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Urging old people into smaller homes 'may backfire'

By Judith Burns
BBC News family reporter

image captionPeople should occupy homes of the 'right size' throughout their lives argues a study

Encouraging older people to downsize to smaller homes could backfire and worsen the housing shortage for first-time buyers, argues a report.

The International Longevity Centre report said more should be done to make retirement housing "aspirational."

A lack of desirable retirement housing meant older people downsizing might end up chasing the same properties as first-time buyers, it added.

But critics said different generations had different housing priorities.

Quality of life

The International Longevity Centre (ILC) study, commissioned by Hanover Housing, criticised "scapegoating" of older people for "hoarding housing" as "ageist and irrelevant".

Rather than simply calling for older people to downsize, "we should be incentivising all generations to refrain from under-occupying properties", urge the authors.

However, they added that purpose-built housing for older people can improve their health and quality of life and "free up family-sized housing".

The report adds that elderly people are "often in denial about the realities of ageing" and struggle on in unsuitable, over-large homes when smaller properties might be more suitable.

"We must all think harder about the sort of housing we are likely to want to live in as we age," said Dylan Kneale of ILC-UK.

"Too many of us deny the impact of ageing and end up in inappropriate housing."

Mr Kneale urged local and central government to support the provision of appropriate housing for all ages.

"Planners and policy-makers must recognise the impact of our ageing society and develop adequate housing".

The report argues that the UK needs to build more homes but adds that a lack of desirable retirement housing means older people who downsize may end up chasing the same properties as first-time buyers.

Retirement housing needs an image overhaul, say the authors, with many people viewing it as "expensive and isolated" and prone to hidden charges.

Currently it is focused on people with the greatest health and social care needs - instead design should be improved to make it "aspirational", they argue.

Florida condo'

The study suggests that designers of retirement homes could learn from age-segregated housing for other groups, for example student housing.

"Older people are no different from younger generations in being rational consumers; they need to be convinced that moving is the right decision for them."

Ashley Seager, of the Intergenerational Foundation, which has argued for tax breaks to encourage older people to move into smaller homes, said: "Asking older generations to downsize is neither ageist or irrelevant. US citizens happily flock to their condos in Florida, freeing themselves of the tyranny of upkeep expenses.

"The simple fact remains that children do not have the family space they need to thrive because government has not replaced the homes taken by older homeowners choosing not to downsize once their families have flown the nest."

"It is a myth that older downsizers and younger first time buyers compete for housing. Older generations require much higher specifications, good bus routes and amenities whilst young people are more willing to compromise on transport links and stairs in favour of price."

Michelle Mitchell of Age UK agreed too few retirement homes were being built and echoed concerns about design quality and support services in some schemes.

"We urgently need a much better choice of good housing options for older people. This would help younger people too as it would enable those older people who do want to move out of homes that no longer meet their needs to actually do so. At present they often have no choice but to stay where they are."

More on this story

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