5.One of the concerns which was raised with us was the need for more advice and guidance for older people on housing. We have chosen to tackle this at the outset of this report, believing that it is fundamental to helping people make the right decisions about how they live in later life. The Elders Council of Newcastle said that “high-quality information” and independent trusted advice” were “key to older people making the best choices”. Dr Brian Beach, Senior Fellow at the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC), told us that people rarely made plans for later life, with most moving “in response to a health shock—the emergence of a care need in them or their partner”. To enable and encourage people to start planning for later life, a group of relevant organisations in Greater Manchester recommended the creation of a “national ‘brand” accompanied by “promotional campaigns”.
6.We heard that older people can need advice on a wide range of sometimes complex topics. The L&Q Group, a large social landlord, said their tenants needed help with the moving process but also “broader information and advice [on] housing, care/support, financial and benefits matters”. Claudia Wood, the Director of Demos, explained that older people’s personal and financial circumstances, which included pensions, equity release and paying for care, meant they often required expert advice on housing finance. John Galvin, Chief Executive of the Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC), told us that people often needed help to navigate the retirement housing sector:
There are a huge range of models [ … ] pricing arrangements [ … ] service charges and services that are provided. There are big differences between those. Even if you have read everything, it is quite a big job to work out “What can I afford? What model would work best for me?”
Despite this clear need, Jeremy Porteus, Director of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network, said that there was a “deficit of really good quality access to information and advice”. Based on her anecdotal experience, Sue Adams, the Chief Executive of Care and Repair, said there had been a shift in the delivery of advice from face-to-face to online. We note that there is a significant amount of comprehensive guidance online, notably from Age UK, HousingCare.org and local councils, however Ms Adams highlighted the fact that 59% of over 75s do not use the internet. John Galvin said that online advice was also problematic for people who do not read well or do not have English as a first language. He said that, after a certain point, even those who are adept at using the internet valued receiving advice in person from someone who could “filter down the number of options”.
7.John Galvin’s organisation, the EAC, leads the FirstStop Advice Service whose trained advisers provide older people with advice on housing, care and finance by telephone, in writing and online. He explained that FirstStop was “the constant ringleader, hand-holder, or case-holder [ … ] doing the initial conversations and pulling in expertise when it is needed” and had created partnerships with “locally known and trusted agencies” who could help people living nearby.
8.We learnt that FirstStop had been part-funded by the then Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) from April 2009 until December 2016. The then Local Government Minister, Marcus Jones, told us that “funding is currently being provided to FirstStop by a number of external organisations: Legal & General and Nationwide Building Society are two such organisations” and the then Housing Minster, Alok Sharma, said that the Big Lottery has also provided funding. We have since received a letter from the Chief Executive of the EAC clarifying which organisations funded the service and over what period of time. It confirms that, of the organisations named by the Minister, only Nationwide is currently providing funding. The joint submission from the Housing LIN and the EAC explained the consequences of the DCLG funding having ceased:
At its peak in 2015–16, FirstStop reached 20,000 clients via local outlets, 20,000 via its national advice line and 4 million via its website. Despite clear and independently evaluated evidence of its impact in terms of individual wellbeing, savings to health and social care budgets, and facilitating downsizing, DCLG’s decision to stop funding has led to a very substantial reduction in FirstStop Advice’s capacity to provide personal advice, guidance and support.
9.We asked the Local Government Minister why the Department stopped funding a service which provided help and advice to people taking a major life decision. We were pleased to hear him say that the Department needed to “explore how [advice] is going to be delivered and how it can be sustained”.
10.Access to good quality information and advice is fundamental to helping older people make informed, planned and timely choices about how and where they live in later life, and to helping them to live healthily and comfortably wherever they choose to do so and to make the most of their financial resources.
11.We believe that the FirstStop Advice Service currently led by the Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) should be expanded. Although we acknowledge that there is a considerable amount of useful advice available online, we are concerned that this is not accessible to many older people who may require information and advice in person. We recommend that the EAC should be re-funded by the Government to provide an expanded national telephone advice service (referred to from now on as “the national advice service”), supported by advice online, in hard copy advice and other accessible formats. Advice provided should be holistic, covering the range of issues relating to housing for older people (examined in subsequent chapters of this report) as follows:
12.The national advice service should maintain and extend its links with local authorities, HIAs and other local charities and partners so it can direct people to advice and practical help locally. Furthermore, the national advice service, and the linked organisations, should be consistently branded and advertised by a Government-backed campaign to raise awareness and promote the creation of a ‘trusted network’.
4 Elders Council of Newcastle 
6 Manchester Metropolitan University and others 
7 L&Q-East Thames 
19 John Galvin letter
20 Housing Learning and Improvement Network (LIN) and Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) 
8 February 2018