Author : Mary-Anne Bowring
The retirement housing situation in England and Wales is at a precarious juncture. The Older People's Housing Taskforce, set up by the government and led by Professor Julienne Meyer, seeks responses and evidence to address pressing issues in the retirement housing community.
It is vital to ensure that older individuals can access suitable and comfortable housing options to live safely, healthily, and independently in their later years. This assumes significance in the backdrop of an increasingly aging UK population. The provision of private retirement housing in England and Wales has been mired in controversy and shortcomings, particularly within the leasehold system. The Office of Fair-Trading Investigations has twice exposed troubling practices.
Irregularities were observed in exit fees embedded in leases without associated services and collusive tendering schemes that disadvantaged retirement communities. These issues have posed a question mark about the fairness and transparency of the retirement housing sector.
There have been numerous court cases, many involving right-to-manage applications, pointing at the complexities and disputes that can arise in retirement housing communities.
Analysis from the Land Registry shows the consistently poor resale values of retirement properties. This leaves many residents feeling trapped in their investments.
Consumer representation in retirement housing
Another major concern in the current task force is the absence of consumer representation. While the group includes CEOs of retirement community housebuilders, housing associations, lobbyists, local councilors, academics, and the Home Builders Federation, there is no real representation provided to consumer advocacy groups or actual residents. This omission raises questions about whether the concerns of those living in retirement communities will be adequately considered in the recommendations and decisions made by the task force.
The Older People's Housing Taskforce has a critical mandate, and that is to assess the current state of the retirement housing market and make recommendations for its future, with a sharper focus on those with lower and middle incomes. The mandate includes expanding the variety of housing options available to older people and supporting them in staying in their current homes if they desire. The task force also aims to address the challenges older individuals face when seeking more suitable or specialised housing.
What Can Be Done?
Given the increasing aging population and the need for appropriate housing solutions, the Older People's Housing Taskforce's work must be comprehensive and inclusive. The following steps must be taken to make the retirement housing sector more transparent, equitable, and consumer-friendly.
1. Consumer Representation: The task force should include representatives from consumer advocacy groups and actual residents of retirement housing communities to ensure a balanced and informed perspective.
2. Transparency and Fair Practices: Regulations should be implemented to ensure transparent pricing, fair exit fees, and ethical practices by retirement housebuilders and property management companies.
3. Education and Awareness: Older individuals should have access to information about their rights and options in retirement housing. Education can empower them to make informed decisions.
4. Innovative Housing Solutions: Encourage the development of innovative, age-friendly housing designs that promote independent living, accessibility, and community engagement.
5. Legal Reforms: Consider implementing legal reforms that protect the rights and interests of residents in retirement housing communities, including stronger regulations on leasehold properties.
The government's initiative to address the challenges in the retirement housing sector through the Older People's Housing Taskforce is a step in the right direction. However, it's important that this initiative considers the voices and needs of consumers, addresses the historical issues surrounding retirement housing, and sets a course for a more equitable and transparent future in the sector. This will ensure that older individuals have access to housing that supports them in enjoying a safe, healthy, and independent life in their later years.
Mary-Anne Bowring FIRPM FRICS FARLA FCABE Founder/Head of Asset Management
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