Why is it so Hard for Older People to Downsize?

With the housing crisis hitting younger people hard – particularly in London – it would appear sensible, on the surface, for older people to downsize so that younger people can find somewhere to live with a bit more space.

So, why is this hardly happening? The answer is that it often actually costs more to downsize than stay where you are; living somewhere smaller can be more expensive.

Moving house in London can cost at least £30,000 just for the stamp duty, solicitors’ and surveyors’ fees and removal costs – and that doesn’t take into account that smaller houses are not necessarily much cheaper.

The value of a house doesn’t increase necessarily in proportion with size and older people may find that the drop in price of a smaller property will be subsumed by the costs of moving. When you place that fact alongside the aggravation of moving, it’s no wonder that older people prefer to stay in their larger homes, even if they do cost more to heat.


Moving house in London can cost at least £30,000

Even getting a mortgage to cover costs at an older age is almost impossible. Most lenders are reluctant to take on older people who may not have as long left to pay off the loan – even if they do have a decent amount of savings.

A person’s home is not just bricks and mortar, or an investment for an individual; homes hold treasured memories and echoes of the past that people find difficult to break ties with.

Your home is the place where you brought up your children, where you spent time with friends and loved ones. Why leave all that behind when there is no financial incentive to downsize and you’re approaching a time when you want to be in familiar surroundings?

Until the government introduces some sort of motivation such as tax relief on people downsizing home, it looks like we will continue to have a generation of older people living in homes that may now be too big for them, but make sense in every other way.

TfL Launches “Please Offer me a Seat” Badge

This Monday saw Transport for London (TfL) launch the trial of a new badge to help disabled passengers and those with hidden conditions, illnesses, and injuries to access a seat on public transport.

Similar to the popular “Baby on Board” badges, the new “Please Offer me a Seat” badge will be trialled for six weeks to assess its usefulness for passengers and to gauge the reactions of others.

As well as a blue badge to alert fellow passengers of their need for a seat on public transport, those taking part in the trial will also receive a card to display to TfL staff. A successful trial period will see the badge made available more widely later in the year.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan spoke positively of the campaign:

`We hope that these new blue badges can make a real difference to those who find it difficult to get a seat when they need one, particularly those with hidden disabilities. Everyone who travels around London knows about the success of the Baby on Board badges. I want Londoners to embrace our new trial and help these blue badges become as instantly-recognisable, giving confidence to those wearing them on public transport across London.’

TfL's new "Please Offer me a Seat" badge

The new badges will be trialled for six weeks

A brief scroll through the reactions to Sadiq Khan’s message indicates an encouragingly high level of support for the idea. Lots of commenters with hidden disabilities have described the difficulties they face on public transport and feel the new badges will make it far easier to access a seat – especially at rush hour.

Several people discussed how having no visible illness or condition often saw their requests for a seat met with contempt and welcomed the new campaign as a result. One commenter even stated that this new initiative would encourage them to start using the tube for the first time in years.

Others pointed out that some passengers worry about offending those who are standing by offering them a seat and that the new badge would help to combat this.

However some scepticism remains. Many argued that the Baby on Board badges are ineffectual and doubt the effectiveness of a similar scheme. This is mainly attributed to passengers being distracted by their phones, but there is also a suggestion that some purposefully ignore the badges.

As a result, several commenters advocated further education alongside the new campaign, with some suggesting a “please ask for my seat” badge to tackle the problem from both sides.

From our perspective at Age UK London, we are encouraged by the potential of the “Please Offer me a Seat” badge and look forward to viewing the reaction throughout the trial period. The new initiative should make travelling around London a far more pleasant experience for a number of older people, especially if – as promised – TfL promote the badge effectively through customer information and social media.

A potential downside of the scheme could be that seats are only offered to older passengers that are wearing a badge, but it seems best to approach the trial with an open mind at this earlier stage.

We welcome any research and consultation into improving travel experiences for older Londoners and are very much interested in viewing the results of this trial period.

So, keep a look out for the new blue badges over the next few weeks, and for more information on TfL’s new seating card and badge, TfL’s Travel Support card or any other accessibility initiatives please visit www.tfl.gov.uk/accessibility

Attendance Allowance – A Vital Lifeline

Attendance Allowance is a weekly payment that allows disabled older people to meet some of the extra costs that they face. It is a lifeline for over a million older people, allowing many to go on living independently in their homes.

