Spotlight on Housing an Ageing Population

The changing demographic of the population is focusing attention on addressing the concerns regarding the ageing population, longevity, public health and social welfare costs and critically, loneliness. These issues are driving policy-makers to find accommodation solutions which will inevitably lead to the need to find sites for ageing members of the population who want to downsize and remain independent, but importantly, close-by their existing social scene.

Profile of an Ageing Population

It is acknowledged that the active older people are unlikely to be interested in moving unless an attractive housing product is available locally. Presently many are under occupying family homes at a high cost, both personally and to society as family homes remain unavailable to families within the local housing market. The added public benefit (apart from helping to reduce health and welfare costs) is therefore the release of family homes back into the local housing market, increasing the range of homes available and enabling movement and better utilisation within the local housing stock.

This demographic group is also typically “asset rich” but increasingly less able to access capital for the purposes of maintaining a good standard of living in retirement. Furthermore many are facing other financial pressures from within their own families for assistance with say deposits for first time buyers, clearance of student debt and pension funding.

Recent Studies and Reports

The housing needs of this increasingly large section of the community have been the subject of several All Parliamentary Group reports. Most notably this includes Housing and Care for Older People-HAPPI 4 Rural Housing for an Ageing Population: Preserving Independence (April 2018) and Housing our ageing population: Positive Ideas: HAPPI 3 Making Retirement Living a Positive Choice (June 2016) .This form of housing has, as yet not entered mainstream thinking within the planning and land-use system, with the Government’s advice on forecasting local housing need set out in paragraph 61 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). This focusses on the ‘standard method’ to identify the minimum number of homes to be planned for over the plan period. It is a basic way of estimating the levels of new housing required. It does not break the need down into specific age groups and for this reason it is relatively unsophisticated.

This is recognised in the Planning Practice Guidance which calls on local authorities to consider the needs of particular groups separately. It deals with housing for older people and refers to that fact that many may not want or need specialist accommodation or care.

It is important to recognise that there is a range of accommodation necessary to meet the housing needs of older people. The NPPF Annex 2: Glossary definition of older persons, makes clear that this includes those approaching retirement (active independent living) through to the frail elderly (in extra care facilities). There is also a notable distinction between those prepared to accept apartment living from those unprepared to choose a higher density “urban” form of housing which is likely to require a move away from established social networks from a rural or semi-rural setting and life-style.

Emerging Provision

The UK population is ageing and as the “baby boomers” move into their retirement years. The over 65’s will grow at three times the rate of the overall UK population. As an example, and focusing on Swindon, the Census information reveals that the highest growth in Swindon was in people aged 85 to 89, 90+ and 45 to 49 years old. Older people range from those approaching retirement, recently retired to the very elderly, and from those who are active to the very frail. Underoccupancy of housing is relatively high in the rural areas of Swindon (45.95% of properties had an occupancy rate of +2 or more).

The provision of active older people’s housing has conventionally only been accommodated within larger proposals, if at all. The inclusion of active older person’s accommodation within a proposal is often at the discretion of developers and therefore rarely, if ever, contemplated as a specialist housing type open market and affordable housing. Such an approach has not been adopted by most plan making local authorities and it applies even less in the allocation of land.

There is however, clear support coming forward for this type of development within research papers and guidance moving forward. The concept is however, at a relatively early stage and few local authorities have taken up the challenge through the inclusion of specific policies within local plans for this type of development.