23 Mar 2023

The state of older people’s housing in Wales

In February 2023 Care and Repair Cymru published a report looking into the state of older people’s housing in Wales. The report showed that older person’s housing in Wales needs investment. Care and Repair gathered evidence from over 22,000 older people in Wales, detailed in the report outlining a concerning picture of the state of older people’s housing in Wales.

Across Wales, thousands of older people are living in homes that are inaccessible, cold and in disrepair. From leaky gas fires to rotting floors, hazardous staircases to damp mouldy walls, the adverse experiences of some of our most vulnerable older people are an indication of a much wider policy gap.

The last Welsh Housing Conditions Survey was published in 2018 and showed that nearly a fifth of homes in Wales had a category one hazard present, this is considered as posing a risk to human health. Wales has the lowest proportion of dwellings with an EPC rating of C or above in the UK. Increasing numbers are now living in homes that are fuel inefficient which drives up household costs.

Due to the nature of our client group, Care and Repair sees a much higher percentage of homes with hazards present. These will include issues such as severe damp and condensation related damp, dry rot, roofing repairs, structural repairs, rotted doors and windows, electrical repairs and so on. We are finding that typical works are often unable to be completed due to increasing costs of the work needed.

Although housing repair loan and equity release can sometimes be available, these are not long-term solutions and are often inappropriate or not applicable, especially for Care and Repair clients who come to us because they are on low-income and need support.

During the Covid-19 pandemic Care and Repair were able to undertake home visits to help prevent falls and provide a link to other support available from social and care services. Even though Care and Repair we were still able to visit during this time other visits stopped which significantly reduced older people’s ability to access to services. This resulted in the worsening of some older people’s health and mobility coupled with a worsening of home conditions.

As we have come out of Covid-19 lockdowns Care and Repair has seen first-hand the increased personal frailty of clients due to deconditioning during the pandemic. This has a knock-on effect on their ability to maintain the home environment. Now, often a service request for a handrail reveals a plethora of other issues from inaccessible front doors to damp, to faulty electrical wiring, gas safety issues to leaky roofs.

The more complex an adaption is the greater the cost will be for Care and Repair. There are also supply chain issues and a shortage of contractors.  Inflation and the cost of living crisis has resulted in dramatic price rises for materials and labour. Price increases cause delays in work being approved and completed for clients across Wales:

“I’ve got contractors now that are providing quotes and saying that they are valid for seven days, whereas I used to have contractors saying they are valid for six months, because the contractors just can’t hold the prices. And that creates all sorts of problems.” Senior Technical Officer, North Wales

“The cost of everything has gone up because material prices have skyrocketed. Steel price for grab rails is up 50%.” Caseworker, Southeast Wales

A shortage of contractors creates a challenging environment for a third sector organisation like Care and Repair. Although we are fortunate to have several highly trained technical staff, we must use contractors for larger works. Private work funded by individuals is a faster, more lucrative source of income for contractors without the levels of safeguarding and quality checks we require. Put simply – it is becoming harder and harder to find contractors to undertake work essential for the safety, wellbeing and independence of older people living in their own homes in Wales.

We cannot accept any older person in Wales should have to live in a home that is unsuitable to their needs or hazardous to their health because of a housing repair issue. As such our report recommends that Welsh Government creates a national safety net grant programme for vulnerable older homeowners, to support those who would otherwise have to live in unfit housing.

Written by Faye Patton

Faye is the policy and project manager at Care and Repair Cymru.