The Care Home Conundrum

The prospect of moving into a care home must be looking incredibly unattractive to older people and their relatives during the current pandemic. It will probably be a long time until concentrating the old and infirm into clusters looks like a sensible idea and this will have an impact on the housing market for other cohorts and the housing crisis generally.

The likely result is that old people will be less likely to leave their current houses if they can avoid it and where they cannot live independently they will turn to families to take them in.
This will restrict the supply of properties to others who need them and will often result in single people in large properties that are unsuited to their needs.

On the other end of the spectrum, families who take in older generations may find they are struggling with space and privacy with multi generation units under one roof, roofs over space, which in the UK is already below the average in Europe.

This problem, which can only get worse, could be addressed by the planning system changing some its stifling rules.

Councils should embrace the concept of building homes for the elderly within existing gardens, a form of development that is currently strongly resisted. Whilst the current permitted development rights allow the construction of outbuildings, the rules are absolutely adamant that they can’t be used as living accommodation. A 100 sq m pool

building is acceptable but a 20sqm self-contained unit for Auntie Ethel would not be. And if they think the building is being used in an inappropriate way then they will take action, including court orders to force demolition of the building.

Its important that the units are both separate and self contained. This allows for independent living and the ability to decide how much integration with the main family unit is needed or desired. And the ability for older generations to isolate, whilst benefiting from nearby support is a Covid 19 related requirement, which could well become a feature of life going forward.

Interestingly, there is legislation that exists to solve this problem, under the Mobile Homes Act 2013. This allows you to build large permanent structures on your curtilage without planning permission, even in Conservation Areas or AONBs. These are looked at in the same way as parking a caravan or boat on your drive or garden. The structure can be up to 6.8m wide, 22m long and 3m high internally, which will comfortably accommodate a 3/ 4 bedroom layout. And this can be assembled on site even if there is no way you could have brought a fully assembled unit onto a tight site.

It is a little-used approach for a number of reasons.

The criteria for being classed as a mobile home is fairly particular and requires understanding and applying a complex set of construction rules. It includes for example a phrase that stipulates the last act of construction must be the bolting together of two halves for the larger units. The building must be capable of being lifted onto the back of a lorry to be moved but this is only a hypothetical requirement and can be certified by an engineer.

Councils are not supportive of the approach as it takes control out of their hands. Grey areas exist where the unit appears to be an independent residential unit, which would trigger the need for planning. However, if the unit is used within the family group, this, in theory, means the use is lawful although the council may still want to contest this.

However, if you are willing to follow the instructions and stare down the council, it’s a hugely useful bit of legislation. And given it’s there, councils should be encouraged to formulate a clear position on this to allow people to build independent living units in their garden without the worry of legal grey areas.

Key to this as well, is the development of simple, cheap, attractive and energy saving buildings, which are designed to work with the rules, and can be quickly erected and equally quickly dismantled and recycled when no longer required.

A combination of good design and council support could usher in a new generation of multi-family plots, familiar to many other cultures, and all the benefits the different generations can bring to each other. Yes, it will cause some problems with the neighbours and parking, but the benefits it would bring to families and the housing market in general would far outweigh these. To slightly tweak the government advice; Build at Home. Protect the Elderly. Save lives.

Giles Lovegrove is a director of Trace Architects and Volume Solutions who has an interest in low carbon building and modular self build housing.

Client Prespective

As Coronavirus has dominated pretty much all of the news cycles and our thinking for that last few months, something that has been a constant worry/concern for my wife and I has been my father-in-law.

He is 85 years old, has dementia, but is living on his own but supported by carers. Before Corona, we had been talking about him going into a home. Although able to cope, he has fallen a few times, which has resulted in trips to A & E. But he is happy and has some control over his day-to-day life, and consequently, we had kicked the conversation can down the road.

The elderly in care, have been sentenced to isolation due to lockdown, and higher risk of catching the virus. This, coupled with nagging unease about care in the first place, turned reticence into a consideration of the alternatives.

We like so many what our nearest and dearest to be safe and close by. As a society, we have got to used to distance between family and living apart. We the boomers are sandwiched between children that cannot afford housing and parents that need looking after, with care being the ultimate solution. In both these instances, for those that are lucky enough to have space, may be found in your back garden. We have the space to put a small building that could be used as a self-contained unit. Close to the house, for us, it would be perfect. We could have my father-in-law close to us and look after by us, but have him in is own space, able to maintain some independence. It would also be a useful space for post-university children looking to minimise expense to be able to save for a deposit, without being in the same physical structure as their parents.

Traditional planning is stacked against this, but a quirk in planning law has opened up the possibilities. You can have a mobile home on your property without planning consent. The mobile home can be made to look beautiful; the only caveats are that in theory, it would be taken away on the back of a lorry and its use is for family members only.