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What is sheltered housing?

How do you choose suitable sheltered housing, and what facilities do they offer? Our guide to sheltered accommodation explains your options.
7 min read
In this article
What is sheltered housing accommodation? Can I rent sheltered housing? Sheltered housing facilities
The pros and cons of sheltered housing Tips on downsizing Sheltered housing and nursing care

What is sheltered housing accommodation?

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

It usually consists of self-contained flats with communal facilities. In most cases, it’s available to people aged over 60, although some schemes may be open to those over 55 years old. When used exclusively for older people, it’s sometimes called ‘retirement housing’. If the accommodation is part of a care home complex, it can also be known as ‘close care’.

Sheltered accommodation can be bought or rented. Residents can pay for sheltered housing privately (out of their own funds) or, if they meet certain eligibility criteria 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 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:

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

  • 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.

  • Regular social activities and communal areas where residents can meet together.

However, check with the housing provider as not all schemes provide the same range of services.

They love the fact that if something goes wrong, it gets fixed quickly and easily.

Sheltered housing schemes don’t usually provide help with personal care, and they require residents to have a certain level of independence. However, there is an increasing number of extra care housing schemes where people with greater care needs can continue to live.

For more information on the benefits and drawbacks of sheltered housing, read our pros and cons checklist below.

Use our calculator to find out how much you might pay a home care agency in your area and what financial support is available.

Can I rent sheltered housing?

Sheltered housing is available to buy or to rent privately or there is council and housing association sheltered housing if you have limited resources.

Some developers have a shared ownership option where tenants can part buy and part rent. Typically, you can purchase 25–75% of the scheme and pay rent based on the share of the property you don't own.

Sheltered housing facilities

Most sheltered housing schemes offer a range of services and facilities. Each scheme is different, but many will offer:

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

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

Always 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 pros and cons of sheltered housing

The benefits of sheltered housing

Checklist (ticks)
  • Independence: the freedom to live independently in a safe environment. 

  • Reassurance: an alarm system in case of emergencies; some schemes also offer daily checks on residents. 

  • Support: help and advice is available if needed.

  • Safety and security: often, residents in sheltered housing feel safer than living alone. 

  • Flexibility: there may be the option to rent or purchase through shared ownership. 

  • Financial help: if you’re on a low income, Housing Benefit may cover some or all of the rent. For those eligible for Pension Credit, some support with meeting the cost of service charges may also be available. 

  • Living with a partner: the option to remain living with a spouse or partner, which might not be possible with other care options. 

  • Making friends: opportunities to socialise with other residents of a similar age. 

  • No hassles with repairs or maintenance: if you’re renting, your landlord is likely to be responsible for repairs to your property and the maintenance of communal areas. If you’ve purchased your property, your lease will specify what your maintenance and repair responsibilities are, but it’s likely that the scheme manager will be responsible for repairs and maintenance to the exterior of your property and the communal areas and gardens. 

  • Legal protection: if renting, you usually have the protection of tenants’ rights, as you would with any rental property. Read more on Which? Money about the legal issues around tenancy agreements

  • Resale value: if you purchase a retirement property, then your home can be re-sold, inherited by family or, if necessary, used to pay for care.

For more detail, read our article on five reasons to consider sheltered housing.

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The drawbacks of sheltered housing

Checklist (ticks)
  • Service charges: if you’ve bought a property, you’ll have to pay service charges on top of usual ongoing housing costs. Service charges can be higher for sheltered housing than for other leasehold properties to cover the cost of services such as the scheme manager and an alarm system. Read more in additional costs of sheltered housing

  • No medical care: most schemes won’t take people who require regular nursing care or who have demanding needs. They may also refuse to accept new residents who have existing personal care needs. However, you could consider extra care housing if you’re looking for sheltered housing with care and support included. 

  • Limited choice: there may be a limited choice of schemes in your preferred area, particularly if you’re on a social housing list. 

  • Rules: residents have to live by the rules of the scheme, which may, for example, restrict noise or forbid pets. 

  • Reduced space: if residents are downsizing from a larger property, there may not be space for all their possessions and furniture. 

  • Bills: residents still have to pay the bills for their own properties (such as council tax, water, gas and electricity), which might make it more difficult to budget.

  • Variations in services: scheme managers (wardens) rarely live onsite. Some might only be there part-time. It’s important to check what’s on offer.

Tips on downsizing

Moving to sheltered housing might mean that you're downsizing and maybe also moving to another area. Download our downsizing checklists for ideas about what to consider.

Downsizing checklists
(pdf 49 Kb)


Sheltered housing and nursing care

Sheltered housing schemes don’t offer any medical or nursing care, so if you require specific medical care, you may find that a care home is a better option. If you’re not sure what level of care you require, read our guidance on getting a needs assessment. This is a review of your care needs that’s carried out by the local authority and defines what care support you need. It’s free of charge.

Real-life stories
Anne's story
Read Anne’s story about her parents moving from a large house more than 150 miles from her, to local sheltered ...
Use our directory to find local care homes, home care agencies and carer support services across the UK.

Further reading

Extra care housing

Extra care housing offers more support than standard sheltered accommodation. Some schemes offer dementia support.

Last updated: 02 Nov 2020