Now the Government is proposing to devolve it to local Councils instead of distributing the money centrally as happens at the moment. It is part of a consultation on local government finance, following the decision to allow Councils to keep 100% of local business rates – link to consultation open till 26 September.

This is worrying for more than one reason. In future, the money risks no longer being available for disabled older people if it is not ring fenced. The proposed change is coming at a time when there is huge pressure on funding for adult social care delivered by local councils. Age UK London pointed out in its manifesto for the 2016 London Mayoral election, that an estimated 94,000 older people in London have long term care needs that aren’t met by official services. This gap is likely to grow given the ageing population and the prospect of austerity continuing. It would be very tempting for hard pressed Councils to take money from Attendance Allowance to plug the holes in their main social care budget if they were able to.

The need for Attendance Allowance itself is probably going to grow a lot with the growth in the number of older people. Age UK estimates show demand for Attendance Allowance growing by up to 47% in London boroughs (and 50% for the City of London) from 2015 to 2025. This is based on demographic ageing, and assuming the current eligibility criteria remain. In the majority of boroughs, needs would rise by over 30%. Would Councils be willing to raise business rates sufficiently to meet increased needs?

If AA is devolved, who will be eligible for it in future? If local authorities have discretion over it, won’t this recreate the type of postcode lottery that used to exist for social care before the Care Act, with older people with similar needs getting very different responses in different local areas?

Age UK has started an open letter urging the Government not to transfer Attendance Allowance to local authorities. You can find the letter here and if you’re concerned about this subject, please sign it and pass it on to people you know!

Don’t Get Left in the Dark – Call 105!

This week saw the launch of a brand new national phone number – “105” – which customers can use to report or receive information about a power cut in their area. In the past, many people have mistakenly called their energy supply companies in the event of a power cut, rather than their local electricity network operator.

The introduction of 105 aims to solve this problem by providing people with an easy-to-remember number that will put them straight through to their local electricity network operator.

Electricity network operators manage and maintain the underground cables, overhead wires, and substations that bring electricity into homes and businesses. They are the organisations that people should contact if they experience a power cut – no matter who they pay their bill to.

This week we had the chance to speak to Kerry Potter – Customer Vulnerability Manager at UK Power Networks – to find out more:

“I’m really proud to let you know about a new telephone number that you can call 24 hours a day if you ever have a power cut. Here at UK Power Networks we’ve been working with other electricity companies across the UK to make sure anyone across England, Scotland, or Wales can call to get through to the right company during a power cut.

So we are excited to tell you that you can now call “105” – a new free telephone number that anyone can call to report or get information about power cuts, report welfare concerns related to a power cut, or safety issues around underground or overhead electricity cables or substations.

If you ring this number, you will be put through to your local electricity distribution company – which for London, East Anglia, and the South East is UK Power Networks.

Hopefully you agree that 105 is easy to remember, and be assured that our customer services team – who are constantly in touch with engineers in the field – will get you the information you need, when you need it.

You can still call us on 0800 31 63 105, which is also free from a mobile. Plus you can tweet or Facebook us, or visit our website. This is just another easy way for you to contact us – please see www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/powercut for more information.

Vulnerable customers who would like to sign up to our Priority Services Register can still call 0800 169 9970, email psr@ukpowernetworks.co.uk or apply online at www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/priority

So, there we have it! If you experience a power cut or have safety concerns surrounding electricity cables or substations you now know the best number to call – 105.

Why “Generation Rent” Has No Age Limit

“Will I ever be able to afford my own home?”

It’s a horrible question to have to ask yourself, but this is the current reality for an entire generation of young people in Britain. As home ownership has now reached its lowest level for the last thirty years, The Guardian recently hosted an online debate to discuss whether members of the public should now give up the dream of ever owning their own home.

Though the primary complaint was the cost of purchasing housing, many made the point that the poor state of the rental market has worsened the problem by denying would-be homeowners a viable alternative to owning their own property.

Here at Age UK London, we’re currently working alongside the Nationwide Foundation on our Older Private Sector Tenants Programme – an 18-month project that will focus on the challenges and vulnerabilities faced by older renters in the capital.

