New research has revealed that older people are “stuck in larger houses with more than twice the bedrooms they need” and “no suitable options to downsize”.

The research, by Professor Les Mayhew of the International Longevity Centre and Bayes Business School, shows that over-75s in the capital have more than twice the number of bedrooms they need, while the 65-74 population has 70% more.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) find that 26% of homes in London are under-occupied.

The figures have been linked to the lack of good-quality downsizing options for older people in the capital.

In their 2021 report on housing for older Londoners, the Centre for London think tank found 19 out of 32 boroughs in the capital had neither a clear policy on the number and type of homes for older people needed in their area over a set time frame, nor site allocations set out.

Analysis by ARCO, the representative body for Integrated Retirement Communities which combine independent living with care and support, has found that a mere 0.7% of older Londoners have the opportunity to live in this kind of setting.

If only 5% of older Londoners decided to move to an Integrated Retirement Community in the capital, this would mean 50,000 people (or about 30,000 households) competing for one of only 6,000 existing homes in these settings.

London’s situation compares to countries like New Zealand, Australia and the US where at least 5-6% of older people live in an Integrated Retirement Community. In Auckland, there are close to double the number of homes in these settings as London, in a city with less than a fifth as many over-65s.

Many older people would like to move, but simply do not have the available options in their local area.

A survey of older people conducted by ARCO in collaboration with Later Life Ambition found that 70% would be interested in moving to somewhere with care and support as an alternative to a care home, but 53% said their local area did not have good enough downsizing options.

The positive impact that downsizing would have on the whole housing market has become clear. If the Integrated Retirement Community sector achieves its aim of 250,000 people living in this kind of setting by the end of the decade, 562,000 bedrooms will be freed up for people of all generations.

Analysis by Professor Mayhew has gone further, estimating that – if 1% of older people downsized into new homes annually and stayed there for 10 years – this would require 80,000 new homes a year, and release one million bedrooms between 2020 and 2030. If 2% downsized then this would be doubled.

London’s surplus bedroom crisis has prompted ARCO to call on the GLA to take immediate action to expand housing for older people in London, including Integrated Retirement Communities.

ARCO said the next London Plan – currently under review – should include definitions and specific targets for each type of older people’s housing, that each London borough should set out a clear plan for meeting their targets, and that older people should be given better guidance on their housing options.

Les Mayhew, Professor of Statistics at the International Longevity Centre and London’s Bayes Business School, said: “It is clear that while younger people in London face vast housing shortages, older people are stuck in houses which have many more bedrooms than they need, creating significant generational divides.

“With many older people wishing to downsize but lacking the good options to do so, a large part of the solution lies in expanding specialist housing for older people across the capital.

“If we even give just a small percentage of older people the opportunity to downsize, we can release up to a million bedrooms across the country by the end of the decade – a great prize.”

Michael Voges, Executive Director of ARCO (Associated Retirement Community Operators), said: “These new findings demonstrate the urgent need to expand good-quality downsizing options for older people in the capital, including Integrated Retirement Communities combining independent living with care and support.

“Achieving this would not only be great for older people, who benefit from improved health and wellbeing and flexible care, but for younger people across London who could take advantage of freed-up bedrooms.

“Housing for young and old is not a zero sum game – we have a great opportunity to benefit all generations through an expansion of older people’s housing.”

Claire Harding, Research Director at the Centre for London said: “London’s older population is growing fast, especially in inner London. Older people should have a real choice about where and how they want to live, but at the moment this just isn’t happening, and many people are stuck in homes that just aren’t right for them.

“We’re calling on the GLA to create specific housebuilding targets for specialist and older people’s housing, and to act as a trusted source of information for older Londoners looking to think about their options for whether, where and how to move home.”