Clive Fenton is the Chief Executive of McCarthy and Stone.
There has been a lot of focus at the Conference on helping Generation Rent. But helping Generation Stuck – the millions of older people who want to downsize but can’t due to a lack of suitable housing options – could deliver the same outcome. Research shows for each person moving into a retirement housing development, a minimum of two further moves are created on the ladder: typically a family moving into the vacated property, and a young couple then buying their first home.
Local communities often question what benefit new housing brings, but the social and economic benefits of providing better housing options for older people are clear. Retirement housing frees up family properties, reduces pressure on greenfield development by developing well-located and well-connected brownfield sites and reduces adult social care bills by keeping people happier, healthier and independent for longer.
But Government does not make it easy for older people to downsize. Retirement housing providers find little planning help or incentive to build and they struggle to obtain land compared to major developers. Our developments have additional costs – shared spaces and services, higher design standards and specifications, and rapid build out rates – we can’t drip feed supply like big developers as our buildings are typically apartments and need to be provided in one phase. All of this impacts what we can pay landowners, and so limits supply.
Despite these extra costs, councils levy taxes, like Section 106 payments, as if we were normal housebuilders. By contrast, local authority retirement housing actually receives subsidy of £40,000 per unit. While we would never ask for subsidy, Government needs to rethink these unreasonable requests for affordable housing and other financial contributions that prevent retirement properties being built.
Hence the UK has one of the lowest downsizing rates of any developed country, and a very low supply of suitable housing built for older people.
Importantly, neither do retirement providers receive any assistance from Help to Buy, which is effectively subsidising 40 per cent of new build properties at the other end of the market.
Then there is excessive stamp duty. Our customers are in their late 70s and are typically asset rich and cash poor. The idea of paying tens of thousands of pounds in taxes and moving costs means they are more inclined to stay where they are.
This is why we are calling for a targeted Help-to-Move package in the Autumn Budget to help those older people wanting to downsize. This would see a one-time stamp duty exemption for those aged 65 and over. Independent research shows this could help 30 per cent more older people move, and result in a net gain in stamp duty income for the Treasury through the additional chains created.
We would also like to see new planning policies encouraging the supply of retirement housing across all tenures, noting the unique viability model of this form of housing.
Pleasingly, both issues are referred to in the Housing White Paper. We now just need the policies to come forward.
Helping Generation Stuck would deliver many benefits, ultimately helping Generation Rent and supporting two key groups of potential Conservative voters.