The latest English housing survey revealed that, during the past 10 years, the number of owner-occupiers aged over 65 who own their home outright rose by more than 900,000. To add to that, in 2014, figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders found that just one per cent of the UK’s five million homeowners in this age category moved house.
Meanwhile, the supply of available housing has almost halved in 10 years, and there is a continued influx of first-time buyers itching to get onto the property ladder.
There is a problem at both ends of the scale: on one side, there is the demand, and the desire to move, but not the supply at either side to meet it.
The fact is, there has traditionally been a blinkered focus on the bottom rung of the property market. House builders and government alike have been obsessed with first-time buyers and, for the most part, ignored where much of the greatest potential in the market sits: the over 55s. The UK is in desperate need of better provision of housing suitable for an ageing population.
There need to be incentives and support to encourage downsizing, and make it a choice, not an obligation. The government needs to address the facts.
When it comes to the over 55s, we need investment in housing options that are high quality, that allow people to remain independent and actually improve their living standards.
We also can’t ignore the impact this focus on overall wellbeing could have on resources beyond the property market.
"Bed blocking" is something we hear time and again and an issue which is increasingly a strain on the NHS. A recent report by Lord Carter of Coles found it could potentially be costing the NHS up to £900m a year. Thousands of patients who are able to be discharged from hospital remain because sufficient care has not been organised once they return home.
It’s certainly not an immediate fix, but the fact that a generation of older people are living in properties far too big for them, in some cases struggling to maintain or heat them, is surely a factor in the number of incoming patients in the first place.
We do know. thanks to research from the International Longevity Centre (ILC). that residential housing with flexible care provision can have a major impact on residents’ quality of life, and that those living in this type of accommodation are less likely to be admitted to hospital than those living in the community.
Greater focus on the reasons behind the lack of fluidity in the housing market will help the government to identify key initiatives that will free up family houses, like a stamp duty exemption for over 60s, and create a housing market that adapts to the needs of the whole population - not just first-time buyers.