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Sheltered housing

Sheltered housing, sometimes known as retirement housing, is a type of ‘housing with support’, which you can buy or rent. Find out if it's the right housing option for you.


What is sheltered housing?

Sheltered housing, sometimes referred to as retirement housing, could suit you if you want to live independently but need a bit more support or if you want to live in a smaller home that's easier to manage.

It's usually only available to those aged 55 and over.

Some common features of sheltered housing include:

  • help from a scheme manager (warden), or support staff
  • 24-hour emergency help through an alarm system
  • communal areas, such as gardens or lounges
  • social activities for residents.

Features vary from scheme to scheme. Some schemes offer more support than others. If you’re interested in a particular scheme, make sure you understand which services are available, how much they cost, and whether you'd be eligible for any help with these costs.

Meals, help around the home and personal care services such as help with bathing aren't usually provided. You can arrange a package of services from the local authority or a private care agency.

Unlike care homes, sheltered housing isn't inspected or given ratings. Assisted living offers more support than sheltered housing but still allows you to live independently.

How much will I pay for sheltered housing?

The cost of sheltered housing will vary depending on whether you rent or buy, the scheme that you choose, and the area you live in. Some schemes will be more expensive than others.

As well as rent or mortgage payments, you have to pay Council Tax, water rates and energy bills and you usually have to pay a regular service charge.

The price of the service charge and what it covers varies from scheme to scheme, but it typically includes contributions towards communal repairs and cleaning, grounds maintenance, servicing and maintaining any lifts and security systems, and building insurance. It may include charges for support services such as the scheme manager and emergency alarm.

At each scheme, check:

  • how much the service charge is
  • what's included in the service charge
  • if there are any additional services to pay for and how much they cost
  • whether certain service charges can be covered by Pension Credit or Housing Benefit
  • whether the local council can help with the cost of any care or support you receive.

How do I rent sheltered housing?

Renting from your local council or housing association

Most sheltered housing for rent is provided by councils and housing associations. In most areas, the local council runs a waiting list of people looking for sheltered housing. Many housing associations fill all their sheltered properties this way.

Different councils have different rules on who gets sheltered housing. You can check your council’s rules by asking for a copy of their housing allocation scheme, which sets out who gets priority for housing. Priority is based on your needs, such as if you're moving because of disability or long-term illness or health condition. Ask your local council how much priority you're likely to get and how long you might have to wait.

Find your local council on the GOV.UK website

Renting privately

A small amount of sheltered housing is available to rent privately. There may still be a minimum age threshold, but you may not have to meet any other criteria. Waiting times are likely to be shorter. Rents may be higher and your tenancy is likely to be less secure than if you rented sheltered housing from the council or a housing association.

Find out more about renting accommodation

Applying for accessible social housing

Scope has more information on applying for accessible housing if you're disabled or have a long-term illness or health condition. They advise on filling out the application form, asking for home adaptations and advocacy services. 

How do I buy sheltered housing?

Most sheltered housing for sale is from private developers. There'll be a management group in charge of the warden, services and maintenance.

Unlike care homes, sheltered housing isn't inspected or given ratings. However, there are some things you can check, including:

  • if the developer is registered with an accredited body such as the National House Building Council (NHBC). Newer properties built by registered developers are covered by a Sheltered Housing Code.
  • if the management group are members of a recognised trade body such as the Association of Retirement Housing Managers (ARHM). They have a code of practice.

Things to remember when buying sheltered housing

  • Services and charges vary from scheme to scheme. Make sure you understand exactly what services are provided, how much they cost, and how you're going to cover these costs before making a commitment. Ask for a full breakdown of charges, including optional services and any ‘one-off’ fees.
  • Most assisted living housing is sold on a leasehold basis. There may be restrictions in the lease on what happens if you want to sell the property or leave it to a relative in your will. Make sure you check these restrictions and other lease terms and conditions before you buy.
  • You may need to pay an ‘exit’ or ‘transfer’ fee if you sell the property or if there's a change of occupancy, for example, if a carer comes to live with you. Make sure you ask about any exit fees before you decide to buy.

More information you might find useful

Housing options information guide (PDF, 1.9 MB)

Buying retirement housing factsheet (PDF, 471 KB)

Specialist housing for older people factsheet (PDF, 451 KB)

The Elderly Accommodation Council (EAC) has more information about sheltered housing, and other housing options for older people, on their website. Find out more here.

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Last updated: Dec 20 2022

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