The need and the opportunity for older people’s housing in London
London’s older population is expected to rise by 29 per cent over the next decade. In many ways this is a cause for celebration: older Londoners contribute hugely to the economic, social and family life of our city. Yet too many of them are unable to access the housing they need – and the gap between what they need and what is available will likely continue to grow.
In some cases, people struggle on in their homes with increasing difficulty as their abilities change. They may not be able to get the adaptations they need, or perhaps the home is impossible to adapt. Some are forced to accept a move to a home that does not provide what they want: perhaps there is not enough privacy, they don’t have to access to green space, or they don’t feel safe walking to the shops. And some move out of London – even though they would have liked to stay.
The housing market is complex, but in general there are four main options for older people:
- Remaining in their current home (perhaps with adaptations).
- Sharing a home with younger members of the family (or, less commonly, sharing a home in a co-housing community).
- Specialist older people’s housing.
- Care homes.
There is no single “correct” type of housing for older people: the right choice will depend on the person. Further information on these options is available in the data report accompanying this policy paper, London: A place for older people to call home.
In London, there is a particular gap in the availability of specialist housing. The city is developing less than half of the older people’s specialist housing it needs, and the problem is most acute in inner London. This includes housing for sale and rent, at market level and at prices designated as affordable. Specialist housing – which includes retirement communities – is important because it provides older people with a middle option between remaining in their current home and moving into a care home. It can make it easier for people to live in their own home for longer, maintain an active social and community life, and access increasing levels of care as needs change. For older Londoners who prefer to stay in their current home, it is also important to make the adaptation of living spaces to their changing needs easier.
Of course, building new homes will not be enough to address this problem if older people don’t know they are available. It’s vital that “rising” older people – those in their fifties, sixties and seventies – have access to trusted information on the types of housing and care available to them as they age, so they can plan for the future.
Providing the right homes in the right places for older people benefits us all. It means that children can see their grandparents more easily, and that those grandparents can help with childcare if they so choose. It means that local high streets have more customers during the day, and that communities have more potential volunteers. In some cases it also means that larger homes may be freed up for families, and that people have less need of health and social care services. Nonetheless, the main focus of this report is older people’s own needs and choices, rather than these indirect benefits to wider society.
Why the need for specialist housing is not being met
Our report finds that the need for specialist housing development in London is not being met because:
- Local authorities, developers and policymakers don’t always recognise the benefits that older people bring to their communities – or indeed the ongoing care costs if their needs are not met. The result is that they don’t prioritise their needs. Local authorities in particular face significant and competing pressures for their time and money, and the housing needs of other groups often seem more urgent.
- There is a huge disconnect between the targets for specialist housing in the London Plan and the number of completions, partly because many boroughs do not have detailed plans for creating the older people’s housing they need.
- The price of land and development in London means that it can be hard to make older people’s housing financially viable – and that it is often more profitable to build for working-age people or students.
- Many people in their fifties, sixties or seventies have limited information about the housing options available to them as they age, or are worried that they will be badly served by the options that are available. This includes both moving to a new property and making changes to an existing one. There may be a particular lack of awareness around the difference between specialist retirement housing and care homes.
We believe that London needs two cultural shifts: one which places a higher value on older people as citizens of our city, and one which normalises talking about and planning for our changing needs as we age. These shifts go well beyond housing provision, but they underpin all our recommendations.
Our recommendations largely concern specialist housing and adaptations to existing housing rather than care homes. This is because care home capacity currently appears to be meeting demand. This demand may decrease if other types of housing and care provision for older people get better at meeting their needs. Alternatively, if there is not enough suitable housing, or people are not able to access the care they need in their homes, demand will increase. We recommend that the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the boroughs continue to review capacity and demand for social care.
In this report, we take “specialist housing” to mean housing developed specifically for older people, which they own or rent, and which is not a care home. Various types of specialist housing exist, more information on which can be found in London: A place for older people to call home.
We have chosen not to make detailed recommendations for the planning system in this report. At the time of writing, debates about the 2020 Planning White Paper are ongoing, though many of the recommendations below would be applicable in either the current or any new system.
London boroughs should:
- Include specific targets that meet or exceed their London Plan benchmark figures for older people’s specialist housing in their local plan. These should specify how many units per annum will be built, and where they will be built.
- Proactively shape the range of older people’s housing available, including through their own directly delivered housing supply.
- Work with housing associations, as well as local community and voluntary groups, to reach “rising” older people (those in their fifties, sixties or seventies) with information about future housing choices – including both home moves and adaptations.
The GLA should:
- Create an older people’s specialist housing target for large sites, operating in a similar way to the affordable housing targets. Based on borough targets for specialist and general needs housing, we believe this should start at five per cent, rising to 10 per cent if completions are still below target after five years. As is currently the case, older people’s specialist housing should be subject to affordability requirements.
- Consider whether the GLA can play a role as a trusted provider of information on housing options for older Londoners, or support a third party to play this role. This includes exploring the possibility of establishing a specialist service to provide information about suitable properties available for sale or rent, adaptation services and other support.
- Continue to promote accessible design principles – such as the Lifetime Homes Standards and beyond – which ensure that housing can be adapted to people’s needs as they age.
Central government should:
- Create statutory definitions and consistent minimum standards for the different types of older people’s specialist housing. This will give older people a more secure basis for making decisions about moving into specialist housing to meet their needs. Proposals from Associated Retirement Community Operators offer a good starting point. 1
- Provide dedicated funding to local authorities for older people’s housing advice and support services. We believe this will create savings in the medium term, as living in more suitable housing reduces the need for health and social care.
- Develop a second-generation New Homes Bonus that specifically rewards councils for delivering older people’s housing, either through enabling measures or direct delivery.
About this report
This report is based on data analysis, a literature and policy review, discussions with people who are involved in older people’s housing – including developers, architects, local authorities, and third sector organisations – and most importantly on interviews with older Londoners themselves.
We have chosen not to address older people’s care funding and over-under occupancy in detail in this report, although some of our findings are relevant to these discussions.