New homes in the UK need to be age proofed to make sure they are accessible and adaptable to the current and future needs of older people as part of a national strategy for housing, according to a new report.
Older people also need help to look after their homes so that they are not faced with sudden hefty bills or ripped off by cowboy builders, and suitable advice on mortgages and equity release, according to the report from the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee.
It suggests the creation of a properly funded telephone advice service bringing together information on everything from repairs and heating to moving and care options and a handyman service for older people.
A major step towards having the right kind of housing would be to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to encourage the development of more housing for older people and that councils identify a target proportion of new housing to be developed for this purpose, as well as publishing a strategy which explains how they intend to meet the housing needs of older people in their area, the report says.
It also recommends that there should be a national and local planning policies to encourage the building of more of all types of housing for older people such as extra care, retirement, sheltered and accessible housing across the social and private sectors, with older people involved in the design process.
A range of measures to help older people overcome the barriers to moving home is suggested, including an accreditation for companies which provide tailored services for older people moving home and better customer service and guidance from lenders when applying for a mortgage.
‘A new national strategy for older people, taking on board the recommendations of our report, should be linked to the Government’s forthcoming social care green paper. There is a huge variety of housing options for those in later life, so it’s important that older people are given help to make the right decisions about their future,’ said committee chairman Clive Betts MP.
The report says that the majority of older people stay in mainstream housing and many want to stay in what they regard as their family home and don’t want to move to a smaller property as they want room for relatives to stay. But heating and repairs can become a burden.
It recommends that all new homes should have wider doors, capable of taking a wheelchair, walls strong enough for grab rails and easy access from outside as well as downstairs bathrooms.
It also found that bungalows are popular with older people but are in short supply and new build housing often do not have any single storey homes. Indeed, developers are not keen on building bungalows as they prefer to maximise the footprint of their sites.
However, some councils are building new bungalows and other adapted housing. For example in Birmingham the City Council has built dormer bungalows which have ground floor bedroom and shower room, a lounge and kitchen and also a second bedroom and bathroom upstairs for visitors.
When it comes to offering incentives for older home owners to downsize, the committee said more research needs to be done on this. ‘We heard frequent claims that older people moving home in later life could be part of the solution to tackling the housing shortage but little real evidence to support this. We believe that this issue warrants further investigation as there may be wider social advantages in older people moving to a smaller home that better suits their needs,’ the report says.
‘The Government should commission independent research to investigate the impact of rightsizing on the housing market. This research should aim to provide a better understanding of how many older people move, where they move to, who moves into the homes they vacate and to what extent this helps to satisfy local demand for homes,’ it adds.
The report also points out that adaptation can help older people stay on in their homes but many in the private rented sector find it hard to get landlords to pay for them. It suggests that consideration should be given to extra Government funding for local authorities to pay landlords for the cost of adaptations and their removal once a tenancy ends.
The recommendations have been welcomed by the Equity Release Council. Chairman David Burrowes said it is important that older people should be aware of all their financial options, including equity release.
‘The launch of a single financial guidance body provides a vital opportunity to ensure older people are able to access specialist advice, tailored to their circumstances, and a unique window to ensure they are made aware of all options available open to them,’ he said.
‘We are also delighted with the recognition within the Committee report of the standards and protections that exist in today’s equity release market, giving people confidence that they can release some of their housing wealth to fund property repairs or adaptations, among many other potential uses,’ he added.