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The UK Government is backing plans to encourage elderly homeowners to down-size to smaller properties. The move will enable councils to rent out their larger homes to overcrowded families.
The new plans which were recently announced by Housing Minister Grant Shapps, intends to assist young families that are finding it difficult to find affordable housing in a time of economic crisis.
Under the voluntary scheme, local authorities would seek to find more suitable accommodation for pensioners who are living in family-size homes.
Property maintenance and managing the rental process would then come under the responsibility of councils, who would rent out the property to suitable candidates at an affordable price and then return any profit to the homeowner.
This strategy hopes to help older people to enjoy a better quality of life, by giving them more disposable income without selling their home and moving into residential care. At the same time families who have a need for larger and more affordable homes will also benefit from the scheme.
Overcrowding is a major problem in the social housing sector, particularly in London. A combination of building more homes and making the best use of existing housing and accommodation is a sustainable solution to this problem.
Under-occupiers who are living in family-size accommodation tend to be those who have children who have grown up and moved out to start their own families. The current over-supply of existing retirement accommodation could also be put to better use by relaxing restrictions to allow younger under-occupiers to move in. This would, in turn, help to free up their family-size homes for overcrowded families.
Many housing groups and housing associations are actively working to improve the appeal of their housing for older people and help them move more easily, while also matching up those on transfer lists who voluntarily wish to downsize with those who are overcrowded.
Choice Based Lettings (CBL) systems can also be adapted to enable chain moves meaning that larger homes can be offered to and taken on by overcrowded households before the properties are made available to those in housing need. This is the way some Local Authorities already operate and where some housing associations or housing groups retain the ability to perform direct lettings outside of choice based lettings agreements, they will try to re-house residents who are in overcrowded properties as a priority.
However, while schemes that assist pensioners and overcrowded families in moving to more suitable accommodation should be welcomed, it is worth keeping in mind that the current housing shortage has also arisen because of the recent dramatic downturn in the building of affordable homes in the last six months, not simply because the elderly are under-occupying their homes.
For the availability of affordable housing for overcrowded families to dramatically improve, local and regional authorities, house builders, housing groups and housing associations, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Government need to work together to prioritise the number of homes built and maximise affordable housing supply, while the same time creating fully fledged communities which are supported by high quality facilities and infrastructure.
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