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Coping with an ageing population has been on the political agenda in the UK for many years. It has been suggested that older people downsize their properties to free up larger houses for young families. But what is being done to meet the needs of older people?

Housing minister, Alok Sharma, has admitted that the planning for older people’s housing needs could be improved. At present, the Department for Communities and Local Government is working with local councils on guidance for this complex area. Sharma told the Communities and Local Government Committee that it cannot be a case of one policy fits all, because each older person has different needs. Whilst the majority of people will want to remain living in mainstream housing, some others may prefer sheltered accommodation, he told the committee.

Older people could be thinking about moving out of their present property for a variety of reasons. Divorce among the over-50s is rising. Some couples may feel the family home is too big and expensive for them and so want to sell up. Others may want to sell and move into rental accommodation so they free up some cash, rather than just rely on their pension for an income. It goes without saying that the needs of older people are different to younger people when it comes to housing. They may rely more on public transport or want to live close to shops and a health centre so they can walk rather than drive. They may prefer bungalows or apartments if they are becoming infirm. These are some of the issues which the government needs to address. Sharma said the government needs to ensure more homes are being built that older people will want to live in. He also acknowledged that the current housing stock needs to fit the requirements of older people. The committee also heard that any housing policy concerning older people has to include the private rental sector. It is estimated that 200,000 older people moved into private rented accommodation in the past four years. So, as more people in this age bracket are renting properties, their needs must be met.

This is, obviously, something that landlords can also bear in mind when expanding their properties or renovating existing ones. Sharma said that adaptations may be needed for a home, which could be a positive thing. A grant is available for people to make such adaptations to their own properties to enable them to continue living there. This disabled facilities grant can be used to put in better heating systems or insulation, for example. Tenants can apply for it as well as homeowners. Obviously, landlords should be included in any discussions regarding a policy for housing for the older generation. Any adaptations to suit the needs of older people are likely to make it increasingly likely that the property will be suitable to be rented to other people with similar needs further down the line.

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