Remake, remodel: How existing stock can meet the demand for specialist older people’s housing

Jeremy Porteus blog 2020
Jeremy Porteus
Chief Executive, Housing Learning Improvement Network

Last month I was invited to write a feature on remodeling sheltered housing for the CIH annual conference edition of Inside Housing. This blog reproduces the text with their permission.

It is an inescapable fact that our population is ageing. And so while the UK faces many challenges in providing adequate housing for all sections of the population, the need for specialist housing for older people is particularly acute, and set to become more so.

A 2017 report by the Local Government Association (LGA) about the need for housing for older people said there will be a 22% rise in the number of over-65s by 2025, who will make up one in five of the population by 2030. By 2050, a quarter of the UK population will be aged over 65.

While the majority of over-65s in the UK live in mainstream housing, the demand for purpose-built specialist housing – retirement housing and housing with care (or extra care) – is set to become more significant, across all tenures.

At present only 0.6% of the UK population lives in housing with care, compared with over 5% in Australia and the USA. But our changing demographics and structural changes to health and social care mean that demand is set to rise.

Much of the recent discussion about policy and market demand for specialist housing has focussed on new developments. But, by one estimate, local authorities and housing associations own or manage at least £60 billion of existing specialist properties, much of it under-utilised.

Remake, remodel: How existing stock can meet the demand for specialist older people’s housingIf we want to ensure that our older people are adequately housed, then our existing stock also has an important role to play. We need to ensure existing and potential residents are aware of both the accommodation and the related services ‘offer’ in existing provision.

New build specialist housing is often considered the belle of the ball when it comes to funding and investment. However, the government’s Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund offers some capital funding available to social housing providers for refurbishment and modernisation of existing stock. The conditions for funding also build on the ‘care ready’ design principles in the HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation) report, which the Housing LIN helped to produce.

There are many ways in which existing stock can be brought to modern standards. Better maintenance of existing properties is one important method, and one which can result in savings in the long run. Much of the work can be fitted in to existing maintenance schedules, including updating interior decoration; introducing better lighting; improving colour contrast for those with visual impairments; improving signage; updating safety and security features; and taking measures to reduce trips, hazards and falls.

Modern heating systems combined with improving insulations and windows, meanwhile, can bring savings on energy bills as well as improving the comfort of residents.

Scheduled maintenance can also provide an opportunity to improve properties through the introduction of further adaptations for older people. These are improving all the time both in efficiency and aesthetics. Modular design, in which adaptations are designed to be installed when needed, is increasing in popularity. And with an increasing number of people experiencing mobility problems, adaptations can often valuably be left in place after a change in tenancy.

More extensive changes to properties can be achieved by remodelling. This can also mean that existing stock not originally designed for older people can be utilised.

Remodelling might involve changing bedsits into one bed flats, or creating self-contained flats by removing shared bathrooms. Wet rooms instead of traditional bathrooms are often attractive for older residents. The process also provides an opportunity to improve safety standards by removing asbestos and replacing cladding.

The use of technology and new designs to increase the efficiency and attractiveness of properties is also a rapidly growing area of interest. Innovations such as video door entrance systems, digital smart alarms to trigger care in the case of emergencies, and use of voice activated digital devices (such as Amazon’s Alexa) to provide information, reminders, and updates could all prove useful. So too could technology that links to health and other care services, potentially providing a solution to the increasing problem of isolation.

Communal areas are of course important here too. By encouraging the use of such areas by members of the wider community, landlords can deliver a greater range of services to residents, and make potential savings in the cost of delivery of services.

Some newer schemes include drop-in advice surgeries, gyms, weekly markets, and childcare facilities. Resident participation in such events again has the potential to reduce isolation and bolster wellbeing. Where there is sufficient land, landlords could even create purpose-built extensions for day centres, GP surgeries, health centres, and educational facilities.

There is no doubt that housing for older people is a recognised and rapidly growing market. But there is also little doubt that the focus is too often on new build as a way to meet demand. Maintaining, adapting and improving existing stock can be less capital intensive, reduce our carbon footprint and is a way of helping to meet rising demand in a shorter time frame.

While there will always be room for new developments, local authorities, housing associations and care providers should also be seeking to ensure that current sheltered housing assets remain fit for purpose and provide an affordable, decent and attractive home for people to grow older happily.

If you found this of interest, visit our online housing for older people pages for more on sheltered housing at:

Lastly, if you have retrofitted, redeveloped, refurbished or remodeled your sheltered housing, we want to hear about your innovative examples so we can compile a good practice report. Email us details and accompanying images at:


Posted on by Dr Leonard Anderson

Innovative technology now enables sheltered housing scheme managers to be more efficient by automatic reports of people at risk of falls, dehydration, hypothermia, power cuts and immobility caused by illness. This is now being trialled in a number of housing associations.

The same technology can be used by asset managers for monitoring ambient conditions in void properties.

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