As part of our research for this project we have conducted a series of focus groups. By viewing our findings alongside the experiences of younger renters from the Guardian debate, it is clear that renters of all ages are affected in very similar ways by poor state of the market.

Older Private Rent Paperwork

Should members of the public give up the dream of ever owning their own home?

Whilst one commenter questioned what would happen to renters when they retire in the future, we know from our research that older renters are already experiencing a whole host of problems – many of which are shared with their younger counterparts. Yet despite this, few seem to be making this connection and the debates surrounding the renting crisis are frequently framed in terms of conflict between the generations.

So, what are these shared concerns? Firstly, many are worried by the power landlords hold over their tenants and the lack of security that this provides. This tends to manifest itself in a combination of extremely high rent prices and short-term contracts, which allow for further rent increases at brief intervals.

These costs increase further when added to the letting fees that must be paid every time a new property is rented, which is a frequent problem given the aforementioned short leases and continual rent increases.

The overall feeling of powerlessness is worsened by the behaviour of certain landlords, who charge high prices for poorly maintained properties, or evict tenants at short notice. As Dan Wilson Craw (Policy Manager for Generation Rent) points out in the Guardian article, for many, the homeownership dream is fuelled by their distrust of the rental sector:

“The most important thing people want in a home is a space that is theirs, which they can’t be thrown out of for no good reason. That is something that today’s private rented sector fundamentally cannot offer.”

Meanwhile, respondents were also keen to point out the stigma that surrounds those who rent property, especially as they get older. Many noted that British political culture champions homeownership over renting, which can lead many renters to feel inferior to their home-owning peers. There were repeated comparisons with the situation abroad, as the long-term leases available in Germany and France were put forward as a far more progressive system in which renters felt protected and respected.

The rent market leaves many older people feeling trapped and vulnerable

Many renters say they feel trapped and vulnerable

Each of the points raised would be concerning enough on their own, but sadly these are not individual problems. Instead, these issues combine together to leave renters of all ages feeling trapped and vulnerable in the one place they should feel most secure.

However, despite clear evidence that the poor state of the rental market is an intergenerational concern, this debate is frequently presented in terms of the older generation taking away from their younger counterparts. This can be seen to stem from the beliefs of a vocal minority that all older people are somehow at fault for the problems of the younger generation.

Yet to take aim at an entire generation of older people is to miss the nuances of this particular problem. Firstly, the aforementioned well-protected landlords can be found across the majority of age groups, and secondly, in London alone there are over 140,000 private renters aged 50+ who struggle alongside their younger counterparts under these regulations.

For renters on fixed pensions in particular, the instability of rent prices and contracts is a genuine threat to their wellbeing – just as it is for young workers on low salaries.

As one reader summed up clearly within the debate:

“This shouldn’t be a generational fight. Placing blame on each other for society’s ills is just what the government wants.”

The media has a role to play too – several focus group participants have pointed out a lack of coverage around the problems faced by older renters.

So, rather than younger renters taking pot-shots at “Baby Boomers”, or older people bemoaning “Millennials”, we should instead be encouraging cooperation between the generations to hit back at the poor state of the rental market.

If greater awareness of the intergenerational nature of these problems can be raised, there’s a chance that this cooperation may start to develop and we might finally start to see some changes.


Taking Care of Business: The Age UK London Business Directory

The Age UK London Business Directory is a catalogue of companies that have had all of their credentials checked and vetted by the Business Directory’s staff. The service helps to protect older people from rogue traders by only putting them in contact with the Business Directory’s trusted companies. This week I spoke to the Business Directory’s Marketing and Sales Officer Jessica Jarvis to find out more about the service and how things have changed this year:

“Over the past few months we have been working to improve our service – not only for our customers, but for our businesses too. The changes we have made make it easier for our customers to find the service they are after and there is also lots of useful information and advice online about using the directory and how to avoid scams. We pride ourselves on bringing you the best businesses possible; we do this by checking every business that joins us to ensure they are professional and reliable. These checks include:

  • A face-to-face meeting with one of our team members
  • A form of identification
  • A copy of their public liability insurance  schedule and employers’ liability insurance or professional indemnity insurance, if applicable
  • Copies of membership certificates for any trade associations or professional bodies
  • Names and addresses for a minimum of three customer references
  • We require that they sign up to our customer charter
  • We also require that they sign a trading standards declaration

As well as the typical businesses like plumbers and electricians, there was also demand for alternative services that are specifically designed to help older people live more independently and to love later life. We have now expanded our services as a result. We offer everything from flooring to financial services and disability adaptations to hairdressing. If you are not sure if we can help or if you know of a business that could be on the Directory, please get in touch with us today! We have a dedicated team that are here to help, call us today on 0800 334 5056.

