Are demographics shaping the future of social housing?

  • The number of over-65s in the UK is set to rise by almost 50% in the next 17 years
  • 16-24 year olds are more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population
  • New laws, such as the Care Act 2014, place extra pressures on Registered Providers
  • Zurich Municipal can help organisations adapt to these complex and wide-ranging changes

Our population is in constant flux, and this greatly affects the nation’s social housing demands. Registered Providers (RPs) should be aware of these demographic changes when determining how to meet the needs of existing and future tenants.

There are more than 11 million people aged 65 or over in the UK, and this figure is expected to rise by nearly 50% in the next 17 years – increasing the need for homes that are designed or adapted to meet the needs of older people.

Over-65s account for 57% of under-occupation (i.e. people living in houses deemed too large for their needs) in social housing. Unlike tenants of ‘working age’, those who have reached state pension age are exempt from the under-occupancy charge – often referred to as the Bedroom Tax.

However, moving home can be particularly daunting and stressful for older people. Many perceive a lack of quality, suitable housing for the elderly, and choose to remain where they are.

Demand for higher quality

The National Housing Federation argues that we need to offer older people something better than they currently have, if we are to address this issue of under-occupancy. Housing charity Shelter agrees, saying that offering high-quality accommodation, designed to meet their particular needs, can encourage greater movement among elderly tenants, freeing up bigger properties for larger numbers of tenants, and providing a more efficient allocation of housing stock.

Safeguarding vulnerable tenants

RPs should also be aware of their additional responsibilities for safeguarding vulnerable adults since the Care Act 2014 came into effect in April 2015 – which could include anything from stopping financial abuse to reducing the risk of falls.

With a third of all people aged over 65 in the UK experiencing a fall each year, and 28,000 dying from the effects of cold weather, it is clear elderly tenants have a particular set of needs which RPs now have a statutory duty to respond to.

Social housing and young people

Britain’s young people face challenging times. Those aged 16-24 are now almost three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, the largest gap in more than 20 years.

Home ownership is becoming an increasingly distant possibility for the young, despite the government’s assurance in the Queen’s Speech that 1.3 million housing association tenants in England will have the right to buy their homes at a discount.

With the introduction of recent welfare reforms, such as universal credit, and the Conservatives’ plans to cut housing benefit for 18-21 years olds, further challenges look likely.


Reduced grant funding and progressive devolution have motivated social housing organisations to offer more than just a roof over people’s heads. Diversification of activities is now commonplace, with 76% of RPs now introducing new services to supplement their core role as housing providers.

The rising number of young people in need of assistance is an opportunity for social housing organisations to further enhance the way they serve their communities, and potentially open up new revenue streams and funding opportunities.

Offering wider services

Octavia Housing, a not-for-profit housing organisation in London, has begun offering apprenticeships and paid internships to tenants who are aged 16-24, unemployed and not in full-time education. Octavia recognised that offering wider services to tenants – such as employment support, opportunities to develop skills and financial education – was just as important as the provision of housing.

A study by the organisation found that for every £1 invested in the project more than £4.12 of value was created for the local community.

Helping you manage new risks

Richard Wood, Head of Housing and Health at Zurich Municipal, says: “RPs are increasingly looking for new ways to meet demand and deliver their services. The appraisal and management of the new and existing risks arising from this diversification is crucial if RPs’ are to achieve their desired objectives, and deliver for the often-vulnerable people that rely on their services.

“We have many years’ experience in providing risk and insurance solutions to Britain’s housing associations, giving Zurich Municipal unique insight into the challenges you face when adapting to complex and wide-ranging changes.”

Read our New World of Risk report, which touches upon these risks, or talk to us for more information.