, for example, there are some 450 separate local plans, and just under 20% of them make reference to older people. The picture is not much better elsewhere. That makes it extremely difficult for developers who want to bring forward these schemes.
The solution is simple: create a dedicated use class for later life housing and create the requirement for local plans to address the same. That would play a major role in bringing forward new and varied schemes.
If we as a community focus on the provision of later life housing on the individual and not the scheme, then we can start making headway on in delivering the homes individuals want and in locations where they are needed.