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Housing | State of Ageing in 2020

Many of us are spending more time in our homes than ever before, but for too many people, their home is actively damaging their health and wellbeing.

Landscape multiple of homes

The State of Ageing in 2020 is an online report with multiple chapters, capturing a snapshot of ageing today and considering our future prospects. Below, you can get further detail by clicking on the 'Analysis' buttons and you can hover over graphs to access the data.

For the latest statistics and commentary, we have since published The State of Ageing 2022.

Our housing stock is not fit for purpose

It is not ready for the age shift that will see the number of households with someone aged over 85 almost double over the next 25 years. This is not some future risk. It has become a present crisis, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep many of us confined to our homes. 

There are over two million households headed by someone aged 55 and over which do not meet basic standards: for example it is too cold, or too damp or has a trip hazard. This puts health at risk: anyone with a respiratory condition living in a damp home (already at greater risk of suffering acute effects of COVID-19) could have seen it exacerbated through lockdown. And not enough houses are being built to accessible standards, which could leave many of us living in unsuitable housing or having to move into residential care because we can’t remain at home.

Key points:

  • There are 4.3 million non-decent homes in England. Of the homes headed by someone aged 75 or over, 21% were classed as non-decent in 2017, a proportion that is unchanged since 2012.
  • Only 9% of homes in England (just over two million), contain all four features that would make them visitable for everyone. These are a WC at entrance level, wide doorways and circulation space, a flush threshold and level access.
  • One million owner-occupiers aged 55 or older live in poverty – jeopardising their ability to keep their home warm and safe as they age.
  • Around a third of people aged 50 or older say their home needs work done to make it suitable as they get older – but cite cost as the biggest issue preventing changes.

What needs to happen:

  • We need a major programme of action and investment to support people on low incomes, across all tenures, to improve their housing condition. This includes investment in retrofitting existing homes in order to make them safe, digitally connected and energy efficient. (Energy efficiency can help tackle fuel poverty and reduce the number of people unable to afford to heat their homes, as well as meeting government targets on decarbonisation.)
  • Ensuring that we have housing stock that is suitable for everyone as they age must be a central issue for housing policy. We must act to reverse the trend in building homes that will not meet the needs of our ageing population. New homes must be built for people of all ages who will live in them, not just the first occupants. All new homes across tenures – and including those converted through permitted development – should be built to a higher level of accessibility. The government must act to raise the minimum mandatory standard for adaptable and accessible homes.
  • The government should reconsider its recent relaxation of planning regulations and permitted development rights which risks creating a legacy of sub-standard homes.
  • Home builders should go beyond current mandatory standards, building sustainable homes that promote independence and wellbeing by being adaptable, digitally connected and with good access to natural light.

Home owners and renters both face financial pressures in later life

Right now, most older people own their own home

  • Most people aged 65 and over (79%) live in a home they own.
  • 74% of people age 65 and over own their home outright – while 4.6% are paying off a mortgage.
  • Since the early 2000s, in every age group except the over 65s, rates of owner occupation have fallen, and rates of private renting have increased. Of 55-64 year olds, 73% are owner occupiers, but that is down from 79% in 2010-11, and 82% in 2003-04.

Owner occupation is the most common form of tenure among those aged over 65, increasingly so since the early 2000s. But this trend is set to reverse in the future: a growing proportion of people are struggling to buy a home in mid-life, and the supply of socially-rented housing is slowing, meaning that more people will be staying in private rented accommodation into their later life.

Since 2003, the number of over 55s living in private rented accommodation has more than doubled – a trend which is set to continue

  • The number of privately rented homes occupied by a person aged 55 or over has increased from 366,000 in 2003-04 to 799,0000 in 2018-19.
  • This increase is not just because there are more people in this age group now than there were 20 years ago. The proportion of older people in the private rented sector is also rising: 7% of people aged 55 and over were in the private rented sector in 2018-19, compared to 4% in 2003-04.   
  • The proportion of households that are private rentals is set to keep growing, as rates of owner occupation among younger people fall. Right now, nearly 30% of 35-44 year olds live in a private rented home, compared to less than 10% in 2003-04. And the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Housing and Care for Older People estimate that there will be an additional 1.5 million households over pension age in the private rental sector by 2045 (making a total of 2.3 million).

These changes have profound implications for the financial wellbeing of older people in the future. Private renters aged 65 and over spend the highest proportion of their income on rent (39% [49% excluding Housing Benefit]) compared to 33% of 16-34 year olds and 32% of 35-64 year olds (35% and 37%, excluding housing benefit, respectively). Analysis from the Social Market Foundation suggests that, in 20 years’ time, over half of all older private renters will be paying rent that is at least 40% of their net income. The APPG on Housing and Care for Older People has made a stark forecast: that by the mid-2040s, 630,000 households over pension age who are privately renting will struggle to meet the cost of their homes.

