Oh, I do hope Housing Minister Chris Pincher has been reading the Mail’s letters pages this past week.
They have been packed with colourful responses from readers furious at his suggestion that pensioners ‘rattling around’ in large homes should be urged to downsize.
As is often the case when dealing with sensitive topics, language and tone are everything. And there is no surer way to get older voters’ backs up than a phrase that intimates they are to blame for clogging up the housing market.
Lack of homes: Research shows that there are millions of pensioners who would be happy to downsize if suitable housing were available. But there isn’t
On paper it makes perfect sense to encourage the elderly to downsize to smaller homes. It would help free up more properties suitable for families with young children which, in turn, would create more choice for first-time buyers.
As Mr Pincher pointed out, almost four in ten homes are ‘under-occupied’ — which means they have more bedrooms than residents.
But where are these older homeowners supposed to go? Research shows that there are millions of pensioners who would be happy to downsize if suitable housing were available.
But there isn’t. Only 7,000 homes designed for the elderly are being built each year and bungalows are in short supply.
Specialist retirement villages, which boast a host of luxuries such as spas and cinemas, are too expensive for the vast majority of pensioners.
And, as we report, they can be difficult to sell, leaving families on the hook for spiralling service charges.
On top of this, there is the eye-watering cost of moving house to contend with. Stamp duty, estate agent, solicitor and removal van bills can add up to tens of thousands of pounds.
As one Daily Mail reader, Sue Long, from Swindon, said last week: ‘I have calculated it will take us three years to save enough to cover these charges.’
Meanwhile, soaring property prices mean those who’d like to move closer to family or city centre amenities are often priced out.
And the barriers to downsizing are not just economic — they are emotional, too.
Many older people don’t want to leave family homes full of happy memories. They may also enjoy the extra space when entertaining growing families.
And it’s often not just the house they don’t want to leave; it’s the neighbours and wider local community they know and rely on. So if ministers really want to encourage older people to downsize, they need to make it worth their while.
Offering generous stamp duty concessions, such as those being trialled in parts of Australia, would be an excellent start. As would grants to help cover moving costs.
The Government also needs to ensure local councils are involved in discussions about boosting the supply of suitable homes from the outset so new developments are not blocked, amid concerns around soaring care costs.
In the meantime, if Mr Pincher wants older people to get on board with the idea of downsizing, I’d start by banning rhetoric suggesting it’s merely up to empty nesters to do the right thing and give up their beloved family homes.
Thank you for all your letters and emails in response to our piece last week about Barclays branch staff forcing customers to use self-service machines.
They made for worrying reading. One 73-year-old described how they had been marched out of the queue to pay a £2,000 credit card bill, only for the machine to reject it.
Another woman said she had resorted to using a different branch after staff repeatedly refused to help her at the counter.
We passed on your remarks to Barclays in the hope the bank’s senior execs would tell staff to stop using such heavy-handed tactics at once.
But, sadly, it seems staff will be continuing to direct customers to self-service machines whether they like it or not.
And it will be down to staff to decide if you are vulnerable or have a good enough reason for needing to use a counter.
Barclays claims it wants to help you all become ‘more self-sufficient’ in this ever-more digital world. How patronising!
Whatever happened to customer choice? This incessant drive to force everyone online against their will must stop.
For now, I’d suggest you vote with your feet.
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