Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Age UK (L 136)

Social housing plays a vital role in providing safe and secure homes to many older people on low fixed incomes. While we recognise the need to make the best use of limited housing resources, we believe it is vital to guarantee the welfare of older tenants who have few or no other housing options available. The Bill must recognise the interaction between social housing, health and social care, welfare benefits, and preventative housing support, which enable older tenants to live independently. It is particularly important that these elements are protected for sheltered and extra care housing and that long term security and affordability is offered to all older tenants.

Flexible tenancies

Although existing older tenants will not be affected by Clauses 130 and 131 we are concerned that new older tenants may find themselves placed in insecure and unstable social housing. Age UK believes that it is important that older people, with limited housing options, continue to be offered secure homes and should be exempt from short term tenancies. This is particularly important in the provision of sheltered housing, or housing with care, where residents require and expect lifetime security and stability. The promotion of flexible tenure is based on the notion of working age people having access to other housing options, depending on income levels and employment. We are concerned that this approach is not appropriate for the majority of older people on low fixed incomes who have limited or no other housing options available.

Most evidence demonstrates that older people require the security and stability of a lifetime tenancy to protect both their physical and mental well being. Older people consider security of tenure to be essential to both quality of life and well being in retirement. Over the years many tenants build up local support networks and use nearby services that enable them to remain independent. At the same time older tenants make a huge contribution to the health and vitality of their local community. A forced move under a flexible tenancy could undermine this position for many. Age UK recognises the issue of under-occupation that flexible tenancy may seek to address. However, there is currently a lack of suitable move on social housing for older people - a forced move under these circumstances would represent unfair and unequal treatment. More needs to be done to ensure that older residents are given increased security by stabilising the funding around housing support services that make tenancies viable and improve quality of life.

Succession rights

Clauses 134 and 135 would remove succession rights for carers which are currently provided by a secure tenancy, with the exemption of existing secure tenants. We believe this right should be preserved and extended to all new tenancies in the social sector. The original provisions, in the Housing Act 1985, gave recognition to the role of carers who had given up their own home to look after a parent or relative. We know that unpaid carers make a significant contribution to the welfare of older tenants and dramatically reduce demand on social services and the NHS. Given the contribution of carers they deserve to succeed to a tenancy or have an offer of alternative social housing with a lifetime tenancy. In 2006 the Law Commission [1] recommended a single social tenancy that would allow a ‘reserve successor’ on the death of ‘priority successor’. The ‘priority successor’ would be a spouse or partner and a ‘reserve successor’ would be a relative or carer living with the resident before their death. We feel the Committee should revisit this recommendation given its objective of encouraging family and community support for those in greatest need.

February 2011

[1] Law Commission (2006) Renting Homes: the final report (TSO)