Research developed by our later living specialists has uncovered a gap between public perception around the retirement housing sector and the reality of what service and provisions are provided. But what's causing this disconnect?

Our report, Retirement Housing White Paper, highlights a lack of understanding about the services offered by retirement housing schemes, and in turn, a growing raft of misconceptions among the public. Although, later living schemes play an essential role in our society, our report notes that people are often unaware of their benefits. Until these are recognised, retirement housing will continue to be seen as a last resort made out of necessity, rather than something to aspire to.

In order to tackle these issues, we must first demystify the sector. Our research sets out to do this, putting a spotlight on the sector's main pain points, as well as actionable solutions and next steps. So, where to start and what needs to be overcome for the sector to strive?

On a quest for clarity

After surveying 2,000 UK adults and 100 representatives from retirement housing providers, we found that one third of the public believe retirement housing schemes are synonymous with 'old people's homes'. Many also thought that only the 'lonely, single older person with health issues' would benefit from these schemes. These common misconceptions are something that the sector must overcome if it is to move forward successfully.

Through our research we discovered that the main hurdles include:

  • A lack of awareness - People were unaware of the benefits of retirement housing schemes, such as on-site fitness and leisure facilities and guest rooms, with 78% of the providers surveyed offering additional accommodation for visits.
  • Misconceptions about fees - Only 28% of people believed these schemes offered good value for money, naming hidden fees as the number one cause of their wariness.
  • Terms such as 'care homes' or 'old people homes' - These terms have negative connotations and are not representative of many retirement housing schemes, yet they are commonly used.
  • Ageism in the sector - Much of the sector has historically relied on 'dependency models' to attract new residents. By using labels such as 'older people', this perpetuates the misconception that these schemes are a last resort.

The power of positive communication

Fighting misconceptions head-on is a vital step for the sector. Educating the public and key stakeholders including local councils and planning teams by using real-life examples and case studies, positive and appropriate imagery, factual summaries focusing on NHS and Local Authority cost savings made from such specialist housing provision and reports such as ours that highlight the many benefits of this sector from an economic and social standpoint, will bring retirement housing into the public eye for all the right reasons.

Improving public understanding

To bridge the gap between perception and reality, the sector can:


  • Start 'open door' schemes - Retirement housing schemes shouldn't be afraid to show off. Allowing people to view the space in person can instantly disprove any myths regarding old-fashioned facilities and décor.
  • Highlight the benefits - Instead of focusing on who the schemes are for, promote their benefits, making them an aspirational lifestyle choice, rather than one of necessity.
  • Be more cost-transparent - From service charges to upkeep costs, potential residents worry they won't be able to afford the lifestyle they desire. Providing clear breakdowns of costs will put people's minds at ease and show that these schemes are more affordable than many think.
  • Clarify services - People want to know what they're signing up for. Providing detailed information on the services offered will help people who are looking at retirement housing to take the next step.
  • Pay attention to the language used - Move away from negative, potentially ageist terms and shift towards positive descriptions that reflect people's wishes rather than worries.
  • Move to the digital realm - Digital literacy is rising and moving with the times will capture a wider audience. It will also make information more easily accessible.

Retirement housing schemes will always have an important role in UK society, providing safe and secure residence to those who need it, not to mention the benefits from a new, supportive community. However, our report has shown that to move away from unwanted stereotypes and to appeal to a new type of consumer, the sector must update its image. By improving the public's understanding through marketing and education, later living schemes can be transformed into aspirational places to live.

Download a copy of our retirement housing white paper

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.