The Blog

Government Housing Plans - Where Does Sheltered Housing Stand?


If you heard the hype, you could be forgiven for thinking the government's much-anticipated housing policy heralds a new era for downsizing.

Much of the speculation was that the Housing White Paper would contain incentives to help older people move into properties better suited to their needs. At Anchor, we think "rightsizing" may be a more appropriate term for the almost a third of households over 55 who are looking to move to a smaller place.

When the paper appeared on 7 February it recognised that: "Helping older people to move at the right time and in the right way could... help their quality of life at the same time as freeing up more homes for other buyers."

However, what the White Paper said was actually going to happen was a "conversation" that "will generate a range of ideas for incentives and other innovations for the Government to consider".

There's already been a pretty lengthy conversation. What we need now is action. Research for Anchor estimates a saving of £14.5bn to the public purse over 50 years if just one extra couple among every 50 older homeowners moved into specialist retirement housing, enabling first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder.

Some of that saving comes from reduced need for the NHS - as people in more appropriate housing are less likely to have a fall, for example. With headlines about the pressures on the NHS becoming more alarming by the day, there's never been a greater need to realise those savings.

Of course, moving is not right for everyone. But making it easier for those who want to frees up the whole housing market, boosting market supply at a local level so it benefits all generations, not just older people.

We know that one of the reasons why older people are prevented from moving is a lack of supply of retirement housing.

The White Paper recognises the value of specialist housing for older people, noting that "Offering older people a better choice of accommodation can help them to live independently for longer and help reduce costs to the social care and health systems."

It's good news that government wants to strengthen national policy so that local councils are expected to have clear policies for addressing the housing requirements of older people. But we have real concerns that proposals initiated in another part of government for a new funding regime threaten both existing and future sheltered housing for those most in need.

Under the proposals for the future funding of supported housing, the amount of housing benefit that people in sheltered housing can receive will be capped. Local councils would become responsible for allocating a pot of money to "top up" the difference between the cap and the amount that housing associations charge (which is also controlled by government).

But that creates a bureaucratic postcode lottery that creates huge uncertainty for older people. At a time when government has recognised that the housing market is "broken", the proposals risk devastating one part of the system that actually works well.

With an ageing society and growing pressure on the NHS, sheltered housing has never been in greater need.

The Housing White Paper talked about the merits of older people downsizing. Yet these proposals could have the opposite effect - reducing the number of properties available to do just that.

We are glad the government are listening to concerns. It's crucial that now translates into action.

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