13 Apr 2021

Report shows disconnect between public perception and the reality of retirement housing

A cross-industry steering group, which included CIH, has highlighted a significant disparity between public perception and what’s actually on offer at retirement housing schemes.

New research commissioned by law firm Shakespeare Martineau also shows clear issues with language and missed opportunities by the retirement housing sector’s marketing approach.
The research included a consumer survey of 2,000 UK adults and 100 representatives from retirement housing providers. Of those public respondents, 1 in 3 believe retirement housing schemes are synonymous with ‘old people’s homes’ and there was disconnect between the services the public expected compared to the services actually offered by housing providers. For example, more than half (56%) of the public respondents expected a medical centre or 24/7 emergency response to be available, when in fact closer to only 1 in 3 (36%) providers selected this service as one they did provide, indicating that providers are coming up short of the expectations of the public.

Shakespeare Martineau’s head of building communities Louise Drew said:

“We have long suspected inconsistencies in the perception of the benefits of retirement housing, due to a lack of public understanding. This, linked with limited information on the various products available and an internal inconsistency of language within the sector, is causing the perfect storm.

“Misconceptions that retirement housing schemes are the same as care homes is tarnishing the sector’s reputation, which has been regrettably worsened by the high mortality rates of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to corroborate our concerns and identify the disconnect, so that, with this knowledge, the sector can take steps to improve education and awareness of the many benefits of retirement housing in a bid to encourage ‘right-moving’ and a more proactive consumer adoption of these schemes.”

The research explores the use of language in the sector, public awareness of benefits and services, perception of what type of person would benefit from retirement housing and public understanding of retirement property tenure types. Representatives from organisations including CIH, Housing 21, Lifestory Group, the Housing Learning and Improvement Network, Orbit Group, Elderly Accommodation Counsel, the Local Government Association and Shakespeare Martineau came together to analyse the findings and map out what is needed to alter perceptions and fill the knowledge gaps.

When asked about benefits of schemes, more than three quarters of the public agreed that retirement housing offered a safe and secure place to live (76%), two thirds felt that they are a good alternative to residential care homes (66%) and more than 3 in 5 (62%) agreed they offer a desirable place to live . However, only around 1 in 4 (28%) of the public agree that retirement housing offers good value for money – with nearly half of respondents stating that they didn’t know.

When asked about the ‘type’ of people who would benefit from living in a retirement housing scheme, only the minority of the public believed highly active (33%) or working (14%) older people would benefit. Housing providers believed ‘older couples’ are amongst the most suitable group (91%) but only 44% of the public agree, with a higher proportion (67%) selecting single people.

CIH senior policy and practice officer Sarah Davis, who took part in the steering group, said:

“The retirement housing model has been around for a long time, but the challenge of presenting its benefits clearly still remains. The pandemic has highlighted yet again how important a good and decent home is to support our health and wellbeing, so it is really important that we continue to refine how we publicise and demonstrate the advantages it offers to the wide range of people who could benefit from it.”

When asked if they would consider moving into a retirement housing scheme themselves, public respondents were unsure – only 8% saying they would ‘definitely’ consider it, indicating a huge market-base of potential customers, who either need further information or further convincing of why they should ‘definitely’ consider retirement housing schemes.

Louise Drew continued:

“Retirement housing isn’t suitable for everyone, but it’s clear that there is a need for a centrally-delivered advisory board for older people - and the language used by the advisory board and the sector as a whole should be consistent, positive and benefit-led, so that the public has the information they need to make an informed decision about retirement housing.

“For years we’ve seen research paper after research paper banging the drum for suitable, appropriate housing – as it’s been shown to increase happiness and life satisfaction, and decrease costs to the NHS - but if we are going to get more people considering retirement housing schemes we have to make them aspirational and properly understood by our older generation. Retirement housing must become a model of want, not need. We can only drive this demand by showing the public the lifestyle benefits gained from these schemes and through better education, information and marketing.”

You can find out more information by downloading the research here.