Sector voices concern over ‘unsuitable’ older people homes

Prominent figures set out changes needed to transform housing offer for older people at the Housing and Ageing Alliance Summit.

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Major reforms are needed as to how the country approaches new stock, existing stock, advice, and adaptations if it is to ensure future populations are able to live comfortably during their later years.

That was the view of sector leaders at the Housing and Ageing Alliance Summit, held today (22nd July).

But it was not all doom and gloom, with Catherine Foot of Centre for Ageing Better reflecting that there are “chinks of light” in the government that the sector can explore.

Terrie Alafat, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Housing, echoed that sentiment, saying if the sector carries on the shift Theresa May has started, then “there are real opportunities for us”.

Sue Adams OBE, chief executive at Care Repair England and chair of the Housing and Ageing Alliance, opened the conference, pitching that everyone needs to work together to begin tackling the issue.

Tackling a range of issues in her opening, she urged housing to use the “power of the NHS” to fight for housing and health partnerships.

She added that MHCLG and Department for Health should be working much closer together.

Alafat, who spoke afterward, said housing must make sure it grasps the opportunity of being “centre stage”, saying whoever the incoming PM is, housing would still be there.

She said of particular worry to the CIH was the growing number of older people now privately renting, adding that the instability and lack of flexibility is causing real problems.

She referenced the statistic that 52% of specialist housing for older people was built or refurbished over 30 years ago – another cause for concern.

It all comes down to supply, Alafat concluded with, adding a partial criticism to the sector: “Some of the housing we are building in the affordable housing sector is not affordable.”

Caroline Abrahams, director at Age UK, unveiled that the charity would now focus much more on housing – it being so dominant in all its other work.

On homelessness, Abrahams added that, during conversations with the Salvation Army, they found the charity was having to create specialist housing for older people in its homeless shelters.

Foot focussed much of her address on the changes needed around advice.

But she added that, in the “rush to build” by MHCLG, “developers are still building homes unsuitable for people for the whole of their life.”

She said increasing the education around what advice and support is out there was “vital”, adding: “We must not assume that ageing in place is something that people want to do.”

One of the challenges the Centre for Ageing Better, at which Foot is director of evidence, is around resources for local authorities.

She said: “We have found instances of local authorities saying they could provide better information over adaptations but didn’t through fear of a flood of demand for the services.”

She added that it is “fundamental to our society” that preventative measures are introduced, but acknowledged the difficulty in “measuring impact and return on investment”.

Rounding off the morning, Sheila Mackintosh of West of England University spoke about the need to rethink how the country approaches adaptations.

Currently, most adaptations are built following Disability Facilities Grant. However, Mackintosh warned that “there’s not enough to make the impact we need”.

She said there was a “missed opportunity” not to add a housing metric when the DFG was added into the Better Care Fund, but overall praised the government for doing that.

In her conclusions, she urged housing associations to get ahead of the game on adaptations, saying she would “like to see them beginning to lead on accessible home adaptations”.

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