Retirement properties needed to free up 3 million family homes

houseline201Building more retirement properties would free up more than 3 million homes, offering a lifeline to families desperate to move up the housing ladder, finds a new Demos report.

Analysis by the think-tank reveals 58% of over-60s are interested in moving but feel restricted by a lack of suitable alternative housing or a fear of an unfamiliar environment.

Those interested in downsizing are currently sitting on £400bn of housing wealth. Helping them move would free up 3.29 million properties, including 2 million three-bedroom homes.

Demos polling also shows that three-quarters (76%) of those over-60s wanting to move and occupying three, four and five bedroom houses wish to downsize.

The research also tops previous estimates of pensioner’s housing wealth, finding over-60s own £1.28 trillion in housing equity in England alone.

The Top of the Ladder report says helping older people move would also reinvigorate the bottom of the housing ladder, where soaring rents and sale prices are preventing first and second-time buyers from moving into bigger homes.

Such efforts would lead to a raft of other potential health and economic benefits for older people. Improvements in wellbeing and social networks would save health and care services considerable resources, while the equity released could ease pensioner poverty and boost spending in the economy.

The report goes on to argue that the Government’s recent focus on housing for older people is a welcome step in the right direction, but the focus on bungalows as a solution to the housing crisis, put forward by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, is unsustainable and does not go far enough to ‘grasp the nettle’.

Demos finds older people want to be centrally located near shops and transport. However, bungalows can’t be built in town centres in the quantity needed to prevent the looming crisis of an ageing population.

Instead what is urgently required is more retirement housing, particularly to cater for the specific needs of Britain’s fastest-increasing demographic bubble of over-85s, who often need on-hand care and are inadequately catered for by bungalows.

Often misunderstood, retirement housing is defined as accommodation where older people have their own dwellings and front door, but share communal areas such as lounges and restaurants, with facilities and staff on hand to provide round-the-clock support.

A quarter (25%) of over-60s expressed particular interest in buying a retirement property – a total of 3.5 million people – which dwarfs the 100,000 retirement properties available to purchase. Such homes currently only make up 2% of Britain’s housing stock, preventing many from being able to fulfil their wishes.

The report also found a significant lack of information about the potential benefits of retirement housing, which stopped many from considering a move. Polling reveals the relatively unknown benefits, which include:

More than eight in ten residents reported feeling happier in their new home.

Almost 45% of residents reported having better contact with family and friends; with a further 48% reporting no decrease in contact.

Half of residents said that their energy bills were lower.

Residents reported spending less time in hospital and nearly a third felt that their health had improved since moving.

43% of over-60s who wanted to move thought that it would be ‘too difficult’, with 50% citing the stress of gathering and packing their belongings as the reason for their reluctance.

Housing in later life
The striking findings lead the Home Builders Federation (HBF) to launch the Campaign for Housing in Later Life, with a range of public and private sector partners, urging Government to remove obstacles and improve housing choices for older people.

The campaign calls for a commitment from local councils to respond to demographic change and recognise the housing needs of older people when deciding local housing policy, to ensure they can enjoy reduced loneliness, improved security and companionship, and a better living environment.

The Demos report also challenges the Government to take a ‘whole chain’ approach to housing policy rather than simply considering first-time buyers by bringing retirement housing in line with other affordable housing schemes. In practice this could see a reduction, or exemption, of stamp duty and council tax for downsizers or buyers of specialist retirement properties

One idea put forward by the campaign is to amend the Help-to-Buy scheme to allow older people with affordability issues to qualify. HBF also calls on assurances that planning charges – such as Section 60 of the housing act, and the Community Infrastructure Levy – are reviewed so that they do not unfairly penalise retirement properties.

The report also recommends the creation of a Cabinet Office task force to bring together departments such Health and DCLG and build greater understanding of the link between better housing and improved health.

Esther Rantzen CBE, who is leading the campaign, said: “Social isolation is normally a punishment for a crime – it should not be the price for growing old.

“Millions of older people are looking to downsize into more appropriate housing that is better located, offers improved safety and is more suited to their needs. Yet when they come to move, they find their options are severely limited because there is such an under-supply of specialist retirement housing.

“This new data is shocking and it’s time for the Government to convert their encouraging words into real change.”

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