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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Housing and Older People: Housing Issues, Aspirations and Needs

New research commissioned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive focuses on the housing needs and aspirations of around half a million older people in NI. The findings showed that older people in NI want to have choice when it comes to their housing. Whilst some older people will actively decide to remain in their current accommodation into old age, making necessary adaptations according to mobility issues, others have little choice but to move as a result of changing physical and economic circumstances.

Conclusions and recommendations

The overarching recommendation of the research is that the Housing Executive consider the research in developing its housing strategy for older people. Amongst the report's other recommendations are

  • that the Housing Executive and relevant bodies should review the need for support and input from the statutory sector, and financial support to enable the voluntary sector, to assist older people who wish to move house through provision of advice and information, and practical support
  • the development and communication of targeted and specialist financial advice on the costs and benefits of moving for older people which should highlight the actual cost of staying in owner occupation and the likely implications in terms of care costs if an older person moves into residential or nursing care. This could be undertaken via various providers and would ensure that older people know their full range of housing options and choices
  • relevant agencies complete a comprehensive, crosssectoral review of the type, level and frequency of assistance available for older people with care and support needs, to enable them to remain in their own homes
  • the Housing Executive and relevant bodies should continue to examine the interconnections between housing and health, with particular reference to the way in which older people are assisted and supported to remain living at home.
  • housing providers and housing advice agencies should review the information and advice available to older people (all tenures) about managing safety and security issues.

Who is included in the research?

For the purpose of the research, older people were defined as those aged 55 and over and three cohorts of older people were identified, with these categories relating as much to health and mobility issues as they did to actual age: 

  • economically active, ‘young’ older people;
  • transition older people, and
  • ‘old’ older people (also referred to as ‘frail’ older people). 

The research was carried out with 57 older people who took part in a series of focus groups and interviews, as well as feedback from stakeholders (including those internal to the Housing Executive and also a range of external stakeholders from statutory and community organisations).

Vulnerability creates additional housing needs and issues

The housing needs and issues faced by older people in NI relate to more than their physical accommodation needs and the research identified a range of vulnerability issues including loneliness and isolation, which act as barriers to remaining in their current home. These issues often arise as a result of losing a partner and adult children leaving home. In particular, the increasing need for internet access was highlighted for those ‘younger’ older people who took part in the research, as a means to combat the issues of isolation and loneliness. In addition, concerns about security and safety were paramount for those older people who took part in the research. Recommendations from the research included the need for a collaborative approach across all relevant organisations in order to identify needs and appropriate services to tackle the issues of isolation and safety.

Housing and health

The link between housing and health came through strongly in the research. In light of the confirmation provided by the research that older people tend to prefer to stay in their current accommodation in spite of declining mobility and changes to health as they age, the report recommends that the NIHE and other relevant bodies should continue to examine the ways in which older people can be assisted and supported to remain living at home.

Affordability issues

Highlighting the continued need for independent, tenure-neutral housing advice in NI, the research explored the ways in which affordability issues affected older people. In particular, the need for advice to help older people to explore ways of dealing with affordability issues, including those older people living in private rented accommodation and also for older homeowners, particularly those with term-expired interest only mortgages. The report also highlighted the need for specialist financial advice for older people who wish to explore their options and choices for moving from homeownership to renting or to residential or nursing care.

Analysis of housing demand and supply

The report also highlighted the need for an analysis of demand and supply in the context of recent population projections. The recommendation was that this should be tenure-neutral, rather than focused on the need for specialist housing in the social sector. In terms of future housing supply, it was recommended that joint ventures between housing associations and private developers should be considered, with an emphasis on the potential to incorporate the HAPPI principles into the specifications for the delivery of future schemes (which arose from the UK-wide ‘Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation’ report in 2009).

Overall, the report stressed the interconnection between many of the roles and functions of the Department for Communities and the Housing Executive when it comes to older people’s housing issues. Taken together with changing needs with regard to health, care and support as well as security, the report recommends the need for a collaborative approach to addressing the housing needs and aspirations of older people in NI.

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This article was written on 6 December 2019. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.