What is sheltered housing?

Sheltered housing is a group of self-contained flats or bungalows with either one or two bedrooms, which you can buy or rent. It can also be called retirement housing. It might be a good option if you want to live in a smaller home that is easier to manage.

Sheltered housing usually has a scheme manager or warden and there may be an emergency alarm system providing 24-hour help as necessary.

Features of sheltered housing

Facilities will vary from scheme to scheme, but sheltered housing usually has:

  • self-contained properties grouped together into a small complex
  • scheme managers or wardens, responsible for looking after the buildings and making sure the residents are safe and well. They may not be full time or based on site
  • a community alarm system
  • communal areas, such as a lounge, laundry room, guest flat and garden
  • adaptations to make getting around easier and safer.

Sheltered housing schemes often arrange social activities among the residents, such as coffee mornings, film nights or a gardening club.

Advantages

  • you’ll have neighbours around you, but still keep your privacy and independence
  • help is available in an emergency
  • may be more secure than private accommodation
  • a more manageable property
  • you’ll often have access to communal facilities and opportunities to socialise.

Disadvantages

  • there may be a waiting list
  • some areas have a limited choice
  • service charges can be high – these cover communal services like building repairs, heating and hot water charges, and the emergency alarm system. If you receive Housing Benefit and Pension Credit to help you with your housing costs, it may not cover them all
  • if you buy, it could be difficult to sell the property later, and you might have to pay an exit fee
  • there may be rules about pets or visitors.

Sheltered housing may not be suitable for people with higher care needs. If you need a higher level of support, extra care housing could provide that.

How to find sheltered housing

Sheltered housing is available to rent or buy. Providers are usually local councils, housing associations, charities or private companies.

If you want to rent:

Most sheltered housing for rent is let through local councils or housing associations. There is a small amount of private rental accommodation. There may be fewer eligibility criteria to meet if you rent privately, but the rent will probably be higher.

Each council has its own housing allocation policy. Contact your local council housing department and ask if you qualify to apply.

Housing associations usually have to follow the council’s allocation policy and will offer housing to people on the council housing waiting list. However, some may accept direct applications.

If you’re already a council or housing association tenant, ask your landlord for information about how to apply.

If you want to buy:

Sheltered housing to buy is usually available from private providers, rather than councils or housing associations. It is usually sold on a leasehold basis, although some offer a shared ownership option where you can buy part of a home and pay rent on the rest. Details of housing associations running shared-ownership schemes can be obtained from your local housing department or from Elderly Accommodation Counsel.

Before you buy, you should check your contract and get independent advice from a solicitor on your rights and responsibilities. The Leasehold Advisory Service also provides information on things to consider before buying a leasehold property.

As it is a leasehold property, you should check the lease to see if there are any restrictions in case you want to sell the property or leave it to a relative in your will. You should also see if there are any exit fees if you decide to sell it, or if the occupancy changes.

Making your choice

If you’re considering moving into sheltered housing, it’s a good idea to contact your local council for a free care needs assessment. This looks at what care you need and what might help you, including how suitable your accommodation is. For more information, see our factsheet First steps in getting help with your care needs.

If your assessment shows that you could benefit from living in sheltered housing, you may be able to get help from the council with your care costs. You will have a separate financial assessment to decide this.

Some sheltered housing schemes provide more support than others, and costs will vary depending on the area and the services offered. When approaching schemes, make sure you ask plenty of questions and pay a visit. Make a list of what you want to ask – for example:

  • costs and service charges – what is included and what costs extra?
  • is there parking space, and what are the transport links like?
  • how much support can you expect? – for example, is there an emergency alarm system
  • any rules you need to be aware of – for example, about pets
  • is there a scheme manager or warden – if so, how often do they visit and what are their responsibilities?
  • what communal facilities and opportunities for socialising are there?

Contact your local council to find out about sheltered housing in your area.

For more information about how to get sheltered housing, see our guide Sheltered housing and extra care housing.

Help with housing costs

Help with rent and council tax

There are different schemes available to help you with council tax charges, depending on your circumstances. If you’re living on a low income, you may also be eligible for Council Tax Support and Housing Benefit to help pay your rent.

Help with service charges

If you rent your home, you may also be able to apply for Housing Benefit to cover certain service charges. See our factsheet Council Tax Support and Housing Benefit for more information.

If you own your home, and you claim certain benefits such as Pension Credit you may be able to get help with paying certain service charges. See our factsheet Pension Credit for more information.

Next steps

Our guide Sheltered housing and extra care housing has more information.

Read our guide Choosing where to live for more information about different housing options.

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