Housing crisis for elderly

THOUSANDS of elderly people will continue to live in cramped and crumbling homes unless pounds 1.5bn is spent on renovating sheltered accommodation which has not been modernised for up to 30 years.

The National Housing Federation and Age Concern say pensioners are having to share bathrooms and live in cramped bedsits. They want the Housing Corporation - the government agency responsible for giving grants to housing associations - and local authorities to rethink their policies and provide more cash to update the inadequate sheltered accommodation.

The Housing Corporation has been refusing modernisation grants in areas where it declares there is a surplus of sheltered accommodation. Grants are made available only if the accommodation is converted for people with a greater perceived housing need, such as the homeless or the disabled. This means hundreds of elderly people are being forced out of their homes.

The Independent on Sunday reported recently that old people were being moved out of a home in Ealing to make way for people with disabilities.

In another case, 24 elderly people face being moved from a sheltered home in Berkshire to make way for young people or the homeless. The Sovereign Housing Association says it is awaiting the result of a local housing needs survey before it decides the fate of the residents at Harris Close, near Newbury. A spokeswoman said it was difficult to attract tenants because they had to share bathrooms: "We wrote to tenants saying a firm decision had yet to be taken. It is the council at the end of the day which decides on what grants are available."

However, Peter Snook, whose 91-year-old mother lives at the home, warned the shock of the move could kill residents. "They are very worried and there is nothing worse than being in limbo. It's very distressing for all of them and something that traumatic could kill you," he said.

Liz Potter, a spokeswoman for the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said the Government and the Housing Corporation should help relieve the burden on landlords: "Housing associations do have some of their own resources but they cannot carry the burden on their own. There should be a local authority scheme for managing old people within an area to address their needs. If a scheme is not doing well but the need is there, it makes sense to reshape it rather than turn people out and use it for something else."

Abigail Bennett, a spokeswoman for Age Concern, said action needed to be taken soon, especially as the number of elderly people was increasing. "Sheltered homes are a vital resource for elderly people because it allows them to be independent. The needs of old people urgently have to be addressed."

However, the Housing Corporation said its total housing budget for the next year was only pounds 626m and that housing trusts had a responsibility to manage their finances properly so they had enough money for repairs.

"We do recognise there is a problem for housing for the elderly but we have limited resources from the Government. We will only make resources available if housing associations can display good management practice," a spokeswoman said.

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