I’m H.A.P.P.I - Housing our Ageing Population: Positive Ideas
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People (‘APPGOHACFOP?’) has produced the altogether more snappily entitled “HAPPI 3” (Housing our Ageing Population: Positive Ideas).
As might be expected from such a group it contains a well-considered review of some of the current issues. It has a helpful focus on product and quality and especially interesting sections on different tenures and management types and also on the increased use of technology.
This last though is something of a teaser. Technological advances sound fascinating and seem to offer some very exciting opportunities, but we are not given any real detail. The link between the range of telecare packages used in Birmingham and the first year savings of £900,000 to the local health and social care economy could usefully be explored in more detail. Hard evidence of this is sort is needed to help drive change; if the Treasury can see financial advantages in promoting retirement housing then we may expect some traction in removing some of the current obstacles. In this connection reference is made to the Local Government Association report due this summer looking at the evidence that high quality and appropriate housing lowers onward costs for health and social care services and we await this with great interest.
A clarion call to arms, however, this report is not. If there is a criticism it is that the recommendations are generally muffled exhortations on all parties to do better and try harder and, in the case of central government, to spend money. Coming from parliamentarians this is a little surprising.
We do of course agree with many of the recommendations. The need for government to be joined up in its thinking is key. Policies for rent regulation and Housing Benefit should not unwittingly deter investment.
The other take away from a number of recommendations is the need to build consumer confidence. A HAPPI kite mark, an ARCO type code of conduct and sensible consumer protection regulation are all steps which central government could facilitate at no great expense.
There are however three or four concrete ‘SMART’ actions that need to be taken to give this ‘nervous fledgling market’ what it needs to fly:-
- A use class to reflect what is being built now,not what was being built in the 1970s, so thatdevelopers know where they stand and do not haveto build in the time and cost of an appeal.
- Recognition that the additional costs inherent incertain types of retirement housing can be recoveredthrough properly regulated Event Fees. This means aswift final report from the Law Commission buildingon its early promise and parliamentary support forany enabling legislation.
- Freedom from unduly burdensome requirementsrelating to Affordable Housing, Starter Homes,S.106 Agreements and CIL which in many cases arenot appropriate to housing of this sort and act as afinancial drag on investment.
- Research into the financial and social benefitsresulting from the release of larger homes intothe market through downsizing (including theadditional SDLT generated through a more activemarket) and – building on studies in New Zealandand Australia – research into the financial andsocial benefits on the health care system generallyas a result of increased specialist housing. Thisis something which the industry itself mightcommission through one of the industry bodies.
It is not that government needs to spend a lot of money to encourage this sector. Rather it needs to remove restrictions, provide clarity and facilitate. The market itself will do everything else.