UK retirement living developers and operators must look at the USA and Australia with some degree of envy when they see buoyant and growing retirement village sectors in these two countries. Less than one per cent of Britons over the age of 60 currently live in specialist retirement properties, compared to 17 per cent in the US and 13 per cent in Australia.
While the concept of retirement village in the UK is still in its infancy, with a preference instead for smaller retirement communities, there are significant growth opportunities although it may be some time before we see any major moves to mirror these markets.
There are number of reasons why the growth of large-scale retirement communities may not happen in the UK with land costs and lack of funding being the principal reasons.
Unlike the US or Australia, there is little or no culture of downsizing in our later-life housing. Indeed, the huge amount of equity that retirees hold in their property values often leaves homeowners wanting to pass on that wealth to their children and grandchildren, rather than spending it on a home that for many will be far better suited to their physical needs. More common is a crisis move into a more formal care setting and not necessarily with much choice.
In a recent survey, conducted by YouGov, 1,002 men and women aged over 50 for their views on retirement living. 68% said that would prefer not to live in a retirement facility of any kind. Just 15% said they would and this reflects people’s, often wrong, perceptions of older-living communities.
The reasons given were uncertainty over costs of living in a retirement scheme, restrictions on being able to pass that home on to family members, and concerns over living with just other retirees – 60% of the YouGov respondents said that they believe such schemes would simply be boring!
Despite the preference for independent living, the YouGov survey respondents do recognise the advantages retirement communities can offer, with 60% saying they would be unconcerned about meeting people and making new friends and with 55% believing that loneliness would not be a problem.
There is growing cries for central and local government to do much more to improve the situation. The planning regime in England and Wales makes it very different for specialist retirement housing developers. The creation of a dedicated use class order for retirement and later life-homes alongside clearer guidance from government with a requirement for local plans to reflect this need would help.
Central government continues to obsess about first-time buyers, forgetting the growing need for later-life housing. Freeing up family homes, held by retirees that are too big, too hard to maintain and not suited to the challenges of older living, would provide a major boost to the available housing stock, which in turn will keep a check on vastly inflated house prices.
An individual’s last home should be the pinnacle of their housing journey, not one of compromise and government housing policy needs to reflect this. It’s not just about Help to Buy for younger people; we need also to think about ‘help to move’ for people in later life.