In 2012-13, the overall proportion of households in the private rental sector overtook those in the social rented sector for the first time. There are different definitions of what counts as ‘social housing’, and the government’s own definition has shifted in the last decade. If we use the broadest definition of social housing – homes rented by local authorities, housing associations, or other parts of the public sector – we can say that the number of homes in this sector has only fallen by around 230,000 (5%) over the last 20 years.

But this definition does not tell us how much rent the occupants of those homes pay. Many will be rented at so-called ‘affordable’ levels: 80% of market rent. The supply of homes available at ‘social rents’ – determined by a formula based on local house prices and earnings – has slowed substantially since 2000. In 2000-01 there were 27,000 new socially rented homes completed, rising to 39,500 in 2010-11, but falling to a little under 6,500 in 2018-19. The supply of availability of homes at the lowest rents is clearly being squeezed – and the Affordable Housing Commission has made the case that we need to be building many more homes at genuinely affordable rents.

A growing proportion of people entering later life will be privately renting in future and, unless more social housing is built, the decline in social renting will continue. Privately renting into later life has serious financial implications for people as well as for the size of the Housing Benefit bill. But owner occupiers also face risks if they are not able to financially sustain the upkeep of their home.

There are over one million home owners aged 55+ in poverty

  • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that half of all households in (relative) poverty are owner occupied – which amounts to 1.7 to 1.8 million households (after housing costs are taken into account). Of those households, over one million are headed by someone aged 55 or over.
  • The majority of those one million (755,000) are owned outright – meaning the owners have no mortgage to pay.

Older outright owners living in poverty may have had a smaller mortgage to pay off than today’s home buyers are faced with. But they are now at risk of serious financial challenges when it comes to maintaining their home. Without the means to undertake vital repairs, their homes may become cold, damp, and ultimately hazardous to their health – as the next section explains. And without the means to adapt their homes to their changing physical capacity as they age, they may find their independence and quality of life seriously, and avoidably, limited.

Too many homes do not meet basic standards

There are 4.3 million non-decent homes in England: over half of them are headed by someone aged 55 or over

  • 4.3 million homes in England do not meet the ‘Decent Homes’ standard that was set down in 2006. This looks at how safe a home is, or whether it contains elements such as damp which might harm the health and wellbeing of the inhabitants.
  • Over two million of these non-decent homes are headed by someone aged 55 or older. The English Housing Survey only registers the age of one ‘household reference person’ (or ‘household head’) – which means that there are even more people aged 55 or over who live in a non-decent home.
  • The vast majority – over 62% – of these homes are lived in by owner occupiers. Unlike people in the private or social rental sector, owner occupiers are financially responsible for the upkeep of their home and so the standard of their homes is at risk if their financial position deteriorates.

The proportion of people aged 75 and over living in a home which is non-decent has gone up since 2013

  • Overall, the percentage of homes which are non-decent has fallen since the measure was introduced, although the pace of improvement has slowed since 2012. In 2017, 18% of all homes were classed as non-decent, down from 34% in 2012.
  • However, there has been no such decline among the over 75s: since 2012 the proportion of non-decent homes lived in by someone aged 75 or over is unchanged, at 21%. However, with demographic change, that means that there are more than 167,000 more people over 75 living in a non-decent home today than there were in 2012.

Nearly half a million homes lived in by older people are excessively cold. Fixing this alone could save the NHS over £300m

  • 11% of all homes contain a ‘category 1 hazard’ – a ‘serious and immediate risk’ to their occupants’ health and safety, and the most common reason for failing the decent homes standard.
  • The largest single category 1 hazard is excess cold (427,000 instances in 2017). Overall, the most common category 1 hazards are some kind of falls hazard: whether on stairs, on the level or between levels. Altogether, there are over 650,000 falls hazards in homes lived in by people aged over 55.
  • Other common ‘category 1’ hazards in these homes include the presence of radon (a type of gas) and fire hazards.

Altogether, fixing these hazards in older people’s homes could save the NHS £513m a year. Yet according to modelling by the Building Research Establishment, these repairs would cost a total of £4.3 billion, meaning that the investment would be paid back in just over eight years.

Accessibility and adaptations

Less than 10% of homes are adapted or accessible – an improvement over the last decade

  • Just 9% of homes in England (2.2 million), meet the most basic standard of accessibility, thus making them easy for anyone to visit. This means they have level access to the entrance, a flush threshold, sufficiently wide doorframes and circulation space, and a toilet at entrance level. This is an improvement on the 4% which met such standards in 2009  but is still far too low.
  • 10% contain at least one ‘adaptation’ – such as grab rails or ramps. This proportion has not shifted much since 2009.
  • The most common form of accessibility feature is a WC at entrance level: 66% of homes have those. But the next most common feature – having wide doorways and circulation space – is present in only 32% of homes. Just 8% of homes contain grab rails.