The Business Directory has a list of fully vetted companies including gardeners

We get fantastic support from all the local Age UK’s and we want to do the same for them. That’s why we have been building free profiles for each London borough which contains all the services that they can provide to the customers in their local area. This helps us to connect more people with their local Age UK and also allows them to find the best possible service.”

If you are a local Age UK and would like more information about how the Business Directory can help you, then please contact Jessica Jarvis – JJarvis@ageuklondon.org.uk. She can help you update the content on your website and even pay a visit to talk to your reception volunteers and staff about the Business Directory.

You can also visit the Business Directory’s Advisors page online for some more information and helpful guides.

Regeneration – How Does it Impact Older People?

As many of the previously run down parts of London get a face lift – shiny new glass buildings, pavement cafes, and artisan bakeries galore – I have often found myself wondering what these changes mean to older people that have lived there all their lives. The greasy spoon cafés and small grocery stores may have looked scruffy to some, but for those who have known that area all their lives, the loss of these familiar establishments could have a big impact.

An interesting study Ageing in a Long-term Regeneration Neighbourhood: A Disruptive Experience or Successful Ageing in Place? by R Kleinhans and others comments on the sense of attachment older people feel with their urban environment and the sense of confusion that can occur with drastic changes:

 “Older adults can become ‘out of place’ and feel less comfortable with their living environment after changes in their personal situation or during and after radical changes in environment itself. If we translate this to the context of urban regeneration, it is clear that a range of radical changes in terms of housing stock, public space and services can make people lose their trusted environment.”

The loss of social housing to make way for luxury apartments can result in older people leaving their communities altogether. Some move to start a new life elsewhere, but others move because the younger members of their families are forced out by the rise in prices. The influx of new people can make the area over crowded and public transport almost unusable for older people who are unable to stand at busy times.

Arriva Routemaster – Photo Credit: Martin (wikicommons)

There is also the disruption caused by the building works themselves that can have a detrimental effect on the mental and physical health of those living through the process. An older Lewisham resident Bridgit Sam-Bailey has made these points on the Lewisham Gateway development:

 “Some of you might be thinking that the new buildings and development are attractive, as more people are moving into the borough. This is good for the young and upwardly mobile, but what about those of us who have had to endure the traffic and confusion around the areas where the developments are taking place?  I have in mind the old and physically challenged, and not to forget the mothers with buggies and/or toddlers, especially those carrying shopping.”

Whilst the positive aspects of urban regeneration cannot be ignored, the developers and local authorities should be aware of the needs of more vulnerable residents during the development process, as well as the impact on local providers that will need to cater for the increase in demand for services.

Why we Should aim for Digitial Inclusion not a Digital Detox

Last week saw the phrase “digital detox” spread across the nation after an Ofcom survey found that 34% of internet users have decided to take time away from the web. A perceived over-reliance on technology has meant that 40% of adults feel they are regularly ignored by peers using smartphones and that 16% now purposefully choose to holiday in areas with no internet access.

Now, as much as I’d love to use this blog to point out the irony of discovering these figures online, I feel it’s better to point your attention towards a far more important digital story from last week’s press. This is the news that one in four over-65s are now using social media sites – a 50% increase in use on last year. Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have proved especially popular, as older people increasingly take to social media to keep in touch with loved ones. It’s not just a case of viewing content either, as one in five over-65s said they had uploaded their own pictures or videos to the net.

These figures are part of an overall trend that has seen the use of social media sites rising fastest amongst older users, whilst the uptake amongst younger browsers has begun to level off. Two thirds of people aged 45 to 54 now access social networks, and last year the proportion of 55 to 64-year-olds using social media passed the 50 per cent mark.

