Building Sustainable Tenancies: Preparing for an ageing population

Within a generation, more than a quarter of the UK population will be over 65. How is the social housing sector preparing for this surge in need?

We are all living longer; that’s a fact. Yet, many individuals, as well as businesses and even the government are not prepared for this shift in longevity and from personal pensions to social care, as things currently stand, many will be caught short. The implications for social housing are some of the most pronounced, with government support and funding predicted to continue to decline and ill-equipped housing estimated to cost the NHS £1.4 Billion per annum. But there can be a brighter future! By prioritising planning for the challenges ahead, in consultation with the customers who will ultimately be affected, housing providers can put provisions in place to ensure that they are prepared for a shift in demographic.

Looking across their housing stock, providers will be increasingly compelled to undertake quantitative and qualitative investigations into who is living in their stock, the issues those residents will face as they age, and how they define their vision for the future. The problems which are set to impact housing range from physical and mental decline – which requires adapted households – to increasing care and support for issues, such as arthritis and dementia. However, the impact of ageing also encompasses more nuanced subjects, such as financial or digital exclusion and loneliness. By 2036, 28% of the UK’s population will be aged over 65 and although the numbers seem striking, 65 does not mean what it once did. The rise of the remote worker presently means that more people of current retirement age are likely to be working from home or switching to part-time, flexi-time or consultation work well into their 70s.

What is particularly striking about housing an ageing population is that for many, it may be the first time they access social housing or interact with a housing association and social care. Those who may have owned their own homes or privately rented for their adult lives might find themselves now looking to organisations with a supported alternative.  Ashome ownership declines and ‘generation rent’ for the first time becomes the majority, the effect on the social housing sector is as yet, unprecedented.

Across their working life, social housing residents are significantly less likely to be in employment; according to The Smith Institute this number sits at less than a third, compared with over 60% within the general population. A consequence of sporadic employment is having fewer savings for old age and possible multiple, small pension pots.  It has also been shown that social housing residents have marginally lower life expectancies than the general population and are therefore, likely to experience poorer health. With this in mind, the original mission of housing associations as social businesses should to be matched with the introduction of ‘health and wealth’ schemes at the earliest stages of tenancy in order to combat the notable socioeconomic differences.


One of the major health risks that can be avoided with careful interaction with residents is the likelihood of falls, which costs the NHS upwards of £600 million a year. Mansfield District Council offer a ‘rapid adaptation grant’ to single person households, as well as larger schemes. The grant is not means tested across social and private accommodation and offers up to £40,000 for stairlifts and handrails. Grants within this scheme are approved following receipt of an email from a trusted assessor within a local falls assessment team.


Care & Repair Cymru support 13 Welsh care agencies, offering rapid response on minor works and adaptations costing up to £350. The funding comes in the form of a grant and without means testing. A previous recipient of the grant spent three weeks in hospital following a fall, after which Royal Gwent Hospital arranged an assessment of her home. Within 48 hours of the assessment, a grab rail and a handrail had been installed through Care & Repair Cymru.

Policy has been seen to react to this growing need as well, with increased understanding around the value of keeping people out of hospital and living independently. In England in 2019-20, disabled facilities grants in the UK rose by 85% to £505 million and the number of applications has doubled in five years.

According to the World Economic Forum the global population of over 60s is set to double by 2050. The main strategy recommended for all organisations is that of a ‘life-course approach’. This, in short, means the promotion of health and wealth. Offering residents the tools early-on to build secure futures with schemes such as financial planning, building digital skills and health advice. The creation and maintenance of sustainable tenancies now and the enriching of communities, will strengthen support webs around ageing residents. Throughout this article we have explored the current climate and how housing providers are working within this backdrop to prepare for an ageing population. Our follow-up to this article will explore modern innovations in sensitive and malleable design that cater for the complex care needs that present as we age.

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