Most of us live in the types of homes we will age in: the vast majority live in mainstream housing, and 80% of older people say they want to stay in their own home as they age. Specialised housing – such as sheltered accommodation or retirement villages – is one part of the solution. But what we really need as we go through the age shift is more accessible housing which we can live in at all ages, and which we can grow older in.

Just 9% of homes meet the basic standard of accessibility, but we need homes built to a higher standard, which would make them adaptable and flexible enough for anyone to live in them. The government needs to set a higher regulatory baseline for the accessibility of all new homes being built (M4 Category 2) – along with six other steps set out by the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition.

One in five people in their 60s say that they would want a new home to be ‘future proofed’ for growing older

  • In our survey of people aged 50 or over, conducted during lockdown, one in five said they would want any new home they moved into to be ‘future proofed for growing older’ (16% of 50-59 year olds, 22% of 60-69 year olds and 21% of people aged 70 or over).
  •  Overall, people with serious long-term health conditions were far more likely to have a stronger desire to move home now, than they did prior to lockdown. A third of people aged 50-69 (35%) with conditions that affected their day-to-day activities ‘a lot’ said this, compared with 19% of people whose conditions affected their life ‘a little’, and 14% with no health conditions or illnesses at all.

There is clearly a market for homes that are either adapted, or adaptable.  Nearly three-quarters of people we polled in 2019 agreed that homes should, as standard, be built to be suitable for people of all ages and abilities. And it will not be expensive for housebuilders: in 2014, providing enhanced accessibility and adaptability to a new three-bedroom semi-detached house was estimated to add just an extra £521 in building costs. The government needs to move ahead with implementing M4 (2) as the mandatory minimum adaptability and accessibility standard for all new homes as soon as possible following its consultation.

Around a third of people aged 50 and over say their home needs work to make it suitable as they get older – particularly people who are struggling to get by

  • 39% of people aged 50-69 and a third (32%) of people aged 70 and over whom we surveyed, said that their home needs work done on it to make it suitable as they get older.
  • The proportion is higher among people who say they are worse off. Just 31% of people aged 50-69 who feel they are ‘living comfortably’ said their home needed work, compared with 50% of those finding it ‘quite difficult’ to get by.
  • The proportion is also higher among those with long-term conditions or illnesses: almost half (48%) of people whose conditions ‘severely’ affect their day-to-day activities say their home needs work done, compared with 36% with no such conditions.
  • Interestingly, the proportion in this age group who say they need work done is the same whether they are home owners or social or private renters.

Cost is the leading issue preventing people from making the changes they believe their home needs

  • Looking at the issues that prevent people from making changes to their home, cost was the one most commonly cited by those aged over 50 in our survey: 70% of 50-59 year olds, 53% of 60-69 year olds and 56% of people aged 70 or over said this.
  • The upheaval it would cause was also cited frequently, especially among the over 70s (42%), as was the challenge of finding trusted tradespeople (29%).

Over £500 million pounds has been allocated to pay for adaptations to homes in England in 2020/21, through the Disabled Facilities Grant

  • Disabled people can apply to their local authority for a grant to adapt their home, in ways that will allow them to live independently in their own home, through the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).
  • The first grants were made in 1990. The programme received a large boost in the 2015 Spending Review, when the government pledged to allocate £500 million a year to the scheme by 2019-20.
  • Since then (up to 2018-19), the number of completed DFGs has risen by 35%, and now stands at an average of almost 170 a year per local authority. The vast majority – 65% in 2016-17 – are claimed by people age 60 or older.

We saw at the start of this section that there are around one million home owners aged 55 and over living in poverty. Here, we see that people who are struggling to get by are the most likely to say their house needs to be adapted, and that cost is the main barrier to people making changes to their home. Clearly, the DFG is crucial to allow those with less money to make their home safe and suitable for them.

This does not just mean that DFG allocations need to be protected. Analysis from the Building Research Establishment in 2011 suggests that a sufficient amount to meet demand would be far higher even than these existing allocations. We also know that many local areas don’t have the capacity and resources to deliver home adaptations quickly. To spend the DFG capital funding efficiently and effectively, local authorities need sufficient resource funding to deliver it – so they can pay for administrators and contractors to actually make the adaptations happen.