Computer Class

One in four over-65s are now using social networking sites

Yet if so many of us are choosing to take a digital detox, is it really such a positive step for older people to start heading online? In short: Yes! Not only can internet access provide individuals with cheaper bills and products, but Independent Age has also highlighted the link between “digital exclusion” and “social exclusion”. In 2012, 661,000 Londoners over the age of 55 were recorded as having never used the internet, which is especially concerning as London was voted the loneliness capital of Europe just two years ago.

Now, it’s certainly true that digital communication cannot replace face-to-face interaction entirely and nor should we aim to achieve this. However, in a society where over one million people can go for a month at a time without speaking to anyone at all, social media can play a key role in alleviating loneliness by enabling contact with distant friends and family.  Online resources can also be used to establish new offline connections, through the discovery of befriending schemes or local community groups. 

The pressing issue is how to go about promoting this digital inclusion. Age UK London’s “Wealth of the Web” report has recommended piquing the interest of those with little desire to head online by displaying the ways that the web can enhance existing hobbies and interests. This voluntary step towards digital inclusion appears a far better proposition than using the government’s previous “digital by default” agenda as the sole means of encouraging online participation.

Laptop User

Many use social media to keep in touch with loved ones

Of course for some, the desire to access the internet will never develop and it would be foolish to try and force the issue. Yet with more and more older people heading onto social media channels, now may be the perfect time to talk to older friends and family about accessing the internet. Even prompting a change from “offline and uninterested” to “offline and interested” can be a massive step towards digital inclusion.

So, whilst a digital detox may seem enticing for some, we should continue to promote the exact opposite amongst older people in London. Let’s push for digital inclusion, not digital detox.

Age UK London’s Mayoral Election Priorities

We’re really glad to have had contributions from four leading London Mayoral candidates to our blog, and if you haven’t read them yet I ‘d suggest you do – they are all making thoughtful and constructive suggestions for how the next Mayor can support older Londoners. You can find each blog from our home page.

At the same time as our 25 February Mayoral hustings we also launched our own Manifesto “Making London a Great Place to Grow Older” based on consultation with older people, it gives our proposed priorities for the next Mayor.

Age UK London Chief Executive Samantha Mauger, holding ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older’

Key asks include digital inclusion, making London’s housing age friendly and making transport in London accessible to all. We thought it was important to pick out and highlight a small number of areas where the Mayor can clearly make a difference, although we have also made recommendations in other areas because the Mayor has a  wide-ranging role and an important voice in national debates.

We’ve found over the last few years that all sorts of issues involving older people, from finding and accessing services to staying in employment, keeping in touch with family and friends to taking part in local democracy, are very much improved by helping older people use digital technology. However a majority of people aged over 75 are still not online – see  our report “Wealth of the Web” . The GLA already has an unfunded digital inclusion strategy, and a relatively modest amount of funding from the Mayor could have a considerable impact in supporting older people to get online.

An older Londoners asks four Mayoral candidates a question at the Age UK London London Mayoral Hustings for Older People.

It is common ground among politicians and commentators that London faces a housing crisis. There’s less awareness that this crisis affects older people too. High housing costs contribute to pensioner poverty in London – see my previous post. Many older Londoners live in homes that are of poor quality, physically inaccessible and difficult to heat – there were 3800 ‘excess winter deaths’ of older Londoners last year. National research shows that many older people would like to move to ‘rightsize’ but struggle to find suitable and affordable alternatives in their area; this is now coming up in the feedback we get from older Londoners.

As with housing, transport is an area where the Mayor has a major role (through Transport for London (TfL) in this case). Being able to travel is a key factor in helping older people stay socially included and avoiding loneliness. TfL has made efforts to improve travel for older and disabled people (especially on buses), but these need to be followed up to make sure passengers’ experiences really improve. How accessible will travel be for older and disabled people in the predicted larger and busier future London? How will changes like Cycle Superhighways affect pedestrians and public transport users?

Four attendees at the Age UK London London Mayoral Hustings for Older People

Specific calls made in the manifesto include asking candidates to commit themselves to: retaining the Freedom Pass; ensure that a range of suitable, accessible and genuinely affordable housing options are available for older people in all London boroughs; provide funding for digital inclusion programmes for older Londoners; and appoint a Deputy Mayor or Mayoral Adviser to an Age Friendly London portfolio.   

