Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Retirement Housing Group (AFH 52)


The Retirement Housing Group of the House Builders Federation consists of retirement housing developers and housing managers, both RSL and private sector. Its ex officio members include representatives of the charity, the Elderly Accommodation Counsel, and the Association of Retirement Housing Managers.

  This evidence deals exclusively with this specialist area of housing and supplements the submission by the House Builders Federation on behalf of developers of general market housing.

  The Group has a wide-ranging interest in planning and management issues, leasehold reform and Government policy of all kinds which affect vulnerable groups such as the elderly.


  Sheltered housing is:

    "housing which is purpose built or converted exclusively for sale to elderly people with a package of estate management services and which consists of grouped, self-contained accommodation with an emergency alarm system, usually with communal facilities and normally with a resident warden."

  This can cover a range of provision from lifestyle housing for the active, newly retired through to warden assisted housing with community facilities and design modifications through to very sheltered housing with high staffing levels and many additional services and facilities.

  The majority of current schemes are warden assisted with occupants of an average age of 75. As such these purchasers and residents, even if still fit, are likely to become increasingly frail and concerned about security.

  The significance of sheltered housing for social and planning policy purposes lies in the enormous challenge our society faces from an ageing population.


  The statistics are well known; by 2021 it is expected that, out of a population of 65.5 million, 12.2 million will be over 65. In 1999 9 million out of 59.5 million were over 65. The greatest increase overall from 2001 will be in the over 85s, but the 70-79 age group will grow rapidly after 2011.

  The significance of this ageing population is that the large majority of households aged over 60 are in owner-occupied housing and between 2001 and 2021 the number of owner-occupied households aged 65 and over is expected to rise from 4.8 million to 6.9 million.


  Since 1993 the Government's Foresight programme has been looking at the implications of an ageing population for the UK and has urged the adoption of measures to ensure full participation and the avoidance of dependency amongst elderly people for as long as possible.

  In 2001 the Government published "Quality and Choice for Older People's Housing: A Strategic Framework". It states that:

    "Moving to good quality sheltered housing in both the public and private sectors is a positive experience for many older people. It enables older people to retain their independence in a home appropriate to their needs whilst receiving support, security and companionship . . . It is clear that the role and purpose of the range of sheltered housing schemes needs to be both clarified and promoted within the health, housing and social care agendas given its preventative role . . . extra care or very sheltered housing can provide high levels of on-site care and support that previously were only available from a residential care setting".


  Sheltered housing is therefore one of the routes by which Government wishes to see diversity and choice delivered to elderly people and, as the above quote mentions, to reduce the burden on local health and social services as well as promoting residents' quality of life.

  However it is and will remain only one part—probably a relatively small but important part—of the range of housing options available to the elderly. Staying put remains the preferred choice of most. It is important to note that, for the vast majority of purchasers of sheltered housing, the move to such accommodation is driven by need rather than choice (death of spouse, increasing frailty and declining health) and allows them to prolong an independent lifestyle, rather than being obliged to move to residential care or nursing homes (whose numbers are reducing significantly and are likely to continue to do so for both legislative and financial reasons).


  However, when elderly owner-occupiers do move to sheltered housing they generally free up an under-occupied family house. Moreover, since sheltered housing is almost entirely built in accessible urban locations, it contributes to the sustainable regeneration of towns and cities. Elderly residents then support local facilities—especially shops and post offices. Car dependency and use by residents is lower than in general market housing. By virtue of its location its elderly occupiers are well integrated into the community for as long as they are able to be, whilst also enjoying a degree of security and absence of worry about property maintenance and other tasks, which have become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for them. With the burden of home maintenance and fears of safety and security removed, overall mental and physical health improves, reducing pressure on local authority social services and the NHS.

  However whilst its role in urban regeneration is very important it must not be forgotten that it can also be a vital means of supporting village communities where there is often a lower general affordable housing threshold.


