Older people’s housing can be part of answer to UK’s homes shortage

After recently giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Riverside’s Executive Director of Care and Support, John Glenton, offers his views on the future of supported housing for older people…

The UK currently has a shortage of affordable housing. Not only is the supply of new homes not meeting demand, but the level of affordable housebuilding has fallen to a 24-year low, homelessness has doubled, and the number of young homeowners has fallen by a third of a million since 2010.  Our ageing population means that by 2040, nearly one in seven Britons will be over 75, and almost a third of people born today can expect to live to 100.  As people age, moving home can be a very daunting prospect and the provision of suitable homes for older people is key to freeing up much needed under-occupied family housing.   Retirement housing can help to address this housing shortage and the benefits of living in a retirement community are well known: companionship from their communal nature as well as social, leisure, health and wellbeing activities which help to combat loneliness. However there are currently real challenges around building new accommodation for older people.

The Government’s decision to cap housing benefit for supported and sheltered housing customers at the rate of the Local Housing Allowance (the housing benefit rate paid to private renters) has been a widely debated topic in the sector since the proposal in Autumn 2015. Much of the attention from both the lobbying by the sector and the debates in Parliament has focused on the impact on supported housing.  This is understandable as, based on what we know, the impact could be immediate and the financial loss would be far greater.

But what will the impact be on tenants living in retirement living schemes? 73% of the tenancies in Riverside retirement living schemes will be affected by this cap with an average shortfall of £26 per week. This gap would need to be covered either by locally allocated discretionary top-up funding or by the customers themselves, which would be difficult for those customers on a limited income.  Alternatively, the service offer would need to change and be reduced to match the funds available.  This lack of certainty means that, despite the UK having a rapidly ageing population and a clear need for accommodation for people to downsize into, future supply of new buildings will be limited. A lack of security around funding means that many providers cannot commit to build new schemes.

This reliance on top-up funding in lower LHA areas where demand is often higher, results in a postcode lottery because in higher value areas the LHA rates mean that rents will be covered.

As outlined in the NHF report ‘The Value of Sheltered Housing’, in Great Britain around 71% of supported housing properties which house older people are owned and managed by housing associations. With over nine million people (or 16%) in England and Wales over the age of 65 (2011 Census), this shows that supported housing is vital now more than ever. In addition the need for supported housing will become even greater as the proportion of people over 85 is set to rise by 161%.

Our retirement living schemes are communities that support people in a number of ways, not just by providing a roof over their head.  The communities in schemes can help to alleviate some of the issues faced by older people today such as social isolation and loneliness.  Retirement living accommodation can play a critical role in helping older people to return to their own homes after treatment, reducing the impact and associated costs on the NHS and social care resources.  We are confident that every penny spent on retirement living housing represents good value for money.       

I am hopeful that our discussions with Government will result in a sustainable funding solution for sheltered and supported housing, which will enable the sector to develop high quality retirement living housing to support our ageing population to live longer and, crucially, live well.