We also call for the Mayor to influence positive change in other areas like age friendly environments, crime and safety and health and social care.

We’d be really happy to hear what you think of the calls made in our Manifesto.

Mayoral Candidate Blog – Sian Berry

Age UK London recently hosted a London Mayoral Hustings for Older People and have also released ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older‘ a manifesto for older Londoners. 

We asked the four candidates who attended our Hustings if they would write a blog post for older Londoners. Here, we have the last of these pieces, from Sian Berry, Green Party councillor for Highgate, Camden Council.

I’d like to tell you a tale of two cities.

One of them is an excellent place to live as you get older. You’re never far away from the shops. You’re surrounded by people. The doctor’s surgery is walking distance and the hospital is a short bus ride away. In fact pretty much everything is a short bus ride away, which is particularly good when you have an over 60s oyster card or freedom pass. The city is a good, practical, sensible place to live when you’re not as mobile as once you were.

The other city is a tough place to be an older person. It’s loud, hectic and difficult. The Tube is a no-go area because it’s hard to get up and down to the platforms – particularly when you never know when the escalator’s going to be out of order at the other end – and the crush is horrible if nobody stands up and gives you their seat. Loose paving stones and lots of roads and kerbs to cross are a hazard now you’re less steady on your feet, and it’s much harder to get across the road now that you’ve slowed down, with traffic bearing down on you from all directions.

Life in this city is also hard if you’re insecure about where you live. If you have a spare room and you live in social housing, you’re vulnerable to the bedroom tax. If you live in your own home, you may be sitting on a massive asset but without the money to spend to keep it running. And if you’re a private renter, you may be in the worst position of all. It’s bad enough for young people at the beginning of their careers, but if you’re trying to pay for soaring private rents out of a pension, you may be facing constant pressure to downsize or to move completely out of the city that may have been your home for decades.

Which of these cities is London? I suspect that all too often it’s the second, particularly with three times as many pensioners living in poverty in inner London as in the rest of the country.

I’m proud that my Green colleagues at the London Assembly have spent the past 16 years nudging and moulding London into a more liveable place for people of all ages, and when I say I want to make the city work for the common good, part of the test of that is whether it works for our older people too.

For example my vision of a better city is one where people use cars less and walk and cycle more. Cycling certainly doesn’t have to be for the young and agile. I put something online about helping people cycle from the age of 8 to 80 and I had a comment straight back from someone who was 88 and still cycling. That’s fantastic, but we could do much more to keep more older people active and on their bikes if we reduce traffic and build segregated cycle lanes that are welcoming and comfortable even for people who aren’t fearless.

Similarly, I’ll do everything I can to improve walking in London. Two-thirds of Londoners live within a five-minute walk of their high street, and for many of us that’s what makes life in the big city liveable. Yet pedestrian casualty rates and air pollution are often at their highest in these local town centres, and too many of them are losing shops to big shops that are further away. We need to help keep our high streets vibrant by protecting smaller shops with new planning rules, and make them better and safer places to walk to, with useable crossings in the places where people are most likely to want to cross the road.

I’ve also pledged to make London the world’s first dementia-friendly capital city. I have been trained as a dementia friend myself and, as Mayor, I will train frontline City Hall and agency staff – including the police, fire brigade and Transport for London staff – to be dementia-friendly and a legion of helpful eyes and ears on the ground too.

Crucially, though, all the work we do to make the city better for older people will make much difference if they are being forced out of the city, away from the communities in which hey have spent their lives, by the housing crisis.

That’s why our Green parliamentarians Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones have argued tirelessly against the bedroom tax. It’s why we’re against the Housing and Planning Bill, which will require councils to sell off their most valuable council homes. And it’s why I’ve promised to call a halt to estate demolitions, which have already led to the net loss of thousands of council homes. I will also set up a Community Homes Unit at City Hall to support residents all over London to develop their own plans for new homes of all kinds. A big portion of this work will be supporting new co-ops and co-housing developments, which can play a large part in keeping older people supported and independent in the city.

That’s my vision for the kind of London I want to grow older in, and I hope you’ll support that by voting for me for Mayor on May 5 and supporting our Green candidates for the London Assembly.