What is extra care housing?
Extra care housing combines accommodation with care and support services. There are many different types of extra care housing, from small communities of flats and bungalows to retirement villages.
The facilities and care provided will vary, but extra care housing schemes usually include:
- self-contained adapted flats or bungalows
- on-site care and support staff, providing personal care and domestic services
- emergency alarms throughout the scheme, with 24-hour help available
- communal facilities and services, such as a lounge, dining area and garden.
It is sometimes known by other names:
- housing with care
- very sheltered housing
- assisted living.
Our factsheet Sheltered housing and extra care housing has more details about the types of extra care housing available.
Who is it for?
The eligibility criteria will depend on the scheme, but residents are usually:
- above a certain age – usually 55 or 60
- able to live safely on their own with some support.
If you are part of a couple and one of you has greater care needs, extra care housing could make it possible for you to continue to live together.
Ask your local council for a free care needs assessment if you think extra care housing might be the right choice for you. This will look at what care you need and the best way for you to get it. You will usually be required to have a care needs assessment if you’re applying for council extra care housing, but it’s a good idea to get one even if you’re planning to buy or rent privately.
See our factsheet First steps in getting help with your care needs for more information on care needs assessments.
There are two key elements to extra care housing:
- the accommodation
- the care and support services offered.
Each self-contained flat or bungalow is designed to be user-friendly and will usually have:
- a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room
- adaptations, such as handrails, a level-access shower, and lower worktops for wheelchair users
- alarms throughout, to call for help in an emergency .
Some larger extra care housing schemes may have facilities such as a hairdresser, GP practice or restaurant on site.
The type of support will depend on your needs, which your local council’s social services department will usually assess. Care can include help to look after your everyday needs, such as:
- washing and dressing
- managing your medication
- using the toilet.
The local social services department, the housing provider or private home care agencies may provide your care.
There are many advantages to moving into extra care housing, including:
- staying independent for longer
- having your own living space
- help being available in an emergency
- flexible care and support – in many schemes, you can increase or decrease the support you receive as and when needed
- opportunities to socialise with other residents.
Extra care housing can sometimes prevent or delay the need for a care home.
Extra care housing doesn’t suit everyone. Some disadvantages include:
- eligibility criteria can be difficult to meet, particularly if the provider is a council or housing association – your needs may be too low or too high
- the amount of care and support can vary from scheme to scheme
- expensive service charges, covering things like the emergency alarm system
- if you buy, it may be difficult to sell the property later and you might have to pay an exit fee.
Some people may find it difficult to adjust to living only with other people of the same age.
Finding a scheme
Extra care housing is available to rent or buy. Local councils, housing associations, charities or private companies may provide schemes.
If you want to rent:
Most schemes are run by local councils and housing associations. They will usually have strict eligibility criteria – for example, you might need to be over 60 and have a minimum level of care needs. Contact your local council’s social services department for details of schemes operating in your area.
If you’re already a council or housing association tenant you may be able to transfer into an extra care housing scheme.
A small number of properties are available to rent privately. There will probably be fewer eligibility criteria to meet if you rent this way, but the rent will probably be higher.
If you want to buy:
Housing to buy is mainly available through private providers, usually on a leasehold basis. Before you buy, you should get independent advice on your rights and responsibilities from a solicitor.
The Leasehold Advisory Service (020 7832 2500, lease-advice.org) also provides information on things to consider before buying a leasehold property.
Checking the quality of a scheme
There are various ways to find out about the quality of housing and care provided by an extra care housing scheme. For example, the Care Quality Commission inspects care and health services in England, including housing schemes that provide care services. You can check how they rate each scheme on their website.
If you're considering buying leasehold, ask if your scheme follows the Association of Retirement Housing Managers' Code of Practice. This is a government-approved set of guidelines that encourages good practice among private managers of leasehold retirement housing.
See our factsheet Sheltered housing and extra care housing for more information.
Help with costs
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.
If you need care and support, you should get a free care needs assessment from your council. This assessment looks at how you manage everyday activities and whether your needs meet the national eligibility criteria for getting help. If the council decides your needs meet the criteria, they should then give you a financial assessment. This works out whether you qualify for financial help from the council to pay for the care you need.
If you rent your home, you may also apply for Housing Benefit to cover certain service charges.
Read our guide Choosing where to live for more information about different housing options