Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Age UK (HPB 67)

Housing and Planning Bill

About Age UK

Age UK is a charity and a social enterprise driven by the needs and aspirations of people in later life. Our vision is a world in which older people flourish. Our mission is to improve the lives of older people, wherever they live.

We are a registered charity in the United Kingdom, formed in April 2010 as the new force combining Help the Aged and Age Concern. We have almost 120 years of combined history to draw on, bringing together talents, services and solutions to enrich the lives of people in later life.

Age UK provides information and advice to around 6 million people each year, runs public and parliamentary campaigns, provides training, and funds research exclusively focused on later life. We support and assist a network of 170 local Age UKs throughout England; the Age UK family also includes Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI.

Please note this submission relates to our experience in England only.

1. Summary of key points

1.1 This briefing has been prepared by Age UK for the House of Commons Committee stage of the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16. We hope it provides helpful information about some of the issues included in the Bill and recommendations that Age UK believe would help to ensure that everyone in later life can feel secure at home and be able to live safely and with dignity in good quality, warm, comfortable housing.

1.2 Part 1, New homes in England: Age UK recommend that all starter homes need to be built to the higher accessibility standard set by category 2 of the building regulations to ensure they meet the needs of an ageing population.

1.3 Part 2, Rogue landlords and letting agents in England: Age UK recommends that the measures include in this part should ensure that local authorities have the resources to protect and prioritise vulnerable tenants and especially older people.

1.4 Part 4, Social housing in England: Age UK believe there should be assurances within the Bill that:

- there will be satisfactory exemptions to right to buy,

- sheltered flats sold (not covered by exemptions) are replaced,

and there are measures to curb any further decline in specialist housing provision and support services.

1.5 Additionally, all starter homes need to be built to the higher accessibility standard set by category 2 of the building regulations to ensure they meet the needs of an ageing population. All local authorities should have a housing strategy that makes it easier to obtain planning permission to build housing suitable for retired people.

1.6 PART 6, Planning in England, Neighbourhood planning: Age UK believe local planning has an important role in increasing the availability of retirement housing. Local authorities should automatically include older people in local housing strategies and planning should include housing and infrastructure to deliver age friendly communities.

2. Part 1

Accessible general needs housing

2.1 PART 1, NEW HOMES IN ENGLAND: The Housing and Planning Bill has a focus on increasing the supply of starter homes and self-build and custom house building. We are disappointed that the Bill fails to address the housing needs of older people despite the huge benefit this would offer for all generations.

2.2 Although the focus of this element of the Bill is on first time buyers under 40 years of age, Age UK believes that all new homes should automatically be built to accessible lifetime home standard. The low cost of meeting this standard would be insignificant in comparison to the long terms benefits it would bring. We are concerned that the building criteria applied under the Bill will undermine efforts to promote the lifetime homes standard.

2.3 Basic accessibility standards known as ‘lifetime homes’ should apply to all new homes as well as specialist housing (which should comply with a higher standard). The Government has given local authorities discretion to build to a new accessibility standard that is similar to the lifetime homes standard (category 2). We do not think this should be optional and believe this should be automatically applied to all new homes to reduce the cost of more older people receiving care and support at home. The majority (93%) of older people live in mainstream housing. It is unlikely we will see any dramatic change in this position. We therefore need to build homes that are easier and cheaper to adapt to our changing needs. We are concerned that provisions for starter homes in the Bill will ignore accessibility standards and will fail to meet people's needs as they age. We need longer term strategic planning running alongside increased supply in recognition of our ageing society

2.4 We are also disappointed that there are no specific measures to extend the housing options available to older people. The focus on starter homes has ignored the need for new affordable housing options for older people – that could also free up larger family homes and offer wider social and economic benefits.

Recommendation:

· All starter homes need to be built to the higher accessibility standard set by category 2 of the building regulations to ensure they meet the needs of an ageing population.

3. Development of retirement housing

3.1 At present we are not building enough sheltered and retirement housing to meet projected demand. Retirement housing could have a more prominent role in helping older people free up family housing, with wider benefits for local housing markets. More retirement flats and communities are needed, but this should not exclude a range of different types of housing suitable for older people. If we build more retirement housing, we need to address issues around poor design, inaccessible locations, unfair contracts and excessive service charges that are likely to discourage older people.

3.2 Building more retirement housing could benefit many more older people and potentially transform the lives of isolated older people . Unless there is growth in the availability of attractive and affordable retirement housing, in the right locations, it will not be an option for the majority of older people – especially those living outside London and the South East. Based on demographic trends, specialist housing will need to increase by between 35 per cent and 75 per cent just to keep pace with demand. At the moment, retirement housing makes up just 5–6 per cent of all older people’s housing. Research indicates that many more older people might consider downsizing if better alternatives were available.

Recommendations:

· All local authorities should have a housing strategy for older people that makes it easier to obtain planning permission to build housing for retired people.

4. Part 2

Private rented accommodation

4.1 Part 2 Rogue landlords and letting agents in England: Age UK would also like to emphasise the importance of tackling poor housing conditions in the private rented sector.

