We need action on housing for older people, or risk the current crisis being only the beginning

Seán Moynihan, CEO of ALONE


Many of us have read or heard the recent story of Micheline Walsh. Micheline , 78, bravely spoke out about her experience facing homeless alongside her husband, who is disabled. Unfortunately, Micheline’s case is not unique. In the first three months of this year, on average ALONE assessed at least one older person who was homeless or living in temporary accommodation every day. Similarly, Threshold have been working with increasing numbers of older people whose housing is at risk.

We need action on housing for older people, or risk the current crisis being only the beginning

Repro Free: Monday 11th January 2016. Picture Jason Clarke

The increasing numbers of older people living in the private rental sector and experiencing increased insecurity in their homes prompted ALONE and Threshold to come together to investigate this area more closely. The result is ‘The Double Deficit’ report.

The report highlights that the private rental sector is not adequately meeting the needs of older renters today, and decision-makers are not adequately planning for the housing of a rapidly growing ageing population.


The research was formed from interviews with representatives of older renters in the private rental sector, as well as interviews with experts, specialist organisations, and national data. It found that 42% of the older participants experienced high stress levels in the private rental sector associated with the insecurity of their accommodation, citing that this stress was impacting all aspects of their lives.


The lack of accommodation choice, affordability, suitability, quality and security, all arose as significant issues. More than half of interviewees were in receipt of HAP (Housing Assistance Payment). 17% of interviewees noted landlord reluctance, and in some cases, refusal, to accept HAP.


The interviews with older renters carried out for the research highlight the real lives behind the numbers. Unfortunately, stories like these are becoming all the more common. “Landlords are not interested in me, they won’t accept HAP, they’re not willing to take a chance on a pensioner,”

said one woman, aged 72. “They have plenty of excuses to choose other people over you.”


“My rental situation is really stressful,” said another participant. “I need to move from here; staying here is not good for my stress levels.


But I have no other choice. There’s nothing else in the area… I feel like I’m being held over the barrel of a gun.”


One person referred to the stress of her housing situation surpassing that related to her illness. Interviewees also spoke of the difficulty in finding a home, in particular a home to match their needs, about not being an attractive tenant to landlords, that arriving at a viewing with a walking stick or wheelchair puts them out of the running.


We know there has been an increase in construction and new schemes which will enable more people to buy their home or access cost-rental schemes.


This is welcome, but we need to ensure that the houses we are building now will still be appropriate for their occupants in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time – or else we will have another crisis simply because we built the wrong houses.


The recommendations from this report must be implemented. Our 12 recommendations include incentivising long-term leases, creating an NCT style system to improve standards, benchmarking the State pension, making changes to the income threshold for social housing, and providing alternative housing options, housing with supports and secure accommodation for older people. Furthermore, we have recommended the establishment of a distinct unit across the Department of Housing and Department of Health to oversee this vital work.


Our hope is that the recommendations from this report are implemented, and we come across far fewer cases like Micheline’s in our work. Our fear however is that if they are not implemented, we are only at the beginning of a wave that will increase significantly in the years ahead.

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