Helping first-time buyers on to the property ladder was a key focus of the autumn Budget but there is anger and disappointment over the government’s failure to tackle the undersupply of housing aimed at older people.
Paul Teverson, Director of Communications at retirement housing specialist McCarthy & Stone, says: “We welcome the government’s ongoing drive to increase general housing supply, but specific measures are also needed to help those in later life. Millions of older people want to downsize but can’t due to a lack of suitable options, as the UK’s housing stock is woefully unprepared for our rapidly ageing population.
“We need to rapidly increase the supply of retirement housing and other options such as bungalows. At the same time, a ‘Help to Move’ package containing incentives would encourage more older people to move, releasing hundreds of thousands of under-occupied family-sized homes back on to local markets for first-time buyers and second steppers. By helping Generation Stuck, we in turn help Generation Rent and it becomes a win- win situation.”
The recently published report “Unlocking the Market’” by cross-party think tank Demos highlights a “looming crisis in the supply of housing for older people”. It states that current policy favours developers building starter properties rather than supporting older people to downsize, which would spark a chain reaction in the housing market. Demos focus groups found widespread support for stamp duty exemption for downsizers, practical help with moving and opportunities to “try before you buy”.
Spencer McCarthy, Chairman and CEO of Churchill Retirement Living, would like to see the Demos recommendations implemented, along with a Help to Buy equity loan scheme.
He says: “The government is still focusing far too narrowly on one end of the housing market. Of course, it’s important to support younger people but stamp duty exemption for first-time buyers is just an attempt to win votes and won’t do anything to fix the market’s wider problems. We also need to help more older people to downsize.
“Retirement housing creates enormous social value by enabling people to live more active and independent lives for longer, in turn providing significant savings across other areas of health and social care spending. It also stimulates the wider housing market by freeing up more family homes for younger people.”
Graeme Lee, chief executive of Harrogate-based Springfield Healthcare, agrees that tax incentives are needed but also believes that over 55s housing has an image problem. He says that better design and amenities are a must to entice older buyers into downsizing.
A key innovator, he has just opened The Chocolate Works care village in the art deco headquarters of the former Terry’s factory in York. It includes rooms and apartments to rent, along with a café, shop, gym, spa and its very own pub, The Duke of York. He is also planning to turn historic Grove House in Harrogate into a care village with properties for sale.
“The problem is that most people regard property for the over 55s as a last resort. Creating desirable places to move to would help change perceptions. What we often see is that people leave it too late and stay in their home until there is a crisis. It would be far better if moving into a more suitable property was planned earlier and that was the norm.”
Architect Ric Blenkharn, of Bramhall Blenkharn, would like to see more compact dwellings with a spare guest bedroom, outdoor space, low running costs and links to good facilities and public transport.
Location, he says, is key to ensure older people remain part of the wider community and points to a scheme he saw in Denmark. “It was a small block of apartments, each one had a bay window and a balcony overlooking the street. There, the policy was to create properties for older people in the town centre, a far cry from many care homes and care villages here, which are set on the outskirts of settlements.”. Ric also suggests a stamp duty break to give the over 65 a cash incentive to downsize.