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With rising numbers of renters in later life, can you afford not to adapt your rentals?

Article Posted - 5th November 2019

When we talk about ‘generation rent', we usually mean young people: millennials unable to get onto the housing ladder and likely to remain in private rentals for much of their lives.

But we don't often consider the other end of the age spectrum: the growing numbers of people renting in later life. Today, there are around 500,000 older people living in rented accommodation in England, and this figure is rising. This demographic shift has major implications for landlords, who must increasingly consider the needs of older renters if they are to find and keep reliable tenants.

The housing issues that many people face in later life, whether private renters or owner-occupiers, stem from the simple fact that we face a dire shortage of homes that are suitable for the needs of older people and those with mobility issues. Today, over 90% of older people live in mainstream homes – but less than 7% of UK homes meet basic accessibility standards. Our research has found that nearly half of over-65s worry about struggling with everyday activities, like cooking, bathing or eating in the future. And all too often, people don't think about adaptations to their existing housing or their housing options until a crisis point, like a fall or a bereavement, forces them to – by which point it's often too late.

But there's a great deal that can be done to make our existing homes safe and suitable for older people – and landlords have a huge role to play. We know from our research that making small changes to people's homes – like installing handrails, level-access showers and even ramps – can play a huge role in improving people's quality of life and helping people stay independent for longer.

Unfortunately, people often don't know what help there is available to make these kind of changes, or know how to go about adapting their home. These barriers can be compounded for people living in the private rented sector. But if landlords are proactive and supportive in making the small changes people need to live safely and independently, this can be an attraction, rather than a drawback, to renting. Our research finds that many people of all ages appreciate the value of adaptations and good accessibility in properties, so keeping these in place when a tenancy comes to an end can attract and benefit future tenants and their visitors, particularly when modern, nicely designed looking adaptations are used. 

The costs of these adaptations don't need to come out of landlords' pockets: the Disabled Facilities Grant from local councils can pay for adaptations, with the average grant being approximately £7,000 and the maximum £30,000. The grant is available for landlords if they have a tenant with a disability, where there is an intention that the tenant will live in the property for the 5 year grant period. Adaptations can be a long-term investment, making rentals attractive to those with mobility needs in a market where those needs are rarely met. Having these in place can help landlords to find long term tenants, with reduced risk of void periods.

The demographics of the UK are shifting rapidly, and so too are the demographics of the rental market. It's crucial that landlords are able to adapt to the needs of older renters – which must mean getting to grips with the aids and adaptations that can help people live comfortably, safely and independently in later life.

Heather Scotcher, Senior Programmes Manager for Homes, Ageing Better 

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