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Legal landscape: All for young and none for old

Housing for elderly

The Housing and Planning Bill’s focus on starter homes leaves little room for new housing for the elderly – to our collective detriment, says Bernadette Hillman.

Has housing for older and vulnerable people hit crisis point?

Following promising announcements from the government in 2015 to tackle housing demand for older and vulnerable people, the housing crisis for this demographic was set to be tackled. However, just one year on, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 has been firmly geared towards a ‘starter-home generation’, rather than those with care needs or simply moving later in life.

This change in focus has meant that not enough new homes are being built to meet the growing need of the UK’s ageing population.

Housing associations are at the forefront of this debate – seeking to address the issue by building extra care and independent living units to enable people to live in their own homes despite age or capacity-related issues.

But finding suitable sites and ‘persuading’ local authorities to agree practical planning conditions is a challenge. Unfortunately, the current uncertainty around the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) has meant that a large number of housing associations have placed on hold their development programme for this sort of provision, as no answer is likely to present itself until 2017. This is further damaging the prospects of development for those requiring care in the foreseeable future.

“Uncertainty around the Local Housing Allowance has meant that a large number of housing associations have placed their development programme on hold”

In addition to the uncertainties facing housing associations, the trend towards extra care facilities has been a mixed picture since 2010. There has been a marked reduction in the provision of new extra care schemes in the publicly funded and HCA (Homes and Communities Agency) stimulated sectors, along with a decline in spending on Supporting People Programmes (housing-related support) services. Such initiatives are largely designed to provide support for people to keep them in their own homes for as long as possible.

The decline in spending on such initiatives has affected housing associations that were providing a large number of these schemes before 2010. But the success of commercially oriented schemes of the type provided by Richmond Villages (part of BUPA), Extra Care Charitable Trust and McCarthy & Stone’s Assisted Living product, demonstrates that the demand exists for such provision.

As demand is currently outstripping supply, all of these organisations have and are continuing to increase their rate of development. But these schemes require either a ‘for sale’ or, at least, a mixed-tenure model to make them viable for development.

With the UK’s ageing demographic and the increased incidence of complex co-morbidities and dementia, it would appear that for those who can afford to live in a commercially oriented scheme (assuming there is even one nearby), a Housing with Care environment could be of significant benefit.

But for those with limited personal wealth the options become much more limited. Some people may be lucky and, despite not having equity from a house to buy into a scheme, are still able to secure a place in a mixed-tenure development.

Unfortunately, the numbers of those being built are pitifully small at present. The onus on personal wealth is unacceptable and unrealistic for a large proportion of the population and is causing those who can afford it to vote with their feet and money, and those who can’t afford to buy to have very limited choices.

The UK housing market must rapidly adapt to meet the needs of an ageing population or face crisis over the next 20 years. 

Bernadette Hillman is a partner and head of planning at Shakespeare Martineau in London

Image | Shuttershock


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