An influential group of MPs raised the alarm about the lack of suitable housing for older people last week and issued a number of policy recommendations to boost the retirement living sector.
In a report entitled Housing for Older People, members of the communities and local government committee called for a national strategy to enable more specialist housing to be built, a telephone advice service to help retired people move home and better design of new developments.
They added that the planning system wasn’t helping and called for amendments to planning legislation, including the creation of a dedicated use class for retirement housing, to encourage more development.
Committee chairman Clive Betts (Labour) said: “The right kind of housing can help people stay healthy and support them to live independently. This can help reduce the need for home or residential care, bringing real benefits to the individual and also relieving pressure on the health service.”
Leading figures in the retirement living sector have welcomed the report’s findings. However, they believe that more could still be done to improve housing for older people.
Clive Fenton, chief executive of the UK’s biggest retirement housebuilder McCarthy & Stone, is hopeful that the report will lead to policy changes.
“The timing of the MPs’ call for more retirement housing is impeccable,” says Fenton. “It comes as government prepares to revise the National Planning Policy Framework, providing it with the ideal opportunity to incorporate reforms that will boost retirement housebuilding.”
In particular, Fenton applauds the call for a separate planning class for retirement housing.
“We get treated the same way when it comes to how much you have to pay, but it costs us a lot more to provide specialist housing,” he says.
However, Jane Ashcroft, chief executive of Anchor Housing, a housing association specialising in retirement homes, argues that the government should go further and give the industry financial support. “Increased funding for specialist older people’s housing would enable providers to develop more. What providers need more than anything, though, is certainty,” she says.
The MPs report stated that one of the biggest challenges was persuading older people to move. Ashcroft believes that the government should actively encourage downsizers.
“Government efforts to tackle the housing crisis should focus more on enabling older people to downsize, as this frees up family homes and gets the entire housing ladder moving and enables older people to live independently for longer,” she says.
Fenton agrees. “We should be encouraging more people to downsize at an earlier stage. There’s a big benefit for social care bills. For every older person downsizing, you free up three transactions underneath them.”
So what could be done? Fenton and Ashcroft both say that changing the tax system could help. “We believe a stamp-duty exemption for older people downsizing could make a significant difference,” says Ashcroft.
However, Fenton says the negative reaction to proposals in the Tory manifesto to force the elderly to pay for more of their care from the value of their homes has discouraged the government.
“It’s interesting to see what’s happened to first-time buyers as a result of Help to Buy. We can’t do that. The difficulty we’ve got as an industry is that after the last general election, when the Conservatives got an absolute hammering about older people selling their homes, any thoughts that they’ve had on housing have switched back to young people,” he says.
One of the demands of Property Week’s Call Off Duty campaign was to exempt downsizers from stamp duty land tax or give them a tax break to encourage them to move. With concern mounting in Westminster about the quantity and quality of retirement homes available in the UK, experts agree there is still a strong case for tax reform but the political sensitivities would have to be managed carefully. It’s up to the industry to keep up the pressure. 9