Sheltered housing, also known as retirement housing, is accommodation specifically designed for older people (or younger disabled people) to allow them to live independently.

Sheltered housing usually consists of self-contained flats with communal facilities. In most cases, they are available to people aged over 60, although some schemes may be open to those over 55 years old. On this page we discuss:

1. How sheltered housing works
2. Sheltered housing facilities
3. Extra care housing
4. Sheltered housing and nursing care

How sheltered housing works

Such accommodation can be bought or rented (see Privately funded sheltered housing), either by individuals or couples. Residents can pay for sheltered housing privately (out of their own funds) or, if they meet certain eligibility criteria (see Council and housing association sheltered housing), they can apply to be allocated sheltered housing by their local council or housing association.

Schemes usually offer between 20 and 40 self-contained apartments/flats or bungalows on one site. All properties have their own front door, kitchen and bathroom, so that residents can continue to live independently and have the freedom to come and go as they please.

The main advantage of sheltered housing is that residents have help at hand if they need it. Most offer additional support in the form of:

A scheme manager (or warden) living on- or off-site, who gives advice to residents, ensures that communal areas are clean, and arranges maintenance and repairs

A 24-hour emergency alarm system within each property, so that residents can call for help if they have a fall, for example.

All schemes are run differently so, when considering a move, make sure you ask:

  • What duties is the scheme manager responsible for?
  • What hours does the scheme manager work?
  • What happens if your relative needs emergency help when the scheme manager is not on the premises?
  • Are any changes being planned for the way in which the service is delivered?
  • How much is the service charge and, if appropriate, can your relative get any financial help towards the charges?
  • What happens if your relative requires personal care in the future? Will they be able to have care at home or will it be necessary to move?

Sheltered housing facilities

All sheltered housing schemes are different and will offer a range of services and facilities for residents. Many schemes offer:

  • communal areas (such as gardens or a communal lounge) where residents can get together to socialise
  • social activities or entertainment for residents, such as coffee mornings, crafts, bingo, bridge or quiz evenings
  • organised excursions to places of interest
  • guest rooms for family and friends so that residents can have visitors to stay over
  • communal laundry (washers and dryers).

Some larger sites may also offer restaurants, shops, hairdressers or even a gym.

It’s a good idea to check if there are any additional charges for these services, who they are available to (residents only, or visitors as well?) and what times they are available.

The majority of sheltered housing schemes require residents to have a certain level of independence. Only a small number provide personal care (see Extra care housing, below) and none provide nursing care.

Extra care housing

Sheltered housing (also known as ‘retirement housing’) doesn’t usually offer help with personal care. However, there are some extra care housing schemes (also known as ‘very sheltered housing’, 'enhanced sheltered housing' or ‘assisted living’) that do provide this additional support for residents.

Extra care housing residents will have access to onsite personal care services, which can offer assistance with a range of tasks, such as dressing, bathing, meal preparation and also housework.

Sheltered housing and nursing care

Sheltered housing schemes do not offer any medical or nursing care. If your relative requires specific medical care, sheltered housing may not be the best option. See Care homes for more information about what these can offer. If you are not sure what level of care your relative requires, see Getting a needs assessment.