Moving on: what’s the answer to under-occupation for older people?

Francis Burrows Director of Support and Service Development at Orbit says we need to do more to understand and address the barriers that are preventing older people from accessing the benefits of retirement living.

"According to the most recent Shakespeare Martineau general needs rent survey, in every area of England and Scotland approximately 10% of rented general needs homes are under occupied, and retirement aged tenants make up 40% of these homes. We all know we have under supply of homes in this country and creating the mechanism to enable people to move to free up family homes is a critical element to enable people to live in the right homes for the circumstance.

"However, life isn’t as simple as supply and we all make emotional decisions based on our lives, rather than what the supply of homes dictates. Where people have lived in a home a large part of their lives, brought up their children and have strong connections with their local community and neighbours, why would you move? Most people only move at a point of crisis – not being able to get up the stairs, having falls or not being safe to remain, leading to moves into accommodation that is often not a preferred option and can be a hugely traumatic time.

"We already have a range of dedicated homes for older people with rental and ownership options at all levels of the market, but we need to do so much more to understand and respond to the barriers and perceptions of retirement housing. Key factors that are important to people such as good local facilities, gardens, transport, safety are all found within existing schemes and should continue to be core aspects for consideration of new development, and we must do more to provide a strong incentive.

"The barriers to people moving indicate a clear perception that needs to be addressed. I was surprised by the response to the survey that 25% believed they would lose their independence by moving into retirement housing and 26% felt it would not be affordable for them. This shows we need to do more to promote the social rent properties available and the quality of life to be gained by moving. We need to change the perception of ‘this will reduce independence’ to actually helping improve it. The safety systems, on site staff support and the community these homes can offer help to reduce isolation, improve wellbeing and can be transformational for many older people. This research shows we haven’t told that story well enough yet. Additionally, as people’s needs change, we can flex and support them to prevent further moves by having the adaptability of the property itself and access to other support to enable people to stay in a home they love.

"It’s time to reach out and talk to older people about their options, showing the great services provided and taking away the fear of retirement housing. It’s a place for older people to thrive and enjoy their lives with the security of the support these properties can bring, and we should be proud of that."