Probing the future of social housing design

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As a manufacturer and supplier of uPVC windows and doors, Epwin Group wanted to know what influences social housing design, and crucially how those factors are changing, writes Andrew Reid

AT Epwin we have a 40-year history of working collaboratively with UK social housing. Over that time we’ve been able to track the changing political, social, environmental and technical trends that influence demand for our products.

This year we took the decision to formalise this approach and measure influence and change factors through a survey of social housing professionals.

The objective was to better understand the issues that they perceive as influencing the design and build of social homes over the next decade, and how this compares to the previous 10 years.

The research findings make for interesting reading, and Epwin Group is happy to share them in our Social Housing: Building for the Future report.

The survey

The survey, conducted in conjunction with the Housing Quality Network (HQN), asked social housing professionals to score 20 factors for their impact on social housing design and build (see table below).

Epwin ResearchUnsurprisingly, considering the current political climate, the leading 10 factors highlighted bring into question the nation’s capacity to deliver the volume of affordable homes needed to meet demand.

The survey suggests that many of these combining factors have compounded from the previous decade to the next thus further exacerbating the lack of supply.

One aspect that’s important to note is that this research was conducted prior to Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement, back in October 2018, to commit a widely unanticipated £2 billion to housing associations in a bid to provide tens of thousands of new affordable homes.

The above notwithstanding, according to the survey the two leading barriers remain consistent; the lack of available land for development and reduced access to funding to build homes.

In both cases close to 80% of respondents believe these will be significant over the next 10 years, that’s up over 10% from the last.

The demand for housing consistently outstripping supply is also in the top five identified by close to 70% of respondents.

Land prices and demand are factors that are clearly subject to a north/south divide. Despite a recent cooling of the London market, property and land prices are still much higher on average in the south, while you’re far more likely to see social housing voids in the North.

In the North the challenge isn’t the total number of available units – it’s locating them where there’s demand, such as the larger cities.

Smaller budgets

These factors combined with the UK’s ever-increasing urban populations (44% consider this significant), and the financial pressure being caused by welfare reform (56%), are all negatively affecting the ability of social housing providers to develop affordable homes.

One way that Epwin brands have responded to reduced landlord budgets is by developing a free specification service to ensure that landlords are getting the window and door solutions they need, not just for today, but for the next 15 or 20 years.

We’ve often seen situations where asset and maintenance managers lose out on the products they know they want and need because they can’t justify the extra capital expenditure.

Detailed specification as part of the service breaks this down so that procurement can consider less-obvious or long-term return on investment considerations such as safety, external environment and human factors.

Aging population

Concerns also exist surrounding the type of homes being developed and whether they meet the needs of evolving demographics.

An aging population is a significant concern for respondents (67%), and it is predicted that by the mid-2030s, there will be over 16 million ‘older people’, three million of which will be over 85.

According to the last census, one in six people in the UK are now over 65. The geographical older-age hotspots in the North reflect location trends across the rest of the country, with seaside towns and rural areas overrepresented.

Social landlords are working hard to try and keep pace with demand, with both specialist and adapted new build properties and by retrofitting existing homes so they are fit-for-purpose. We’ve had to innovate accordingly.

Epwin is already specifying, fabricating and installing doors and window systems that take older people and reduced mobility into consideration, particularly handles and locking systems, and we’re anticipating a steady increase in demand for electric windows and keyless fobs that unlock doors before you get to them.

Safety first

Safety was the factor that showed the largest shift in the proportion of survey respondents considering it to be a concern influencing social housing design and build for the coming decade 67%), in comparison to those identifying it as a significant factor over the last (28%).

Once again, specification has been held up to scrutiny in a post-Grenfell fire world, which is yet another important reason why Epwin brands such as Swish, Profile 22, Spectus and Permadoor have invested heavily in this area.

Correct high-rise window specification now has to factor in broader environmental considerations such as susceptibility to tampering.

To download the report, visit


Andrew Reid is commercial sales director at Epwin Window Systems

This article first appeared in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine, #3 Spring 2019

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