Meeting the needs of a new generation of older people

David Cowans

By David Cowans, Group Chief Executive of Places for People

Talk of our current housing need is firmly focused on first time buyers and families. But there is very insufficient provision for older people too and that needs to change.

Our population is ageing fast. There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18 and in the next 17 years, the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise by more than 40%.

To meet the needs of our growing older generation, we need to change the way we plan our cities, towns and villages, including paving the way for new retirement villages.

Developing retirement properties that can meet the changing needs of older people will make a positive contribution to the wider housing market as well as local communities. But it needs a better understanding of our older generation and their aspirations.

The over 55s are a huge group made up of different generations with different expectations and aims and many of them don't consider themselves 'old'. In fact, research suggests that people tend to see themselves as 15 years younger than their age.

That means both the building and service offering at a retirement village must target a younger market, including offering contemporary homes that are easy to look after. Most importantly however, the properties must still feel like home.

At a recent focus group we held, attendees told us they want a smaller and homelier environment that's not impersonal with a selection of more targeted facilities and services.

Older people don't want their life organising or to change dramatically. And although they may not need it now, they may require care and support in their later years, and the 'comfort blanket' of a 24-hour presence onsite is an important consideration.

Meeting those aspirations means planning retirement developments carefully and building them in places where residents can still easily access the people, facilities and amenities they're used to. The environment must feel secure but not disconnected from local communities.

Local councils are key to this.  We need them to free up more land for retirement villages and promote them as positive additions to both local communities and the rest of the housing market as they will play a vital role in freeing up other properties.

Central Government has an important role to play too.  The commitments in the White Paper to do further work to tackle the barriers older people face when moving are welcome and we are looking forward to working with Government on them.

But there is more to do.  Government should abolish stamp duty for those buying in a retirement village removing another major blocker for those seeking to move into a more suitable home.

And given that much needed new retirement villages are targeted at a restricted group with far higher levels of internal and external infrastructure, there should be a specific planning use class to offer similar benefits to C2, but also to remove uncertainty and inconsistency at a local level.

These changes won't happen overnight but as our older population continues to expand at our rapid rate, we need to act now.

Designed and located correctly, retirement developments have the potential to meet the needs of a huge group of people who currently are not considered in the housing debate. If we can meet the expectations and future demands of the older generation, we can not only ensure they have the home and lifestyle they deserve, but unlock a vital part of the solution that could help address the housing crisis.

This blog first appeard on Inside Housing on 28 February 2017. 

28 February 2017