Meeting the home adaptation needs of older people

COVID-19 has shown there is an urgent need for government to ensure that councils and local partners have the necessary funding to enable timely and effective home adaptations for older and disabled people, to help ensure their safety, wellbeing and independence during and beyond the pandemic.

We wrote this publication before the COVID-19 pandemic but the learning in this guide feels even more relevant after the experience of supporting our residents at the height of the crisis, and as we plan for potential further local outbreaks.

Councils have always wanted their residents to live in safe, affordable, good quality homes. COVID-19 has further shown the centrality of housing as a key component of health and care and the foundation upon which people can achieve a positive quality of life. The impact of poor housing on health is similar to that of smoking or alcohol and costs the NHS at least £1.4 billion a year, as well as increasing demand for social care.

Our ageing population means that older people (over 65s) are making up a growing part of our housing market. They now live in a third of all homes, and this is set to increase in the coming years. Currently, over 90 per cent of older people live in mainstream homes and 80 per cent of the homes we will be living in by 2050 are already built.

As a society and as individuals, we need to improve the way we plan for old age, and this includes how we house our older people. Whilst there is an undersupply of fully accessible homes, with just seven per cent of the stock meeting the four ‘visitable’ criteria, 72 per cent could be adapted. Learning highlighted in this publication shows that timely adaptations can make a real difference to people’s wellbeing, enabling them to stay in their own home when that is their wish. This is especially important given that some groups of people, including those with underlying health conditions and older people, are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Councils have responsibilities for planning, housing, social care and public health. Through health and wellbeing boards, councils are uniquely placed to bring health and housing partners together to plan for how best to meet the housing needs of our ageing population. This includes ensuring that older and disabled people of all ages, including children, can access the practical help they need to adapt their homes. Although our focus here is on adaptations, councils know that it is just as important to support people to live healthier lives by helping them to address problems such as damp and cold homes.

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