Home Property A new milestone for the retirement living sector

A new milestone for the retirement living sector

by Lisa Carr

Nick Sanderson, CEO, Audley Group

It was February 2020 when the first calls for a cross-party taskforce were made by the team at ARCO, the main body representing the UK Integrated Retirement Community sector. At that time there was little sense of what the next two years would hold. Just a month later the UK entered its first national lockdown and Covid-19, something that was alien to us a matter of weeks before, has become part of all of our daily lives.

For us in the integrated retirement community sector the pandemic has only highlighted the urgent need to expand and offer this type of living to more people. Proving the model, integrated retirement communities, like Audley, were able to keep people safe, in their own homes and supported throughout the different phases of the pandemic. This hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Research from ARCO found a very significant uptick in people enquiring and moving to retirement communities in the pandemic with 85% of providers[1] reporting elevated sales and lettings levels in late 2020.

At the same time the political attention has intensified as the Government has recognised the urgent need to do better for people as they get older. The experience of those living in care homes during the pandemic has laid this bare and heightened calls for people to have more choice over how and where they live as they get older.

For a long time, the options have been too restricted. Many have faced a choice between living in a large family home, unsuitable to changing needs or accessing care, or moving into a care home. Something few people want for themselves or their loved ones.

The reason behind this being a significant shortfall in age-specific housing options in our country. Housing with care properties account for 6.1% of housing stock in the US, 6% in Australia and 5.2% in New Zealand. The UK’s market penetration is just 0.7%[2]. An additional 400,000 housing with care units would be needed to meet just the lowest of these figures.

This gap has meant that not only have we, as a country, been unable to meet the demand that exists for these types of properties, but it has also robbed people of the care and wellbeing facilities that are so desperately needed. The scale of growth needed is clear and is exactly why the taskforce, bringing together different government departments, could be so transformative – paving the way for a complete shift in how we care for people as they get older.

The Government used the Levelling Up White Paper to announce its plans for a taskforce and this came hot on the heels of the Putting People at the Heart of Care White Paper in December, which stated that “every decision about care is a decision about housing”. In just the last week the government reinforced its position on housing and care with the Integration White Paper. All of this demonstrates the political commitment to bringing housing and care into one conversation.

Now all attention must turn to the taskforce making change, and doing so quickly. We can’t afford to wait for political arguments about funding to overshadow the actions that will bring about real change. And not all paths start with a pot of money. Funding, while an important part of the ingredient list, doesn’t underpin everything and I’d like to see the taskforce focus on removing the barriers that currently exist and enabling providers to step in and build more specialist housing.

Top of the list of priorities should be planning reform. Reform which acknowledges integrated retirement communities as a sub-class and mandates the provision of these specialist properties in local plans and regeneration projects. This simple change would set the wheels in motion and begin to address the demand and supply gap. All without relying on the Treasury’s stretched pockets.

[1] https://www.arcouk.org/press-release/sharp-rise-in-demand-for-retirement-communities

2 Jones Lang LaSalle 2021

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