OLDER people looking to downsize once children have flown the nest and move to a smaller residence in their twilight years should be given government help, according to housing experts.

It is claimed freeing up under-occupied family homes could ease pressure on the housing market caused by demand outstripping supply and increase the number of houses coming up for sale.

The proposal is contained in a report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) which said the support could take the form of help with moving costs, tax breaks or an information service tailored around older people's needs.

RICS say that around around a third of people aged 55 or over talk about downsizing, but only seven per cent get around to doing so and that governmental help could be a catalyst to spur them on.

The institute said that the area would have to be handled sensitively by officials, but added that it could be a huge benefit to both people looking to leave family homes and those wanting to move up the property ladder.

Jeremy Blackburn, Head of Policy at RICS said: “Britain’s older home-owners are understandably reluctant to move out of much-loved, but often under-occupied family homes.

"Clearly, it’s an emotive issue and one that needs to be treated with sensitivity, but we would like to see central and local government provide older people with the information, practical and financial support they need to downsize if that is their choice.

This might include offering a fund to support with moving costs or perhaps a stamp duty discount."

He added that the shortage of homes coming on the market mean that transactions had dropped to their lowest levels for 30 years, and fresh thinking was needed.

Mr Blackburn said: "If we are to get to grips with this country’s housing crisis, we need to look at supply-led measures across Government and the wider industry in order to get the market moving.”

The report also called on the Scottish Government to invest in building more homes and to help firms engaged in housing projects.

Homeless campaigners and advocates for the elderly have welcomed RICS recommendations, with Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland saying: “For older people in difficult to adapt homes downsizing can often be a good option, however, moving from the family home can be a daunting and complicated prospect.

"Offering support and information for older people who want to downsize, and enabling them to make informed and independent decisions about their homes, is a good thing.

“Recently the independent Commission on Housing and Wellbeing called for the Scottish Government to help to establish a service that provides advice and support for older people who wish to consider moving or consider shared housing options. We back these calls and would welcome the opportunity to offer such support.”

He added: “For many people, moving to a smaller or more suitable home brings benefits like being able to continue to live independently for much longer and reducing the cost of housing. Freeing up larger family homes is another added benefit of downsizing.”

An Age Scotland spokesman said: “We would always encourage older people to look at all options when it comes to housing and to find what best suits their own needs. Support with downsizing would be a welcome move.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to increasing the supply of new homes and enabling people to live independently in their own homes wherever possible.

“We have just begun work to review Age, Home and Community, the national housing strategy for older people. As part of the Joint Housing Delivery plan published earlier this year, we are also working closely with a number of stakeholders including Age Scotland to take forward a housing options approach for older people. This is intended to help older people make decisions about their housing.

“These are important issues raised by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and we will closely consider the findings of this report.”