Better Housing

Our Better Housing campaign will work to improve housing options for you and other older Australians.

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Downsizing: Movers, planners, stayers

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Accessible housing win

Accessible housing win

National Seniors has lobbied hard to make housing more accessible as part of our Better Housing campaign. On 30 April 2021, ministers attending the Building Ministers’ Meeting agreed to adopt mandatory accessibility standards in the National Construction Code (NCC). This means all new homes and apartments will have to meet 7 minimum accessibility standards to accommodate people with limited mobility or a disability. This includes: a step free entrance door, wider internal doorways to allow wheelchairs and a toilet at entry level.

About the issue

National Seniors better housing campaign will work to improve housing options for you and other older Australians. It's an issue that has needed addressing for many years, as our history of submissions show.

National Seniors research also found that 36 per cent of people aged 50 and over live in a home that is not suitable for them as they age and that only 38 per cent of older people have taken steps to prepare themselves for getting older.  

A key focus of the campaign is on improving options to enable you to downsize should you need to.

Downsizing is not about having a smaller home but about finding a home that is more suited to your needs.

As you get older, you may need a new home that:

  • is easier to take care of
  • is closer to your family or services
  • provides access to different lifestyle options, or
  • is simply safer or easier.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers to downsizing.

  • Stamp duty can also be a big issue when buying your new home. 
  • Most new housing is not built to a standard suitable for you when you get older.
  • Planning laws don’t encourage seniors friendly housing.
  • If you sell your home and move into another, any money you make will be counted as part of the Age Pension means test.

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Priority 1: Introduce a stamp duty concession for eligible seniors in all states and territories.

Research has shown that older people who choose to remain in their home, even if it is unsuitable to their needs, are often influenced by financial concerns.

Almost one-quarter of people planning to stay cited the impact of downsizing on the Age Pension, cost of stamp duty and general cost of moving as factors which discourage them from downsizing.

Stamp duty is clearly a disincentive to downsizing. One that discourages older people from moving into a home that is more suitable to their needs as the age (See Figure 1 below).

Which states don’t offer seniors a stamp duty concession?

Seniors in Victoria, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Tasmania are already eligible for a stamp duty concession to assist them to downsize their home.

Seniors in the remaining states, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia should have access to a concession to bring them into line with the other states and territories.

Read our guide to stamp duty concessions across Australia.

National Seniors believes a concession for stamp duty for Pensioner Concession Card and Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders in the remaining mainland states will increase the appeal of downsizing.

How should it work?

The concession shouldn’t be restricted to new dwellings, however there should be a sliding scale applied to the concession, as is done in the ACT to ensure the policy is targeted at those most in need.

This will assist those who are reluctant to downsize due to associated costs and provide the opportunity to relocate to more suitable accommodation.

Priority 2: Include ‘accessible housing’ design standards in the National Construction Code (NCC)

Changing the National Construction Code (NCC) could make new housing age-friendly and facilitate more downsizing options.

What many don’t realise is that minimum standards for building design are set nationally through the ABCB. The ABCB is a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) standards writing body that is responsible for maintaining and updating the NCC. It addresses issues such as:

  • safety and health;
  • amenity and accessibility; and
  • sustainability in the design, construction, performance and liveability of buildings.

The NCC provides a nationally consistent set of minimum standards, which are ultimately regulated by state and territory governments.

At the behest of the Building Ministers Forum (now referred to Building Ministers' Meeting - BMM), it was proposed that the ABCB undertake a Regulation Impact Assessment or cost/benefit analysis to assess various options for strengthening accessibility design standards in the NCC.

Options for changing the NCC

Currently, there are different accessibility standards available through the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG). 

Unfortunately, adoption of these standards is voluntary. As such, they are failing to meet the aspirational goal of 100% of new housing built to a minimum accessibility standard by 2020.

In fact, it’s been estimated that this figure is likely as low as 5%.

Several options are currently being assessed by the ABCB to strengthen the NCC in terms of accessibility. These are based on the silver and gold voluntary standards in the LHDG.

This includes changing the NCC to include such minimum standards (among others):

  • At least one step-free entrance door (silver)
  • Wider internal doors and corridors (silver)
  • Toilet on ground level (entry level) (silver)
  • Bathroom and toilet walls to support grab rails (silver)
  • Kitchen space to support ease of movement/adaptation (gold)
  • Space on ground/entry level suitable for a bedroom (gold)
  • Light switches at easy to reach heights (gold).

The ABCB is considering what level of accessibility standard it should recommend, if any, as part of the ongoing Regulation Impact Analysis process.

It will make recommendations to the Ministers involved in the BMM, who will ultimately decide whether a change to the NCC should be made as part of the regular review of the NCC in 2022.

If you’re interested in supporting more accessible housing, then please sign up to the campaign here.

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