Aged care policy cannot be blind to seniors’ housing issue: Senate

The government must review its aged care policy to take into account the growing number of seniors living in rental accommodation who face challenges such as the inability to install home modifications, a Senate inquiry has concluded.

The Federal Government must review its aged care policy to take into account the growing number of seniors living in rental accommodation who face significant challenges such as the inability to install home modifications, a Senate inquiry has concluded.

The Senate committee’s 18-month inquiry into affordable housing found that the gradual decline in home ownership among seniors coupled with the continuing shortage of affordable rental properties “had serious implications” for older Australians who did not own their own home.

The committee repeatedly heard evidence that older people who rent were “one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australian society and that their numbers were increasing.”

Among its 40 recommendations the committee called for:

  • measures to encourage landlords to make house modifications for tenants with particular needs
  • government to liaise with industry to ensure wider adoption of the Liveable Housing Guidelines
  • new policies to remove barriers to downsizing by retirees, including schemes such as the axed Housing Help for Seniors

The committee’s report Out of reach? The Australian housing affordability challenge, released on Friday, recommended the Federal Government review its aged care policies to determine how they could better assist seniors living in rental accommodation given the challenges they faced such as insecure tenure and difficulties having modifications installed.

Some 12 per cent of people aged over 65 were renters, the report noted.

The Senate report is the latest to highlight the disconnect between aged care and housing policy, with think tank Per Capita canvassing the issue in a paper in January.

The Senate committee quoted evidence from peak body Aged and Community Services Australia that suggested “a crisis was emerging with regard to housing and older people.”

The lack of protections for seniors in the rental market was also raised, as the committee heard that no-fault eviction disadvantaged older people, which was in contrast with the stronger tenancy laws in some European countries.

The committee was also told that one of the reasons older people often moved from their private rental was that they could not get minor modifications carried out.

Single older women were singled out by the committee, as it noted many were without any other capital asset and had “a very, very high propensity to be entirely dependent on the age pension.”

It heard that the number of single older women soon reaching retirement age without either economic or housing security was set to increase.

Initiatives to support downsizing

The committee found there was “a lack of overall strategy” to facilitate downsizing among retirees and support ageing in place.

It recommended that governments investigate new policy settings that would address barriers to downsizing, including schemes such as the Housing Help for Seniors pilot, which was axed in last year’s Federal Budget.

Several experts and peak bodies told the committee about the current obstacles to downsizing, such as the cost of stamp duties.

While consumer groups such as COTA and National Seniors said the Housing Help for Seniors pilot had limitations, they were broadly in favour of the government trialling and improving the initiative, rather than abandoning it.

Liveable housing

Elsewhere, given the importance of ensuring housing was accessible and adaptable, the committee said it was concerned by the reports it received regarding the slow take-up of the Liveable Housing Guidelines.

National Seniors told the committee that the guidelines were potentially effective but “legislative impediments exist at local council and state levels” and ideally the guidelines would be embedded in building codes.

Similarly other stakeholders expressed concern regarding “the questionable commitment of the housing industry to the guidelines.”

The committee recommended the government “liaise with industry on how to ensure the wider adoption of the guidelines.”

Further, it recommended that measures such as tax incentives could be introduced to encourage landlords to make modifications for tenants who required them.

National issue

More broadly, the committee recommended that the issue of housing affordability be given national significance.

It proposed the Federal Government appoint a Minister for Housing and Homelessness, with the portfolio located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Treasury.

Further it called for the establishment of a ministerial council on housing and homeless, established through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which would develop and implement a national affordable housing plan.

Related AAA coverage: Putting the spotlight on homeless seniors

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