Sheltered Accommodation : A guide to Elderly Care

Sheltered accommodation or sheltered housing is an ideal way of retaining your independence but with the reassurance of someone to call on in case of an emergency. This will usually be a warden who lives near to or on site.

Types of sheltered accommodation

This can include self-contained flats, apartments, bungalows, bedsits and rooms with shared facilities. You have the choice of renting or buying this type of property.

What many people like about this type of housing is the fact that they can still do what they want but help is available if needed. In other words, there is a fall back in the form of a warden.

Another aspect is the opportunity to mix with others. If you have been living on your own then here is the chance to socialise with others and take part in a range of activities.

Many of these places have gardens in which you can sit (without the worry of having to mow the lawn or do any weeding) and communal lounges where you can sit and talk with other residents. There is another type of sheltered accommodation called ‘assisted living’ or ‘close care’ which offers a higher level of care and attention. This is discussed separately in our assisted living section.

You may be interested to learn that sheltered accommodation has been around much longer than retirement housing. It used to be the case that people paid for this type of care, mainly housework and meals, by moving into self-contained accommodation (like retirement housing apartments) rather than having one or two bedrooms and a bathroom.

There are some forms of sheltered accommodation which are designed for disabled people. They will have been specially adapted to cater to their needs and have staff that are qualified to deal with disabilities.

Sheltered accommodation and retirement housing

Sheltered accommodation and retirement housing are often seen as one and the same, especially if the accommodation includes 24 hour on site managers, swimming pool and a restaurant.

The best way of explaining this is that sheltered accommodation caters for not just the estate management side of things such as refuse removal, gardening and the general upkeep of the buildings. They also take care of - if residents wish - the domestic side of things such as cleaning, other forms of housework and some aspects of care.

In regard to the on-site care: some places have a clever monitoring system in which an electronic device is hidden under a doormat which, when the resident steps on this, lets the warden know that you are up and about. If not then it may be the case that the warden makes quick phone calls, on a daily basis, to all residents to check that everything is alright.

Sheltered accommodation facilities

These are likely to include the following:

  • One or two bedrooms
  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Lounge

Many forms of this accommodation have 24 hour alarms or ‘pull cords’which residents can use in an emergency.

The warden or resident manager can provide support in a number of ways which includes:

  • The day to day organisation of the housing scheme
  • Regular checks on your health and well being
  • Act as a liaison point between you and your relatives or GP

Please bear in mind that wardens do not undertake any additional tasks such as shopping, cleaning or personal care. If you require help with this then contact your social services department to see what assistance they can offer. For example, they have a ‘meals on wheels’service which delivers hot meals to your door: this can also include people living in sheltered accommodation.

The important thing to remember is that they are not nursing or residential homes. They expect residents to be responsible for themselves even though they will provide help via a warden if necessary. If you do need support then they would expect your family, friends or a voluntary organisation to provide this.

The warden will be able to advise on where to obtain help or who to contact for further support but they don’t provide care to residents per se.

This is not meant to be a warning just a case of being clear what the warden’s or resident manager’s role is.

If you feel that you need a great deal of care then you may be better suited in assisted living housing (also known as ‘close care’) or a care home.

Assisted living and care homes are discussed in greater detail in this guide.

Privately owned or rented sheltered accommodation

If sheltered accommodation appeals to you then you need to think about whether you choose to buy somewhere in the private sector or rent a local authority property.

Sheltered housing is provided by the following:

  • Local authority - rent only
  • Voluntary sector - rent only
  • Housing associations - rent or part buy
  • Private organisations - buy only

In either situation you will need to think about the costs of the property and services charges.

Service charges are covered in more detail further on in this section.

Renting sheltered accommodation

Most rented sheltered accommodation is provided by local authorities and housing associations. Each local authority has its own policy for allocating this type of accommodation which sets out clearly who it is offered to and how this is done.

If you are looking to rent then you will have to contact your local authority to see if you fit their eligibility criteria and if there is anything available. They will also tell you about their procedure for making an application. Sheltered accommodation is very popular so you will probably have to go on a waiting list. This list is likely to be very long and accommodation is allocated according to priority. This includes the length of time you have lived in the area.

If you have a greater priority than someone else on that list then you will be offered sheltered accommodation.

Housing associations also offer sheltered accommodation. Many of these have entered into an agreement with local authorities in that they will offer accommodation to people who are on a local authority register. In some parts of the country housing associations and local authorities run a joint waiting list.

This doesn’t apply to every local authority so you will need to check with yours to see if they work in conjunction with a housing association.

Another option is to apply directly to a housing association. What you will need to do first is to find out which housing associations in your area run sheltered housing and then contact them. Ask them what their application procedure is and if they have anything available. Other good sources of information are the Elderly Accommodation Council (details on our links page) and your local housing advice centre.

You may find that your local authority has changed the way it allocates sheltered accommodation. Many local authorities and housing associations have changed to a system which is called ‘choice based lettings’.

This is where all vacancies for sheltered accommodation are displayed at your local authority. What you would need to do is to look at this list and make an application if you find a suitable vacancy.

If you want to move into accommodation which is outside of your area then you may have to wait longer for something to become available.

Your local authority will carry out a ‘needs assessment’which will look at what your needs are and whether they can be catered for by sheltered accommodation.

If you meet their criteria then it’s a case of waiting to see what becomes available and if it is the right accommodation for you.

