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Developers need a plan for the future of retirement housing as new report cites “significant viability constraints”

– 3 min read

The Group has joined forces with the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Housing and Planning Research to release a new report on the future of retirement housing in England.

The detailed report has raised concerns over the future of viable retirement housing in England, raising awareness of a number of factors which affect both the end users and the developers creating retirement developments. 

It found a number of barriers that deter customers from moving into retirement communities, including financial constraints – notably fees and charges associated with retirement housing – as well as the practicalities of moving in later life, and concerns around implications for inheritance tax and end users’ emotional attachments to what have often been longstanding family homes.

Regional disparities are highlighted too, with the report finding that, of all specialised housing schemes in London and the South East, as many as 40% are for sale – a figure that drops to 12% in the North East.

The report also makes recommendations for a better offering when it comes to the size of retirement homes, questioning the industry discourse around downsizing given the evidence that shows most older movers do not choose to move into smaller housing, a contrast to common retirement offerings of one-bedroom flats.

Group chief executive, David Cowans, explained: “The increase in the proportion of older people is described as one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century. As we age, what we need from our homes can change.

“Currently in the UK, only just over 3% of all households made up of older adults move every year, with most of these moves being within mainstream housing, rather than into specialised housing for older people. Many people do prefer to remain in their existing home, but, for those who seek a new home to meet their changing needs, their choices can be limited. The supply of specialised housing for people as they age is relatively low in the UK, and it’s even more concerning when we consider the report’s findings around the uneven distribution of retirement housing for sale, meaning that options are very restricted for those living outside of the South East.

“It is vital that we recognise the need to understand the housing market as a system that needs to meet demand for housing of different types, in different geographies, and at different price points.”

The report also cites barriers for developers who are hindered by the cost of retirement developments, which exceed general housing schemes due to higher build costs and a lack of phasing options increasing investment. It also found inconsistency in the planning frameworks used by different authorities, creating disputes about planning obligations and undue complexity throughout the development process. 

David adds: “Without stronger leadership and encouragement from national and local planning policymakers, and greater clarity in planning frameworks, the supply of retirement housing may not increase.

“We hope that by raising such issues within this report, we can help signal a change for the sector, encouraging developers and local authorities to think more creatively and find ways to appeal to an ageing population with brilliantly-designed retirement communities which meet customers’ needs.”

Additional findings within the report also raise a lack of clarity around different housing options for older people, citing a ‘bewildering choice’ of building typologies, management options and pricing arrangements.

Gemma Burgess, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research at The University of Cambridge, concludes: “Our report is not a silver bullet to unlock a stronger retirement housing market, but we think it’s an important contribution to the debate and a step on the road to better understanding the complexities of supply and demand in our housing market. Ultimately, we need to deliver more homes that people can thrive in.”

The report is the latest in a series of collaborations by the Group with industry leaders; last month, the company’s Places Design Guide was released in partnership with Arup, launching six key principles for developing communities in a post-Covid world. Both reports are available to read in full on our publications page.

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