Blog: Older people’s housing in Scotland

Callum Chomczuk

CIH Scotland’s national director Callum Chomczuk takes a look at the issue of older people’s housing in Scotland and the need for more accessible housing.

Scotland’s population is continuing to grow and age. People aged 75 and over are projected to be the fastest growing age group in Scotland and are set to increase by 27% in the next ten years and 79% over the next 25 years.

Independent living is not only what many older people want but it also makes economic sense. Installing minor adaptations such as grab rails or building wheelchair accessible homes can help keep someone out of a hospital or care setting for years and save the state tens of thousands of pounds.

But despite the fact that our population is growing older and more frail, we are still wedded to a housing programme which is building homes that are mostly inaccessible for wheelchair users.

We know there are almost 90,000 wheelchair users in Scotland and that a quarter of them do not consider their home suitable, a number that is expected to increase by 80% in the next six years alone.

Yet the systems used to identify disabled people’s requirements and deliver accessible houses are almost non-existent. We are in a bizarre situation where the Scottish Government is funding the largest investment in affordable housing in a generation and we still do not know current need and future demand for accessible housing. And despite the clear health and care benefits from building adaptable and accessible homes, the government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme does not provide dedicated funding that recognises the additional cost of construction.

The failure to build accessible homes to scale is compounded by our adaptations programme. Recent evidence given to the Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee shows that it is often the housing associations with least demand for adaptations that receive 100% of funding, and those with greater need are not getting enough. By only receiving part funding from the Scottish Government for more costly adaptations work, housing associations often have to wait until the next financial year to fund projects, a delay that can put someone at risk of ill health or a hospital visit.

Confusingly, for those in private housing or council housing, the system is different. While the budget and management for this provision has been transferred to health and care integrated joint boards, problems in collating data means that we don’t truly know the level of demand that exists. However, we do know that waiting times for adaptation services average over 60 days for housing associations and over 40 days for local authorities.

We caution against housing associations increasing rent to absorb adaptation costs which could impact on older and disabled tenants, but it is clear that a more considered approach to support older people to live independently at home is required.

For example, we need an adequate supply of new homes across all tenures which are built to wheelchair-accessible standards. This should sit alongside improvements in data collection, a target for 10% of new homes to be built to a wheelchair-accessible standard and crucially, sufficient money to deliver it.

Despite the challenges, there is much to be proud of when it comes to older people’s housing in Scotland. There are increased housing options through both a shared equity scheme and the Affordable Housing Supply Programme, and the drive towards telehealth is helping more and more older Scots.

But there is still more to do. We have a rightful ambition for everyone to live independently at home and if that is going to be realised, we need to start assessing genuine demand and build the right homes in the right places for all of Scotland’s older people.