  The Group fully recognises a need for general needs affordable housing and we do not seek to undermine its provision as part of planning and housing policy. However, there is also a clear and growing need for proper provision to be made for specialised housing for the elderly—particularly in the private sector given the high incidence of owner occupation. These should be seen as complementary and not competing ways of meeting housing need.

  Sheltered housing is serving both an important special need and generally. Both Circular 6/98 and PPG3 acknowledge that sheltered housing meets a recognised housing need. PPG3 makes it clear that a number of housing need categories should be recognised and taken into account when local authorities make assessments of housing need. They include housing to help meet the needs of specific groups, such as the elderly. Paragraphs 11 and 13 of PPG3 require local authorities to give specific recognition to the need for housing for the elderly. This gives housing for the elderly a distinct profile as a potential requirement to be met within overall provision and it is given equal weight with affordable housing.

  The issue of the provision of affordable housing in relation to retirement housing schemes is raising difficulties which this Group hopes the Inquiry will consider.


  Bearing in mind the special characteristics of sheltered housing, both in financial terms (ie its cost structure) and the market need it seeks to satisfy, the provision on site of general needs affordable housing will rarely be appropriate.

  Sheltered housing has a significantly different cost profile to open market for sale housing. It is far more expensive to provide because of its often extensive non-saleable communal space, ranging from 25-40 per cent of the internal space, depending on the type of scheme. Its cash-flow, and thus financing profile is different, in that, unlike open market housing, the entire development (including landscaping and staffing) must be completed before its customers will buy. The application of affordable housing quotas derived from general open market housing is not appropriate and will make many schemes non viable.

  The majority of the land on which retirement housing is built is brownfield urban sites, for which there is increasing competition with other land uses, such as commercial, industrial or retail development. These sites are inherently expensive to redevelop (remediation costs etc) and they will be lost to sheltered housing and developed for other uses, such as fast food outlets, with a resultant loss to future residents and the community, it further layers of cost for affordable housing are added.

  Perhaps most importantly, costs must be kept down so that sheltered housing remains affordable for elderly people. Most sheltered housing schemes now average about 30 units. If management and support costs, rather than being shared by all, are payable only by elderly residents, they will become proportionately much more expensive and beyond the reach of many elderly people.


  Second is the question of the appropriateness of mixing tenants of general needs housing with elderly residents of sheltered housing, given the specific objectives of sheltered housing and the needs of its elderly occupants.

  On very large sites where housing for the elderly can form part of a mixed community development there can be affordable housing and retirement accommodation. This is different to insisting on provision on small sites that has the effect of being neither fish nor fowl—it compromises the achievement of proper housing for the elderly whilst failing to create satisfactory conditions for general purpose affordable housing.

  Most urban sites on which this type of housing is built are not large and the typical sheltered scheme, which is both viable for developers, given the non-saleable space, and acceptable to purchasers, is between 30 and 50 units. The majority of these are flatted developments and physical separation of elderly people from young singles or families with young children is not possible.

  As noted above, by virtue of the urban location of most sites for sheltered housing, the elderly residents do remain integrated in society. However, as they become increasingly frail, they are seeking an increase in security, which may be impossible to maintain if general needs tenants are mixed with elderly people in small sheltered schemes. Clearly, they cannot share the specialist staffing and communal facilities provided for the elderly, which are both the essence of that security and for which they pay.

  The inclusion of another category of special needs within what is already a special need is inappropriate to the elderly residents' needs and is likely to affect the saleability and therefore the flow of such schemes onto the market, where "one size fits all" policies for social housing are applied.

  Although this is a small part of the housing stock, with currently only some 2,500 sheltered units per year being built, we hope the Inquiry will recognise the importance of maintaining and encouraging a type of housing provision which must play an important role in meeting the needs of an ageing population, and will distinguish between what is an appropriate policy for open market housing and what is appropriate to sheltered housing, if it is to be able to make its full contribution to diversity and choice of provision for the UK's ageing population.

  In view of the factors described above, we therefore propose that the test of "appropriateness" should be added to policy guidance when considering affordable housing in relation to proposals for sheltered housing.

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