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Not enough housing for older people in capital, warns think tank

Words: Laura Edgar
Older people's housing choices in London / iStock-805085398

There should be a ‘stronger and more coordinated approach’ to building homes that suit older people living in London, according to a think tank.

Centre for London says there are too many older people unable to access housing that would enable them to live independently for longer. In addition, given that 52 per cent of Londoners over the age of 65 have a disability, compared with 9 per cent aged under 65, it is “vital” that homes are fit for people to age well and live independently.

Claire Harding, research director at Centre for London, said: “Older people make a vital contribution to our city and their wants and needs are diverse.

“All Londoners deserve to have a genuine choice about where and how to live as they age but we can’t offer choice if there aren’t enough homes for older people to start with.

“It's vital that policymakers take this need seriously, and focus both on providing enough homes and making sure people understand the options available to them as they age.”

Third Age City: Housing for older Londoners highlights that the main housing options available for older people are to stay in their current home, live with family or friends, live in a home specifically designed for older people – or in a care home.

Overall, the capital is delivering less than half the number of specialist homes it needs, according to the report, because the cost of land makes other forms of housing more attractive to developers. Looking at inner London boroughs, the report finds that they are delivering only 25 per cent of homes required every year to reach London’s overall target, while outer London boroughs, although better, are not seeing delivery evenly distributed between them.

The report adds that in some local authorities the number of new homes is actually negative because existing older people’s housing has been converted to other uses. It argues that the gap between what older people need and what is available will continue to grow.

Building new homes alone, however, is not enough to meet the shortfall or the needs of older people. New homes will need to be designed to be adapted – and existing homes should be made easier to adapt. Furthermore, accurate and relevant information needs to be more accessible.

To address these problems, Centre for London has made a number of recommendations to national, city and local government:

  • Setting targets and building specialist homes: Every London borough should set targets for how many specialist homes should be built each year and where. These targets should meet or exceed those benchmarked in City Hall’s London Plan. Local authorities should also do more to shape the range of options for older people in their area and the government should reward those who build more housing for older people.
  • Communicating the options: The government should provide dedicated funding to local authorities to provide older people’s housing advice and support services. Local authorities should work with housing associations and community groups to reach people in their 50s and 60s about future housing choices.
  • Making homes adaptable as people age: Local authorities and developers should ensure that new-build homes are designed to be more adaptable and flexible, for example, by including step-free entrances and installing sockets at appropriate heights.

Joanne Drew, housing and regeneration director at Enfield Council, said: “As we tackle the housing crisis, local authorities have a key role to play in helping residents make best use of existing homes and being innovative with the types of housing that come forward through development. This Centre for London report puts an important focus on the needs of older Londoners.

“Through Enfield’s intergenerational design competition we explored how design can create multigenerational housing that works for everyone. The market is not currently providing these sorts of schemes, so we concur with the report that local authorities should be rewarded for proposing solutions that work for older people.”

Abi Wood, chief executive at Age UK London, said: “Whatever your age, housing has a huge impact on both physical and mental health. However, for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and older, living conditions can be an even more significant determinant of quality of life.

“Authoritative research on housing for the capital’s rapidly increasing older population has never been more needed. We’re delighted to support this excellent report, which provides a timely and robust analysis of the key housing issues facing older Londoners.”

Centre for London’s report comes after an ARCO survey of UK retirement community operators in December 2020 indicated that there has been a “very significant” increase in the number of older people enquiring about and moving to retirement communities. This includes retirement villages and extra care housing.

Third Age City: Housing for Older Londoners can be found on the Centre for London website. 


Responding to the report, Michael Voges, executive director of Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO), said it identifies "both the opportunities and challenges brought by the capital’s ageing population – and the urgent need to provide housing which meets older people’s needs and aspirations".

“As the report recognises, retirement communities have a key role to play in keeping older people independent for longer, improving health and wellbeing, and providing great options that lie in between receiving care at home and moving into a care home.

“We welcome the report’s calls for specific targets to be set for specialist housing by London boroughs, and for the creation of clear definitions and standards for different types of housing for older people at the national level.

“This will only be achieved once we bring different government departments together and join-up policy on housing, health and social care – which is why we are proposing the creation of a Housing-with-Care Task Force to rapidly expand provision and bring benefits to hundreds of thousands more older people.”

Read more:

News report: Is it time for a new use classification?

Retirement communities: Is it time for a new use classification?

Image credit | iStock