Sheltered Housing

You may want to stay in a home of your own but feel that your present accommodation is no longer appropriate for your needs, or is unsuitable for your state of mobility. You might, for example, live in an isolated area or have a lot of stairs. Your home might simply be larger than you now need. If any of these situations apply to you, it would be sensible to consider whether one of the housing options specifically for older people might be the answer.


Retirement housing with the possible inclusion of an integral alarm service is one such type of development specifically for older people. Sheltered housing, on the other hand, will normally have warden support, an alarm system and some communal facilities and services There are also sheltered housing schemes for younger people with disabilities.


Rent or Purchase Options

Both purchased or rented homes are available and there are also a variety of different arrangements for part purchase/part rent. The majority of sheltered housing to rent is provided by voluntary sector housing associations or by local authorities and the majority of owner occupied retirement housing is provided by private organisations.

Rented sheltered housing provided by housing associations is likely to be cheaper than renting from private organisations, because housing associations are subsidised and should not be aiming to make a profit. Tenants are likely to have to pay a service charge in addition to the rent, in order to cover the costs of the alarm system, warden and the upkeep of communal areas and garden. For further information on different schemes, costs and how to pay them, see our section Funding your Choice.

Generally, retirement or sheltered housing will consist of a number of self-contained units, either flats or bungalows. Purpose built, or more rarely adapted, they will be specifically for use by older people or by another defined client group such as younger physically disabled people. There is huge variation in the size and quality of accommodation, ranging from single bed-sitting rooms with cooking facilities and bathroom, right up to luxurious 4 or 5-roomed apartments with access to amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and so on. Many of the schemes will also have some communal facilities such as sitting rooms or a restaurant and some will have a guest’s room for residents’ visitors to stay overnight if necessary.

There is usually a warden either resident, or on site for a certain period each day. However, in many schemes there is less warden cover than was originally planned and it may be wise to ask whether any changes in this respect are anticipated. Wardens are not there to provide personal care or to help with cleaning, nor do they normally undertake shopping for tenants. They will, however, keep an eye on you, calling regularly and can alert emergency services if necessary. They may arrange social events and are often a good source of advice, companionship and support.

If you are thinking about purchasing a retirement home in a scheme which advertises itself as providing care as well as accommodation, ask for detailed information about what type of care is provided, how much is offered and what determines its availability. You may want to know, for example, whether there is anyone on duty or on call during the night.

Finding a Sheltered Home vacancy is not always easy and you may find that you need to go onto a waiting list if you are to have any chance of entering the scheme of your choice. It is good advice, therefore, to think sooner, rather than later, about future needs. The more time you have to plan for your future life, the more likely you are to make an appropriate decision.


Extracare and Close Care

Another option in some areas is ‘Housing with Care’ – sometimes known as ‘Extracare’ In such schemes there is normally a 24-hour care service on site, although the amount of care which any individual receives will be broadly based on an assessment of need carried out by your local social services department. This type of home support facility will be a personal care service, to assist you with washing, dressing, etc. You would need to check whether it would also be possible to have domestic help included and how this is arranged.

The care service will be funded by social services although you may well have to make a contribution to the cost. Extracare schemes are gaining in popularity and are an excellent answer to the problem of how to keep your independence and your own front door, yet be assured that the help you may need is always at hand. Admission to such schemes will be on the basis of an assessment of need (see Role of Social Services).

Close Care is another option, if you think you may need access to just some regular personal care. Close care apartments are normally built close to a care home and tenants can use the services provided within the home if they need them. These services might include meals, cleaning and personal care, or short term nursing care.

In summary, the main advantage of sheltered or retirement housing is that there will be other people of your own age (the normal minimum age for taking on a tenancy is 60) for companionship. Additionally, there may also be activities or social events of various kinds organised either by other tenants or by a warden.


How to choose a retirement/sheltered home

Choice in these types of living accommodation will largely be determined by means and by availability. Fortunately, there is a great deal of sheltered housing available and it is widely dispersed, see our listing. However, all types may not be available in your area and you may need to consider moving to a different location in order to find the home which best suits your needs.

If you want to investigate whether sheltered housing might be right for you, you will first need to decide whether you intend to buy or rent, or whether you are interested in one of the part buy/part rent schemes. You might use the following list to decide what your priorities are. Once you have done that, it will be easier to make a shortlist:



  • Location in your current area
  • Near shops and a ‘community’, with post office, library etc. You can now order fresh Waitrose products for home delivery from Ocado.
  • Frequent and convenient public transport
  • Accommodation
    – size, number of rooms etc.
  • Social events
  • Availability of warden
  • Being able to keep a pet
  • Cost including services
  • Mobility access within the scheme



We suggest you then contact schemes in your area which fit your criteria and ask if you can make visits. In that way, you will get a better feel for what is on offer and whether you would be happy in the environment. You might also enquire whether there is a waiting list of people wanting to buy or rent and, therefore, a history of satisfied residents. In rural areas there may be little choice.

When you make a visit it will be important to find out in detail what it might be like to live there. It will be important to obtain answers to the points raised above, but you might also find the following check list helpful:



  • Ask to see a flat or apartment and look for such things as accessibility of switches, ease of opening or closing windows, suitability of design for walking frames or wheelchairs; suitability of bathroom equipment etc.
  • Is there a lift (if apartments are on floors above ground level)?
  • Can tenants or owners control their own heating system?
  • Is there satisfactory security for individual units and for the whole scheme?
  • Is there 24-hour emergency help/cover via an alarm system, and how are emergencies dealt with?
  • How much storage space is there in the individual units?
  • Is there a warden and what is her/his availability?
  • Are there any plans to alter the warden service in any way?
  • Do tenants make decisions about social events etc., or not?
  • Would you be allowed to employ a live in companion, or nurse (over a period of temporary illness).
  • Would you have to pay a levy to the freeholder if you re-sell the property.



Codes of Practice

There are various Codes of Practice to protect the rights of renters or purchasers of retirement housing.

The National House Building Council (NHBC) Code of Practice for Sheltered Housing applies to all retirement housing built after 1st April 1990. This code requires all potential buyers to be given a Purchaser’s Information Pack containing detailed information, as soon as they have paid a reservation fee. (The code is available from the NHBC, Buildmark House, Chiltern Avenue, Amersham, Bucks HP6 5AP. The Association of Retirement Housing Managers (ARHM) has a Code of Practice which covers all its members. (Available from ARHM, 46A Chiswick High Road, London W4 1SZ).


Security of Tenure

Before you make a final decision make sure you have seen a copy of your chosen organisation’s Tenancy Agreement or Lease. You will need to be cautious about possible rises in service charges. Ask the management company for details about past annual rises and, possibly, written guarantees concerning the levels of future rises. Check also whether there is an audited and professionally-administered ‘sinking fund’ established – to pay for unexpected and expensive common parts repairs or renewals. We suggest that you ask someone such as the Citizens Advice Bureau to check all such details for you.

A critically important factor of accommodation will be the applicable terms of your Security of Tenure should you become more frail and dependent. In theory, a sheltered housing tenant should be regarded in the same way as a tenant in any other rented accommodation.


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