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Older woman using a stairlift

Strategies for older people’s housing must focus on general needs

When thinking about the issues that are important in housing for older people, we should also think about improving the suitability of housing to meet people's needs as we age.

But the vast majority of older people – probably more than 90 per cent – live in general needs housing. And this is where most people want to stay as they age, for as long as possible.

Good housing helps us stay safe, healthy, active and independent. It’s at the centre of how we respond to a society where more people are living longer.
How to improve housing as we age

So when we think about the issues that are important in housing for older people, we need to think about how we can improve the suitability of housing to meet our needs as we age.

Four issues seem to me to be particularly important.

1. Plateau in improving non decent homes

First, we need to address the worrying plateau in a previously decade-long trend of improvement in the number of non-decent homes, particularly in the owner-occupied sector (1). This has particular relevance for older people because non-decent homes are disproportionately lived in by older people. The fact that one in five homes in England is deemed not decent, and that earlier progress to tackle this seems to be stalling, should be recognised for the scandal it is.

2. Quicker home repairs and improvements

Second, we need stronger commitments to delivering timely repairs, improvements and adaptations for people who need them. We recently published a systematic review of the best national and international research evidence for the benefits of home adaptations and repairs, carried out by the University of West England and Building Research Establishment.

One thing that’s particularly striking in the evidence is how, while major works and adaptations can clearly be transformative for people, it’s minor adaptations, particularly when combined with repairs and other basic improvements, and when delivered quickly, that prove both effective and cost-effective.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is clearly committed to the Disabled Facilities Grant, and the recent confirmation of an additional £42m is very welcome. But the message from our review is this money could be spent most effectively if local areas make use of the flexibility allowed using the Grant. That means funding major and minor adaptations and providing sufficient and secure funds to the handyperson and Home Improvement Agency services who can deliver work in a timely and coordinated way. Some local areas are already using the funds in this way, but it is not a consistent picture.

Older lady sitting in an armchair
3. Tackling rogue landlords

Third, we need to strengthen our action against rogue landlords, as recognised in Karen Buck MP’s private members’ bill on housing fitness. The number and proportion of older people living in privately rented accommodation is continuing to rise. There are now 414,000 older households privately renting, a jump from 254,000 in 2007 - supporting estimates that suggest that by 2040 (2) a third of people over 60 could be renting privately.

Regulations and local enforcement powers need to be applied more vigorously to tackle landlords who are not maintaining their properties or helping to meet tenants’ health needs through adaptations.

4. New housing suited to what older people need

Finally the whole country urgently needs to follow the example of London, Manchester and some other areas to mandate that new housing is built to category 2 accessibility standards. The drive to build new homes risks being hopelessly short-sighted if we don’t build homes that suit what older people will want and need.

Any local area wanting to become more ‘age-friendly’, any NHS and social care system seeking to reduce unnecessary costs and any housing department or housing association looking to improve its provision of older people’s housing should focus first on the safety, quality, adaptability and accessibility of its general needs stock.

Good housing helps us stay safe, healthy, active and independent. It’s at the centre of how we respond to a society where more people are living longer.

As featured in 24Housing


(1) Department for Communities and Local Government (2018) ‘English Housing Survey 2016-2017’.

(2) Perry, S., Williams, P. and Wilcox, S. (2015), ‘UK Housing Review Briefing 2015’ from the Chartered Institute of Housing.

Catherine Foot
Director of Evidence (job share)