On the 31st of July 1919, the Addison Act came into effect. The legislation paved the way for council house building on a large scale and, while there have been challenges faced by the sector over the years, it is clear that 100 years on there is much to celebrate.
But what will the next 100 years of council housing look like? How will the sector provide secure and quality housing to an ageing population? A recent article by Martin Hilditch, Editor of Inside Housing, presented figures from the private sector which highlights ‘that the UK’s older population will face a housing crisis of epic proportions’ if action is not taken.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published in Manch 2019 show that households in the private rented sector (PRS) are getting older. The proportion of heads of household in the PRS aged between 45 and 54 years jumped from 11% to 16% between 2007 and 2017 – an estimated increase of 384,000 households (this was the biggest percentage rise of any age group). The proportion of households aged 55 to 64 years in the PRS is also on the increase.
The article also focused on two ‘must-read’ reports published in 2019 on the provision of housing for older people, which present some of the challenges faced by the sector and give recommendations for improvements:
- The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ageing and Older People launched its report following its inquiry into decent and accessible homes for older people. The report gets straight to the heart of the matter. It says the MPs on the APPG are “especially concerned about people with low retirement incomes, for whom increasing rents and insecure tenancies can cause huge amounts of stress, made worse by the development of care and support needs when there is a lack of social or supported housing to move into”.
- Habinteg Housing Association’s report on ‘A forecast for accessible homes’ found that just 7% of housing stock in England offers “even the most basic accessibility features”
Both reports present useful guidance as to how local authorities, housing associations and policymakers can best address some of the challenges to housing an ageing population. It is also clear that the focus extends much further than housing design, security and quality, but also on improving the quality of life for older tenants – both at home and in their communities.
What can be done now? The role of technology in older person’s services
In terms of what can be done now – research from the Centre for Better Ageing shows that fitting simple aids and adaptations can make a huge difference in helping individuals stay in their own homes for longer, especially when combined with maintenance and repairs services. This may include the installation of grab rails and wet rooms, and could be extended to the use of technology in the home.
Where this technology is implemented, it is important that is not only user-friendly but is also designed to look appealing. Technology that has the look and feel of an ‘older person’s product’ will deter some people from engaging with it.
On this note, it is also important to remember that the over-65’s have widely differing needs. Technology which works for one individual, may not work for another. Providing people with a choice and giving them access to a wider variety of products on the market is key. For example, many older people with increased frailty or reduced mobility may not want (or, for that matter, may simply forget) to wear a device such as a pendant alarm, and thus the product may not be the most suitable for them. Equally, while some older tenants are digitally engaged, others may be resistant to interacting with the latest smart device – after all 5 million over 55s do not use the internet and many will not do so in future years.
The other important consideration is that the technology provided does not actually increase social isolation and loneliness by removing human contact from the equation – the effects of this was widely reported following the introduction of automated check-outs in supermarkets. This can also be seen with technology provided for home use. It is why many housing providers are putting an emphasis on building strong communities and putting on activities for their tenants as can be seen in the latest release from Anchor Housing.
This is why at Alertacall, while technology underpins all our services, the emphasis is very much placed on giving customers the option of speaking to a member of our team on a daily basis.
Housing Proactive – using technology to increase daily contact with residents to improve repairs performance and promote independence
In the social housing sector, Alertacall’s Housing Proactive service is one such adaptation which is helping housing providers significantly improve tenant communication, promote independent living and deliver service efficiencies.
The Housing Proactive service is designed to increase contact with older residents, and other groups with higher needs, for more effective housing management. To access the service, residents are given a specially designed device installed at their property – all have our unique OKEachDay button which residents press each day to pick up news and information from their housing provider but also to control the level of contact they have with our team.
A range of devices have been developed to improve tenant engagement, ranging from a more ‘traditional’ telephone, through to a touchscreen device for those who are more digitally engaged. The touchscreen can be set up to integrate with a housing provider’s self-service portal and importantly, will work even if WiFi is not available. Each device also has a repairs hotline button to make it easy for them to connect to the maintenance team which helps issues to be identified earlier.
The devices also have a repairs hotline button which improves access to maintenance teams and helps issues be identified earlier. Furthermore, housing staff have access to a range of housing management reports, including occupancy tracking and other useful statistics on usage to help detect changing housing needs and helps focus staff time. All of which helps to increase efficiency as well as improve service delivery.
So whatever lies ahead for the next 100 years of social housing – it is clear that one of the biggest challenges will be the provision of housing for the growing ageing population. Technology will clearly play a key role in helping older tenants stay connected, engaged with their housing provider and, ultimately, at home for longer. At Alertacall, we feel it is important that any technology used does not replace human interaction but actually helps promote it. In this way, technology can also build stronger communities, improve the wellbeing of tenants by reducing loneliness, as well as improve the quality of service and housing provision.
For more information on Housing Proactive and how it can improve service delivery for older residents, contact Martin Cutbill, Director, on 0808 208 1234 or email email@example.com