Vastly improved life expectancy is billed as one of the great triumphs of the last century – but this will raise huge challenges in the 21st Century, not least around housing in England.

Between 2015 and 2020, over a period when the general population is expected to rise by 3 percent, the numbers aged over 65 are expected to increase by 12 percent (1.1 million), the numbers aged over 85 by 18 percent (300,000) and the number of centenarians by 40 percent (7,000) and a recent Commons briefing paper addressed the issues that arise from housing an ageing population.

The number of people aged 65 or over make up nearly 18 percent of the population.
Successive Governments have not provided housing in the required quantities, which current estimates put at 250,000 per year. Build rates have not exceeded 200,000 per year, with an average of just over 141,098 since 2010.

While owner occupancy rates have declined among younger age groups, it has remained fairly consistent for older people – 65-75 year olds owner-occupancy rates are 79 percent (2013-2014), compared to only 9 percent for 16-24 year olds and 36 percent for 25-34 year olds.

Among owner occupiers, under occupation of homes is common – i.e. homes with more bedrooms than occupants which has led to calls for older people to downsize, freeing up stock for families and releasing housing wealth. Older social housing tenants are exempt from the so-called bedroom tax.

Another issue that occurs when housing an ageing population is accessibility – which applies to people’s existing homes or the general housing stock. Housing experts have suggested that general housing stock will take the strain of an ageing population, and so more needs to be done to increase housing accessibility and provide adaptions that will enable independent living. The majority of homes fail to meet Government accessibility definitions and one in four have no accessibility provisions at all.

Since October 2015, the National Planning Policy Framework tasks local planning departments with delivering accessibility standards according to the Lifetime Homes Standard, 16 design criteria aimed at providing suitable accessibility standards for homes. The standards are optional, however.

Government funding for accessibility and adaptions comes from various different sources. The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) provides the Affordable Homes Programme and the Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund (CASSH). Home improvement agencies and local handypersons are also funded, through local authorities, to carry out small home repairs and adaptations.

In the Autumn Statement 2015, the Chancellor announced that 400,000 affordable homes were to be started by 2020/21, with 8,000 of those being specialist homes for older people and people with disabilities.

Disabled Facilities Grants are also available for adaptations that facilitate access into and within the home.

Studies have shown substantial savings to the NHS from specialist housing (some £1,115 per person per year), but only 5 percent of housing for older people is made up of specialist homes.

The report concludes that there are “myriad challenges” when it comes to housing an ageing population and that there is no “silver bullet solution”. However, it recommends more joined-up working when it comes to health, social care and housing departments, alterations to planning requirements for specialist housing, and financial incentives or penalties.