Homes for life

“We don’t need starter homes, we need ender homes” says Ian Preston

24 July 2015

CSE's Head of Home Energy Services argues that 'homes for life' could be a cornerstone of fuel poverty policy.

Like all governments, the current administration has more than a few problems on its plate, but here are three which could be tackled together:

1.    We need to build new homes – 200,000 a year, by many people's estimates.
2.    We have an aging population.
3.    We need to tackle fuel poverty.

And now here's a way to kill all three birds with one stone Homes for life.

Eight or nine years ago I attended a meeting of the South West Housing Partnership at which a representative of a social housing group talked about his vision of “Homes for life”. What he meant by this was a programme to build decent new housing for our aging population – retirement properties offering a decent quality of life and independence, and an alternative to a care home. The ‘lifetime homes’ concept was first developed in the 1990s by a group of housing experts (see

The conversation has stayed with me over the years because surely this is a good – and obvious idea? More housing that provides supported living which reduces the costs of social care what's not to like?

Such a proposal also goes a long way to addressing one of the classic causes of fuel poverty: an ‘asset-rich’ elderly person living alone in a large and poorly insulated home (e.g. the double whammy of low income coupled with high cost).

The current fuel poverty strategy says little about the aging population or the shortage of housing, but it should be noted that the UK currently has 10 million people over 65 who occupy nearly a third of all homes. Among these are 110,000 low income single elderly persons living in a home with high fuel costs.

Many such people simply don’t want to leave their home when they get older, but for others a key issue is the availability of an attractive alternative such as a bungalow (cited by 29% of people as their ideal home in a survey by the Alliance & Leicester). However, bungalows aren’t cheap and are often few and far between. So we need more homes that appeal to our aging population.

Right now, there are nearly 4.2 million pensioner households living in properties with three or more spare rooms, and this figure is rising by 85,000 (2%) each year. This means, as Lord Best, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People, observed [1], that we need to build 85,000 ‘downsizer’ homes every 12 months simply to leave the total number of under-occupiers unchanged. The freeing up under-occupied properties would benefit families unable to find an affordable home, such as those whose plight was reported in the Guardian (22 July) and elsewhere.

And as retirees moved into homes built with their needs in mind, we would also be tackling the high-cost aspect of fuel poverty: half of residents living in such homes say their energy bills were lower[2]. But the benefits go wider than just energy: residents of these homes have reported spending less time in hospital since moving[3] so we'd also be reducing the costs of social care and the burden on the health service of treating cold related illnesses.

But the fact is that the number of homes built specifically for older people has decreased from 30,000 a year in the 1980s to around 8,000 a year today[4]. The last Government issued a policy paper in 2015 covering housing for vulnerable and older persons, where it stated its commitment to helping older people live independently by promoting the development of ‘lifetime neighbourhoods’. If we need to build 200,000 new homes every year, then at least half of these should be homes for life which improve health and tackle fuel poverty.

“We don’t need starter homes, we need ender homes"

1) Accommodating our extended middle age, Lord Best, Chair, Hanover Housing Association 
2) The Affordability of retirement housing. Demos (2014), For the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People
3) Housing Markets and Independence in Old Age: Expanding the OpportunitiesBall, (2011)
4) Sizing up the situation: the advantages of downsizing. PWC (2014), available from Hanover Housing

Image reproduced under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

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