We must collaborate to make homes suitable for the elderly

As the Director of Foundations - the National Body for Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs) - I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear that I fully support the recommendations in the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee's  report on Housing for Older People.

Recommendations that  include:

  • making additional funding available for the expansion of HIAs so that there is at least access in each local authority area to one agency which operates a full range of services, including a handyperson service;
  • prioritising prevention, early intervention and promotion of health and wellbeing through housing;
  • housing services taking equal status to health and social care services in the  planning and implementation of closer working and in Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) and Accountable Care Systems (ACSs);
  • more timely implementation of, and flexible use of, Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG); and
  • providing practical help to people who choose to move

are all very positive for the organisations that we work with.

Why is this so important? Well, the central but often overlooked point in our submission to the Committee was that the number of people over 65 is growing by 155,000 every year and accounts for 74% of total household growth to 2037. With current development of retirement housing running at just 2.8% of all housing under construction, meeting need through new build alone would require an unprecedented and likely to be unachievable rise. This means suitable accommodation can only be created by adapting and repairing the existing general needs housing stock. And the vast majority of that stock is owner occupied.

As welcome as these recommendations are, we recognise that making them reality is not easy and certainly not just about additional funding. Joining up responsibility and delivery between housing and social care, district councils and county councils is essential. Each has a key role to play and how we integrate that knowledge and experience will be vital. There’s a great example in Warwickshire where the Home Environment Assessment and Response Team (HEART) has seconded County Council Occupational Therapists working right alongside HIA officers. HEART is helping to keep more and more people safe, secure and warm in their own home by offering holistic support and advice on home improvements and disabled adaptations.

It’s just this kind of integrated, person centred approach that we reflect upon in our recent report, The Collaborative HIA. Home improvement agencies started as housing-specific services, but now encompass wider support elements and are pivotal to general health and wellbeing - so many other things are possible if a person’s home works well for them. Too often the home can become the enemy if it does not offer sufficient comfort, convenience and security. HIAs are most effective when they are funded as ’health related services’ and commissioned accordingly – they should not operate in isolation providing a one-off ‘bricks and mortar only’ solution which fails to join up effectively with other complementary services.

The future for HIAs is one of greater collaboration and integration with related services, all concerned with promoting health, wellbeing and independence in the home. This also means that one size doesn’t fit all and a HIA service will need to meet the needs and fill in the gaps. Contact us to see how we can help - we’re funded by the Government to support local commissioners, whether you have an existing agency or not.

This article was written for The MJ