Housing during and after lockdown

Lockdown has made us more aware of our homes – and more interested in making changes to them

  • Most people say they now have a stronger desire to make changes to their home than they did before lockdown. The proportion is lowest among those aged 70 or over, but it is still over 30%.

Lockdown brought the importance of the homes we live in into sharp focus. More than two-thirds of the adults we surveyed said they were thinking more about their home – both good and bad – as a result of lockdown, and 70% said that they were more aware of problems or improvements needed in their home. At the same time, the vast majority – 90% of people aged 50-59, and 93% of people aged 60 or over said they were satisfied with their homes (which may or may not mean they were suitable for their needs).

The more financial difficulties people in mid-life face, the less satisfied they were with their home during lockdown

Lockdown has also made housing inequalities more visible – and perhaps even more damaging. The way the over 50s felt about their home during lockdown differed depending on their financial position.

  • As a result of the experience of lockdown, people aged 50-69 who are living comfortably were much less likely to state the following than those who are finding it quite difficult to get by:

    • they are more aware of problems or improvements needed in their home
    • they have a stronger desire to make changes to their home
    • they have a stronger desire to move home
    • their homes need work done to make them suitable as they get older
  • Consistent with these findings, people aged 50-69 who feel that they are living comfortably were more likely to be satisfied with their home during lockdown (98% of this group said they are satisfied) than people who are finding it quite difficult to get by (75%).

People in BAME ethnic groups have 30% less floor space in their homes than people in White groups

Lockdown – and indeed, the pandemic itself –  has also exposed the housing inequalities between different ethnic groups.

  • The Resolution Foundation has found that, while the amount of usable floorspace per household member increases with age, so too do inequalities between ethnic groups. Among people aged 55 or older, people in BAME groups have an average of 30% less usable floor space in their homes than people in White groups.
  • In general, people from BAME groups are more likely to live in overcrowded housing: for example, in London, 30% of Bangladeshi households, 18% of Pakistani households and 16% of Black African households have more residents than rooms – compared to just 2% of White British households. Indeed, has been cited as a factor for higher COVID-19 incidence and mortality among these BAME groups.

Nearly one in five people aged 50-69 has a stronger desire to move home because of lockdown – with space and lack of privacy the biggest drivers

  • Almost one in five (17%) of the people aged 50-69 we surveyed during lockdown said they had a stronger desire to move home than before the pandemic.
  • We got very different answers from people with different housing tenures: of 50-69 year olds who own their own home, just 14% said they now have a stronger desire to move home, compared with a quarter of people in this age group who are social or private renters.
  • The aspects of their homes that 50-69 year olds were most likely to say were particularly difficult during lockdown were noise, inadequate internet connection and a lack of privacy from neighbours but these were mentioned by just a little over one in ten in this age group.   
  • And we can see how the issues that people found difficult in their homes during lockdown – particularly lack of space and privacy – drive a greater desire to move home. For example, half of 50-69 year olds for whom a lack of privacy was a particular problem during lockdown now have a greater desire to move home, whereas this is the case for just 13% of people in this age group who weren’t troubled by a lack of privacy.

Londoners were the most likely to want to move home among 50-69 year olds

  • Consistent with media reports about people wanting to move out of the capital after lockdown, Londoners in our survey were the most likely to say they now had a stronger desire to move house (27% among 50-69 year olds, 14% among people aged 70 or over), with those in the East Midlands (11% and 5%) and the South East (11% and 3%) the least likely. Our 'Connected communities' section contains more on how people in mid- and later-life in different parts of the country feel about the places they live.

The most commonly desired features in a new home among people aged 50 or older are safety and outdoor space

  • When people in our survey were asked what would be important to them in a new home following the experience of lockdown, safety and outdoor space were most commonly cited, especially by people in their 50s.
  • Walking distance to amenities – likely to be related to the experience of lockdown – was also commonly cited. But so were energy efficiency and ease of maintenance, features with less obvious connection to lockdown.
  • A desire for a new home to be safe and secure was much more commonly cited among 50-69 year olds who said they were finding it quite difficult to get by (49%) than among those who said they were living comfortably (30%).
  • It is also worth noting that the proportion of people in our survey who said they didn’t have a stronger desire to move following lockdown increased with age, from a little over half (56%) of people aged 50-59, to 82% of those aged 70 and over.

What people want from their homes in later life – safety and security, privacy and space – are the same things we want at all ages. This is why we cannot think about housing for an ageing population as ‘housing for older people’ but instead as housing across the life course. Ensuring that we have housing stock that is suitable for everyone as they age is a central issue for housing policy, not a marginal one related to care. All parts of the sector – developers, planners, designers and policymakers – need to come together to create decent and adaptable housing which will support us all to age well.

The State of Ageing 2020

Summary: The State of Ageing in 2020

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