Buying sheltered accommodation

If you own your current home then you will be looking to buy a property in a sheltered complex - mainly for the security and the fact that it is an investment.

You will probably not be offered rented accommodation because homeowners don’t usually have any priority, and the simple fact that you will be waiting along time for someone to become available.

What is this type of accommodation like?

This accommodation is built and owned by private developers or organisations. Once all the properties have been sold they are run by a separate company who employ the warden and manage the upkeep of the accommodation.

You will want to be sure that they provide a high level of service. One way of ensuring this is to check if they follow the Association of Retirement Housing Managers code of practice.

If you have the finances to pay for private sheltered housing then it is important to find somewhere that will meet your needs at present and later in the future.

Also think about whether you want somewhere which is close to your existing home or near to family and friends.

Check your local press (newspapers etc) or ask a solicitor or estate agent for details of this type of housing. The internet is another good place to look.

For more information visit the websites of The Elderly Accommodation Counsel and The Association of Retirement Housing Managers.

Choosing sheltered accommodation

If you are caring for someone who is looking to move into sheltered accommodation then consider the following:

  • How much would it cost and what does that figure include?
  • If there are additional charges then what are they?
  • Is the accommodation managed professionally by the warden?
  • Is the warden friendly and approachable?
  • What is provided in terms of furniture and appliances?
  • Is there a smoking policy?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Is there 24 hour back up?
  • How secure is the accommodation?

A checklist is useful as it can be used to help you decide the type of sheltered housing you want and whether that would suit your needs.

Example checklist It can help to divide this up into categories which you mentally ‘tick off’ as you view the property.

  • Location
  • Communal areas
  • The room/flat/bungalow/apartment/bedsit
  • Alarm system
  • Other issues


1. Is the accommodation near to your family and friends?

2. Is it nicely furnished, comfortable and accessible?

3. Is it near to local amenities such as shops, post office, GP’s surgery, banks, library etc?

4. Is it on a bus route?

Communal areas

1. Is the communal lounge pleasantly furnished, attractive and used by the residents?

2. Would you be happy to have a relative or friend stay in the guest room?

3. Is there a well-equipped laundry?

The room/flat/bungalow/apartment/bedsit

1. Are there non-slip floors in the bathroom and kitchen?

2. Are plug sockets and light switches within easy reach?

3. Do taps and windows have the ‘lever’ style of handle?

4. Are the doorways wide enough for wheelchair access or to get through with a walking frame?

5. Are all the rooms adequately ventilated and heated?

6. Can you hear any noise from the communal lounge, laundry,

lift etc?

Alarm system

1. Is there a 24 hour alarm system?

2. What is the procedure if a resident needs help or there is

an emergency?

Other issues

1. Are there any activities organised such as concerts, bingo etc?

2. Does a hairdresser visit the accommodation?

3. Is there physiotherapy available?

4. Are there any trips out?

5. Are there are clauses in the lease which you need to be aware of?

6. Who has responsibility for maintenance, improvements or repairs?

7. Are there any visiting health services, such as a community nurse?

Ask yourself would you be happy living here? Did you get a ‘feel’for the place? What do the other residents think? How do you feel about living in close proximity to others?

Whether you buy or rent, obtain legal advice before entering into any agreement.

Service charges and costs of accommodation

Irrespective of whether you buy or rent, the fact remains that you will have to pay service charges to cover the overheads of running this scheme.

These usually have to be paid on a monthly basis. Check to see what they cover, and most importantly, what they don’t cover.

So before you sign the lease, look at how much the charges are. Then take into account your finances such as the value of your current home, any savings and income.

If you are buying a privately owned property then don’t forget that as well as the cost of the property there are also additional costs such as stamp duty, legal fees, estate agents fees and the cost of the move itself.

Ask the warden of the property for a breakdown of the services charges in relation to the property you are buying. Keep in mind that these are more than likely linked to the size of a property. Service charges will also vary from one form of accommodation to another.

Ask to be kept informed about services charges and notified if they are going to increase. Also think about the option of buying in additional care; even if you don’t need it now, you may do in the future.

It is worth checking to see if the organisation has any records of past increases in the service charges, especially if they have been rather sudden. Also look to see if there is a list of one-off payments, paid by residents.

There may be times when you are asked to pay one-off sums of money to cover the unexpected such as building repairs. It is your right to be consulted about this before any work starts. Check your lease to see if this is included.

If you are choosing local authority accommodation then ask them for more help if needed.

Help towards service charges

If you are in receipt of the Pension Credit or Housing Benefit then you may be able to claim for some of the service charges you pay.

Another option is a scheme called Supporting People which is a government initiative, administered by local authorities.

If you are buying a property within a privately owned sheltered scheme then check the following:

  • It is run by an organisation with a proven track record in sheltered accommodation.
  • The organisation is a member of the Association of Retirement Housing Managers and follows its code of practice.

Then get further advice from your bank manager, solicitor or accountant. A solicitor is especially important as he/she will be able to fully explain the service charges, lease and conditions of your occupancy.

Other issues

You may want to sell the property at some point so think about how you would resell it. The owners of the sheltered scheme may have stipulations such as the right to approve (or reject) a new owner or a minimum age for a new owner.

Plus, you may require more care and support at some point in the future. If so then it may be a case of moving into assisted living accommodation or a care home.

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