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Housing for Older People

Volume 820: debated on Tuesday 15 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards establishing a cross-departmental taskforce on housing for older people.

My Lords, as announced in the recent levelling-up White Paper, we will shortly launch a new government task force on the issue of older people’s housing. It will look at ways to provide better choice, quality and security of housing for older people. This work will be taken forward in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care and sector experts. Further details will be announced in due course.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that the integrated retirement community model needs to be expanded and to receive additional funding from Homes England if we are to ensure that older people are given the opportunity to live in appropriate housing that fits their needs?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for the work that she has done in this area in championing this cause. The Government are committed to further improving the diversity of housing options available to older people. We believe that offering older and more vulnerable people a better choice of accommodation to suit their changing needs can help them to live independently and feel more connected to their communities. Boosting the supply of a range of specialist housing for older people, including housing with care, will be key to achieving this aim.

My Lords, it has been estimated that some 3 million pensioners would like to downsize but cannot do so because of the lack of suitable housing, with only some 7,000 homes for the elderly being built each year. Local authorities use Section 106 to require developers to build homes for first-time buyers. Could not that section also be used to build homes for last-time buyers, thereby freeing up their homes for families?

My noble friend makes a very good point. The need to provide housing for older people is critical. People are living longer lives, and the proportion of older people in the population is increasing. In mid-2016, there were 1.6 million people aged 85 and over; by mid-2041, this figure is projected to double to 3.2 million. Offering older people a better choice of accommodation to suit their needs can help them to live independently for longer. Therefore, an understanding of how the ageing population affects housing needs is something we need to consider from the early stages of plan making through to decision-taking. On using Section 106 agreements to require developers to build appropriate housing for last-time buyers, I am sure this is something the task force may well consider.

My Lords, nearly one in three social housing tenants is over 65, and housing associations provide three-quarters of supported housing. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that housing associations have a voice in the new task force for older people’s housing?

The new task force will encompass a range of views from across the industry, from investment to housebuilders to local authorities, and will be led by Stuart Andrew, Minister at DLUHC, assisted by Gillian Keegan, Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care. All these issues will be looked at. I understand that the first meeting is likely to take place just after the Recess.

My Lords, the Government will be aware that, in urban areas, there are still large numbers of older people living in high-rise buildings. Will it be a programme of government to change that?

As I said, the Government will be looking at all ways of making sure that we have an appropriate housing stock for older people, ranging from supporting people in their own homes to giving them the opportunity of going to live in supported villages with on-site care. I agree that it may not be ideal to be in a high-rise block, but it has to be a matter of choice for the individual.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness join me in paying tribute to the almshouse movement and the fantastic work it does on accommodation for older people? I refer the House to my interests in the register. Will she agree to come along to visit the United St Saviour’s almshouses that have been built on Southwark Park Road, of which I am very proud to be a trustee? These are fantastic, 21st-century homes for older people, freeing up council homes that can be let to families.

I thank the noble Lord for raising that issue. I would be delighted to visit. I am sure the almshouse movement should also be feeding its ideas into the task force. It is a special movement that has survived over many years, and I am sure its voice would be valued.

My Lords, a home that seems perfectly fine for someone aged 70 quickly becomes difficult as they approach 80. Many are at a loss, and advice and choice are not always easy to find, especially for those who do not have access to the internet. When does the Minister expect the task force to be up and running?

As I said, the complete membership of the task force, which is to be led by Stuart Andrew, is still being put together. All I have managed to push the department to say is that it will be meeting for the first time shortly after the Recess.

My Lords, the task force, which was first announced on 25 May last year, is indeed very welcome. Will the Minister confirm that it will consider all the options here, including shared ownership housing for older people, which is the subject of an inquiry I am currently chairing by the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People? Could shared ownership be the answer for those in the squeezed middle who cannot afford to buy somewhere more suitable but for whom there is no social rented housing available?

I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Best, in this space. As I said, the task force will be looking at all these issues. The noble Lord will be aware that, in April last year, the Government launched a new model of shared ownership, specifically targeted at older people—it is in fact called older people’s shared ownership. The parameters it set reduced the minimum share required for ownership from 25% to 10% of a home’s market value, so lowering the cost of the deposit required. It introduced new staircasing arrangements to make it easier for a homeowner to purchase more of their home, and implemented a new tenure initial repair period, during which the housing provider is required to support homeowners in new-build homes with the cost of maintenance and repairs. We also extended the minimum lease term from 99 years to 990 years, which will prevent homeowners having to pay to extend their lease.

My Lords, a couple of years ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and I were on the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Select Committee and we took evidence from the late Sir John Hills, who said that there was enough housing stock in the country if it were used better. We also took evidence from organisations such as Homeshare, which promotes the opportunity for older people to stay in their own home for longer, which is what they want, with a young person living with them at very minimal cost to them both. Will the Government do more to promote innovative schemes such as those which enable older people to stay in their own home for longer?

I thank my noble friend for raising that question. In fact, there was an article in the Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago about a friendship that had formed between a young student who had gone to live with an older person. In return for free housing, he was providing gardening and shopping services, and two years into the pandemic they are now the greatest of friends. Models such as Homeshare clearly have a lot to offer. Generally, the department thinks it is great to see innovative models of housing which are contributing to our aim of enabling older people to live healthier, independent lives for longer and preserve their independence and connections to the community. My noble friend is quite right: we estimate that there are currently something approaching 3.7 million of underoccupied houses, but many people wish to stay in their house and are looking for a scheme such as Homeshare to be able to do so.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young, spoke of the objective of freeing homes for families. Would the Government consider increasing the incentives for older people to vacate their homes, which are too large for them, to make way for younger families?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. There are a number of barriers to older people wanting to sell their current home. The task force will look at ways to incentivise that. That might be through the tax system or through incentivising more suitable housing to be built locally by housebuilders. For example, in New Zealand, I believe that five of the top 10 housebuilders are geared towards providing home villages for the elderly.

My Lords, will the task force be able to consider potentially adopting building standards that would facilitate accommodation for elderly people to ensure that management of their chronic conditions could be most effectively delivered at home rather than requiring admission to hospital?

The noble Lord speaks with great authority. That is one of the reasons why the Department of Health and Social Care is also feeding into this task force. There will continue to be certain planning issues, but the planning system has to provide for a wide range of housing needs. However, we have consulted on both options to raise the accessibility of suitable homes for older and, indeed, disabled people, and we will set out the next steps and the government response in due course. We have already published guidance to help councils implement the National Planning Policy Framework. More detail will of course be announced in due course, and I am aware that a planning White Paper is due to come out shortly.