Rural Housing for an Ageing Population Write-up

The Northern Housing Consortium (NHC) was delighted to join Lord Best and a variety of stakeholders in delivering the recent Rural Housing for an Ageing Population Conference.  Alongside ADASS, Housing LIN, and the LGA, the NHC welcomed over one hundred delegates to the Harrogate Convention Centre to explore the opportunities and challenges of providing fit-for-purpose housing and care to older people in rural settings.

Lord Best began proceedings with the important reminder that housing, health, and social care are three legs of the same stool; “miss out one, and the stool falls over”.  The purpose of the conference was to advance discussions on the points made in the recent report published by Housing LIN and the All Party Parliamentary Group Housing and Care for Older People – “Rural Housing for an Ageing Population: Preserving Independence”.  The report’s main concern lay in the suggestion that a growing proportion of older people in rural communities were finding their homes were no longer suitable for their needs, the repercussions of which were diminished independence and increased care costs, both to the individual and the public purse.

In their opening remarks Lord Best and Conference Chair Neil Revely, Chair of the ADASS Housing Policy Network, highlighted three facilitators of suitable rural housing for older people: a long-term strategic view with a focus on integration and collaboration; and more specifically, the presence of Rural Housing Enablers, and the work of Homes Improvement Agencies.  All three were addressed as part of the conference with a summary provided below:

Strategy, Integration, and Collaboration

Commended by Neil Revely for their integrated approach to housing and care, Richard Webb from North Yorkshire County Council closed the day with a presentation on the council’s journey to date.  Influenced by work stretching back to 1999, North Yorkshire established their long-term strategy for housing and care with the publication of ‘Our Future Lives’ in 2006.  Expanded on in 2015 with the ‘Care and Support Where I Live Strategy’ the Council continues to be successful whilst operating within a complex system that spans England’s largest county.

The council’s Extra Care Scheme now consists of 22 operational sites and 1,111 units.  This has been made possible by a strong partnership between the County Council, Borough and District Councils, housing providers, developers, and the communities themselves.  There is strong political and corporate support for the belief that Extra Care is one aspect of the wider regeneration of communities.  Schemes are mixed tenure and include facilities central to peoples lives; shops, libraries, and health services.

The care itself centres around flexible packages that can be adapted depending on need.  Eligibility and financial assessments are made to ensure this flexible approach is sustainable. In some cases schemes are delivering NHS Step Up / Step Down and end of life services and all properties receive 24/7 background support.

Rural Housing Enablers

Representing the York, North Yorkshire & East Riding Partnerships, Sarah Hall discussed with delegates how Rural Housing Enablers (RHEs) ensure that communities have the resource and expertise needed to provide suitable homes.  Their network; comprising of Local Authorities, Registered Providers, National Parks, and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA); is used as a forum to identify and debate best practice, plan events to promote their work, and overall raise the profile of RHEs.

At an organisational level, RHEs act as a resource to identify opportunities whether it be recognising housing need, finding ways of meeting that need, or bringing together interested parties to push projects forward.  This involves close working with Registered Providers, land owners, Councillors, and developers. Engagement is also central to this process and RHEs involve communities through ‘Town Hall’ meetings, Open Days, and Walkabouts.

The role of RHEs in identifying and addressing the housing need of older people has become increasingly important over time and work in this area has been identified as a priority moving forward. Recently RHEs have been involved in developing Extra Care Schemes in two former Almhouses.

Homes Improvement Agencies

Described as the ‘Swiss Army Knife of Housing Services’, Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs) provide a range of services to help individuals retain independence in their homes. These services are of particular importance to older people in rural settings where homes are characterised by steep stairs, narrow corridors, and stepped access.  Represented at the conference by Sheila Mackintosh from the University of Bristol, Foundations manage the network of HIAs across England on behalf of the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government.

HIAs are unique in providing their support irrespective of tenure.  They are invariably the only housing support service available to owner occupiers and private renters.  As mentioned, their work covers all aspects of ensuring residents are safe, secure, and warm.  This includes dealing with trip hazards, repairs / improvements, and adaptions. Their interactions with residents can range from offering information and advice to assisting in moving someone into more suitable accommodation.

In rural areas, it is unsurprising that HIAs encounter challenges. Providing support across such large, sparsely populated areas can be a barrier to integration.  Similarly, leadership and focus is vital to ensure the service is proactive and doesn’t decline into crisis management. Having said that, there is a good amount of best practice from across the country.  This includes Preston Care and Repair, an independent HIA who have built a positive reputation amongst the elderly community – in one survey 77% of respondents said they would have chosen not to go ahead with repair work had it not been for the HIA service due to worry around finding a trustworthy builder.