Applying behavioural insights to increase awareness and demand for sheltered housing

We conducted research with Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) tenants (workshops, visits, interviews and data analysis) to understand the barriers to, and motivating factors for, moving into sheltered housing.

This research was used to develop communications to re-frame sheltered housing and to promote residents to ‘downsize’ into smaller properties. These were to be sent to council residents and evaluated using a Randomised Controlled Trial.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the communications were not sent. Instead, we ran an online survey experiment to test our communications and our proposed strategy. We recruited 1,011 participants over 55 years old living in social housing in urban areas in the UK to complete the experiment.

The communication we tested successfully shifted key beliefs of our target group. This validated our chosen approach and provided insights to help shape H&F communications and housing strategy moving forward.

The challenge

For over 60 year old council housing tenants, choosing where to live in later life is a big decision.

H&F want to support their residents to make the best decision for themselves, at their own pace, whilst also ensuring they are maximising the use of their housing stock and reducing the need to house residents in temporary housing.

This project focused on two linked challenges.

Firstly, to encourage households who are under-occupying, who have more bedrooms than members of the household, to consider downsizing into smaller homes. This is a big decision and one which is often avoided as it is associated with reduced independence, giving up space, and moving from a family home.

The second challenge was to get residents to consider and to ultimately move into sheltered housing. Sheltered housing has less demand than general needs housing, the reasons for this were not fully understood but in part were linked with a common association between sheltered housing and care homes.

The solution

We developed three communications to be sent to H&F residents informing them about housing options with a focus on sheltered housing and ‘downsizing’.

Each communication looked to address the barriers and motivating factors to encourage residents to move.

The first communication, looked to re-frame sheltered housing, addressing misconceptions, and emphasising the independence of residents relative to care homes. The second, highlighted the potential financial benefits of moving into sheltered housing and ‘rightsizing’ or downsizing. The third concept, looked to leverage social networks to support residents through the process of deciding to move home.

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable)

We cannot assess the true impact of these communications as they were not sent during the lifecycle of this project. We will update this case study with data and findings in the future as materials are sent out.

The goal of these communications was to drive more awareness and interest in sheltered housing from residents as they start to consider moving in later life.

By driving awareness and increased engagement at the start of the decision process we anticipate this will result in a higher number of households registering for ‘beneficial transfers’, registering for the sheltered housing waiting list, and ultimately moving into sheltered housing.

The online experiment randomly assigned participants into one of two conditions. The treatment condition in which they read the communication or the control condition in which they saw no communication. Subsequently we captured participants stated willingness and interest in sheltered housing as well as a battery of questions about key beliefs about sheltered housing. This format enabled us to show that the communication significantly shifted our target audience's beliefs about sheltered housing. It also confirmed that the key messages we highlighted in our communications were well targeted; that these perceptions and beliefs about sheltered housing were correlated with the likelihood of wanting to move into sheltered housing. This produced a range of insights which are synthesised in the attached report.

The research also confirmed that one communication is unlikely to shift such a big decision on its own. Instead, the council should develop a suite of materials to be deployed across the decision process. Certain messages could also be more impactful at certain points in the decision process.

Every household who completes a beneficial transfer (downsizes) from a council property to sheltered housing enables the council to house another vulnerable family or resident. The benefits and impact of this are:

  • residents will move into an appropriate home, providing them with independent living for longer. This also reduces staff time and resource spent on supporting residents in temporary housing and accommodation.
  • for the council, they can move households from temporary housing into permanent general needs housing, reducing the cost to the council of 4,478 per household per year spent on temporary accommodation. 

How is the new approach being sustained?

The survey experiment confirmed that the communications developed using the findings of the research were well targeted, well-conceived, and shifted attitudes and beliefs of our target market.

The insights from the research are being used to develop materials which can be used going forward by the housing team.

We would advocate using a test - learn - adapt approach where possible when changing communications or the delivery of a service.

Lessons learned

Moving home is a big decision, the weight of this decision increases as residents get older and need to think about how best to live in later life.

It is important to provide information for residents at the right time and in the right format to support this decision.

The focus of this project was on increasing awareness and consideration of sheltered housing as an option for residents, increasing the enquiries, visits and contact with housing staff.

The survey showed there were some principles that can be applied to communications to promote sheltered housing as an option early in the decision process, these include:

  • clearly differentiating sheltered housing from care homes
  • associating sheltered housing with independence and independent living
  • emphasise that sheltered housing is not just for people with mobility issues.


Jacob Mcclellan:
Calvin Garrett: