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A 'patch and mend' approach to housing repair is failing some of the oldest and poorest people. According to a new ...
A 'patch and mend' approach to housing repair is failing some of the oldest and poorest people. According to a new report, Repair or despair?, published today by Age Concern England, changes to the rules in 1996 have resulted in a highly inadequate approach to improving older people's housing.

The 1996 Housing Grants Construction and Regeneration Act made the previously mandatory grants for repair and renovation discretionary. Since the 1996 Act, claims Age Concern, local authorities have:

spent less on repair grants

failed to prioritise older people

failed to provide adequate, clear and easy to understand information

New figures show that over one million older home owners and private tenants live in houses which are 'unfit', in need of major repairs or essential modernisation. Poor housing is detrimental to health and can cause social isolation. Age Concern's Housing conditions and older people, also launched today, highlights the problems. These include damp, cold, lack of an inside toilet, or hot and cold water in the kitchen or bathroom, and structural faults. Many older owner occupiers and private tenants living in poor housing have low incomes, and grants are the only means available to them for carrying out essential repairs or modernisation.

In its new report, Repair or despair?, Age Concern calls for:

- national guidance to local authorities on tackling poor housing conditions

- a halt to the 'patch and mend' approach and new strategies for tackling substantial disrepair

- all local authorities to provide information about grants in accessible formats

- local authorities to monitor grants allocated to older people

- strategies which consider how older people living in poor housing outside targeted renewal areas can be assisted

- prioritisation of older owner occupiers in particular need of grants

- safe and effective equity release schemes to assist some older owner-occupiers in funding repair and improvement work

- recognition of the role of home improvement agencies as a central source of independent advice and assistance for older people

Age Concern has also warned the government that proposed changes to the way housing improvement agencies are funded are likely to exacerbate the problems.

Director general of Age Concern England, Sally Greengross, said:

'Many older people feel their home is where their heart is. But without essential renovation, repairs and modernisation, the poor quality of their home could be jeopardising their health, wellbeing and independence. Grants for this work can make older people's homes safer, healthier, more comfortable and easier to manage. We must end this 'patch and mend' approach.'

To help address the lack of information, Age Concern publishes a fact sheet for older people, their families and carers. Called `Older Home Owners: Financial Help With Repairs and Adaptations' the fact sheet is available free of charge by calling the Age Concern Information line on 0800 009966 and asking for fact sheet 13.


1. Repair or despair? The effects of the 1996 Housing Grants Construction and Regeneration Act on older people's access to repair grants is available from Age Concern's mail order department on 0181 765 7203, price£5 inc. p&p.

2. Age Concern's briefing paper is called Housing conditions and older people: findings from the English house condition survey 1996 (published 1998). A summary is attached. To order a copy see note one, above.

3. Age Concern's response to the government's consultation on the future funding of home improvement agencies (Ref: 2898) is also available as above.

Case study

Mrs R (80) applied for a grant to help her repair or replace her windows. There are two problems:

Her house, which is over 100 years old, has no damp course and the lower room is extremely damp;

The windows which she has now are 'fanlights' and in order to open and close them Mrs R has to stand on a chair.

Over the last four years Mrs R has carried out a number of repairs but she has now run out of money to pay for these herself. When it rains, water comes in under the window sills, increasing the damp in the walls.

The council told her that they had run out of money for this year so would not be making any further grants. She was told that there was a long waiting list for grants and that it would probably take two to three years to get the work done.

Repair or despair?

The effects of the 1996 Housing Grants Construction and Regeneration Act on older people's access to repair grants


The Housing Grants Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 introduced a new regime in the awarding of local authority grants for repair. This increased local authority discretion, particularly for the two main repair and improvement work grants - renovation grants and Home Repair Assistance. Age Concern surveyed 30 local authorities to gauge the effects of this on older people.

Older people are particularly likely to suffer from the dual problems of low income and poor housing. Grant aid to carry out repair and improvement to the homes is particularly important to older people. Half of renovation grants awarded before the 1996 Act went to people over 60.

Key findings

Despite government guidance on good practice, many authorities do not offer clear or readily accessible information about local private renewal strategies and grant criteria.

Some local authorities may be failing in their duties by having blanket policies refusing certain types of grant aid.

Fewer than half of the local authorities surveyed prioritised older people in allocating renovation grants. A larger number, but still under three quarters, prioritised Home Repair Assistance to older people.

Larger and northern authorities were particularly likely to have adopted renewal strategies focusing on awarding grant aid primarily in specific targeted areas. Older people are less likely to live in such areas and thus may be losing out under such policies.

Older people's access to grant aid is inconsistent across the country with greater local discretion creating a situation in which an older person will get help depending on which local authority they live in rather than their need.

There has been a striking reduction in expenditure on renovation grants between 1996 and 1998. In one authority expenditure had declined by 80%.

Whilst expenditure on Home Repair Assistance has increased, the level of increase in no way compensates for the reduction in renovation grant expenditure.

An increasing reliance on Home Repair Assistance indicates a 'patch and mend' approach to home disrepair leading to concerns about the long term condition of the housing stock.

Some authorities fail to monitor how many grants they have awarded to older people, even where their stated strategies indicated that this group was a target for assistance.

Age Concern recommends:

Issues of poor housing conditions for older people need to be taken seriously and sufficient resources made available to tackle them. Where greater discretion is given to local authorities in funding housing renewal, there must be national guidance ensuring that local authorities retain responsibility for ensuring that poor housing conditions for vulnerable groups are tackled.

The government must consider how unfitness is to be addressed in the long term as authorities 'patch and mend' rather than tackle substantial disrepair.

Where local authorities are given discretion to determine their own priorities for awarding grant aid, there should be an accompanying requirement that policies and priorities are made available in an accessible format to all residents.

Local authorities should monitor grants allocated to older people.

Government and local authorities must consider how older people living in poor housing outside targeted renewal areas can be assisted.

Older owner occupiers may be in particular need of grant aid to tackle disrepair and their needs should thus be prioritised. This is likely to help contribute to health and community care objectives and should be considered as part of planning the Health Improvement Programmes proposed by the government's green paper, Our Healthier Nation.

Equity release can assist some older owner-occupiers in funding repair and improvement work. The government and local authorities should consider how they can provide safe and effective equity release for older people.

Home improvement agencies are a central source of independent advice and assistance for older people. Any changes in the funding of home improvement agencies should safeguard the independent work of these agencies.

Older people's housing conditions: fact pack

One third of households in England, 6.8 million in all, are headed by someone over 60 years of age.

There are 3.1 million older people over 60 living alone - they make up half of all lone person households.

12 percent of all households, 2.4 million in all, include one or more person aged over 75. These households have a higher health and safety risk associated with living in poor housing.

1.5 million homes are classed as statutorily unfit. This number has not changed since 1991.

2.75 million households live in poor housing - just over one million of these are older households.

Single older people are the most likely group to live in poor housing.

One in five households over 75 live in poor housing. Nearly one quarter of people over 75 who live alone live in poor housing.

30 percent of all owner occupiers over 85 years live in poor housing.

Older people are significantly more likely to live in homes requiring essential modernisation.

Only 30 percent of homes have full double glazing and fewer than 14 percent have the recommended level of loft insulation.

Seven out of ten older households live in homes with unsafe windows and doors.

One in five older households living in poor housing say they wish to move. This is lower among people over 75.

The information in this fact-pack is taken from the English House Condition Survey (EHCS) 1996, published in 1998 by the DETR. This is the most recent edition. Carried out every five years, the EHCS is the main official source of information on house conditions and the characteristics of people living in poor housing in England.

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