4.2 Although the numbers of older people in private rented accommodation are still relatively small, they will rise over time. There is interest in whether the sector might offer an alternative to older residents downsizing from both the social rented sector and the owner occupied sector. The flexibility and location of private rented housing can make this an attractive option, but we need to address issues around disrepair, accessibility and security of tenure. The involvement of institutional investment and housing associations could offer better quality and more secure private rented homes.

4.3 At present, older private tenants are particularly vulnerable to poor housing conditions. The continued expansion of private renting means that, in the future, many older people are likely to be affected by poor conditions unless action is taken.

4.4 Escalating rents and service charges are also a concern for older people living in privately rented accommodation. For those who are eligible for full housing benefit this can provide a safety net and some protection against rent increases. However tenants who are not entitled to housing benefit will have to meet the full cost of rising rents and as a result may find their standard of living declining or savings falling at a much higher rate than anticipated.

Recommendations:

· The measures in Chapter 2 of the Bill should ensure that local authorities have the resources to protect vulnerable tenants and especially older people.

5. Impact of rent reductions

5.1 Age UK is concerned that the 1% rent reduction will limit investment in specialist housing and result in a further decline in care and support services offered in sheltered schemes. We have already seen the withdrawal of support services under the Supporting People programme. This trend will continue without adequate investment . The support offered in sheltered schemes plays an important preventative role by reducing demand on the health and social care system. As well as protecting those schemes that provide higher levels of care and support we also need to protect mainstream sheltered housing. It is important that the Government recognises the additional costs and benefits associated with sheltered and other forms of specialist housing - especially regarding the review of payments under universal credit.

5.2 Restrictions in investment for housing associations will also mean the loss of the community services they deliver - including adaptations and handy person services. If housing associations are forced to focus on just the delivery of core services – housing support for older people will further decline.

6. Part 4

Right to buy

6.1 Part 4, Social housing in England, Chapter 1, IMPLEMENTING THE RIGHT TO BUY ON A VOLUNTARY BASIS: Age UK are concerned that the Right to buy and other measures could result in a decline in the availability of sheltered and other forms of specialist housing for older people on lower incomes. There is agreement funding should be available to replace homes sold under the Right to Buy. Age UK would like assurances that this should include sheltered housing.

6.2 It is also important to consider that right to buy has long term implications for people who do decide to buy their home, particularly around the cost of repairs and adaptations. Older homeowners have already seen cuts in home improvement grants, with the complete withdrawal of the Private Sector Renewal Grant from local authorities. This represented £317 million, which helped an estimated 300,000 vulnerable elderly and disabled people in 2010/11. We are liable to see more low income older home owners struggle to repair and adapt their homes with little or no financial assistance. The Government must protect funding under the Disabled Facilities Grant and improve access to Care and Repair services. More needs to be done to support low income owner occupiers. We are also concerned about older leaseholders who may have difficulties with covering the costs of repairs, maintenance and adaptions – yet were encouraged to buy. We are disappointed that the Bill does nothing to encourage retirement housing or to address long standing issues around leasehold reform.

6.3 The Bill’s position is that housing associations will be able to make exceptions under the Right to Buy covering specialist and adapted housing for older people. However, some sheltered housing has been treated as general needs housing in terms of allocations from the waiting list with the loss of wardens and other support services. Mainstream sheltered housing offers low level preventative support and should be maintained. In recent years sheltered housing in the social sector has continued to decline. The option of affordable retirement housing should be available in the social sector as well as the private leasehold sector.

Recommendations:

· There should be assurances within the Bill that: there will be satisfactory exemptions for specialised housing; sheltered flats sold (not covered by exemptions) are replaced; and, there are measures to curb any further decline in specialist housing provision and support services.

7. PART 6

Age Friendly Communities

7.1 Part 6, PLANNING IN ENGLAND: Age UK believe that local planning has an important role in increasing the availability of retirement housing and local authorities should automatically include older people in local housing strategies. The Government introduced the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to encourage home building, making specific reference to older people. Planning guidance issued by DCLG says ‘The need to provide housing for older people is critical, given the projected increase in the number of households aged 65 and over accounts for over half of the new households’. The retirement housing industry argues that there should be reductions in the contribution smaller schemes are required to make towards local services in return for giving planning permission. Age UK is sympathetic to calls for reform, but there needs to be a balance between Government backing for private sector retirement housing for the better off and obligations towards affordable social housing options for those on lower incomes.

7.2 Additionally, planning should be linked to a housing strategy that is sympathetic to the housing needs of older people and delivers affordable homes in age friendly communities. Planners need to take a fair and balanced approach toward private sector and housing association developers with a focus on the benefits they can deliver to all older people in the community. Age friendly housing and infrastructure should include consideration of outdoor spaces, accessible buildings; transport links; and opportunities for social participation. Level pavements, adequate lighting and street furniture, public toilets, accessible buildings and services, good transport links and opportunities for social participation all contribute to age friendly public spaces.

Recommendations:

· Local planning has an important role in increasing the availability of retirement housing and age friendly inclusive environments. Local authorities should automatically include older people in local housing and planning strategies.

November 2015

Prepared 24th November 2015