Specialist housing for older people

The UK has a wide range of housing designed specifically for older people where help or care can be called on when needed.

Developments (or ‘schemes’) typically include 20 – 50 properties, though more recent ‘retirement villages’ may have 300 or more. Whilst villages are likely to have their own on-site services and therefore be remote from town or city life, most schemes are built close to social, transport and shopping facilities.

Retirement/Sheltered housing

Sometimes referred to as retirement housing, this offers a well designed home of your own plus communal facilities and some services. Most schemes comprise flats, but bungalow estates exist too. Newer schemes usually offer 1, 2 and sometimes 3 bedroom properties; older ones may include some studio (one room) flats.

The facilities may include a residents’ lounge, a visitors’ room, a communal garden and laundry. Typically the scheme will have a full- or part-time manager whose job includes providing support and advice to residents.

Many sheltered schemes have an important social dimension. Residents and/or scheme managers may organise regular coffee mornings, bingo, entertainments, religious services or outings.

Housing-with-Care (Extra Care housing)

Also known as Assisted Living or Extra Care housing, these schemes provide a more intensive level of support than traditional sheltered housing for older people who need some personal care or other types of help, but who are otherwise able to live safely and independently on their own. There will usually be at least one member of staff on hand 24 hours a day.

Additional facilities are often available to cater for people who are not able to get out regularly, perhaps including a restaurant, shop, gym or hobby room. Activities may be arranged regularly, as in sheltered housing, commonly with an emphasis on improving or maintaining residents’ health and wellbeing. Some schemes are able to continue caring for people who develop dementia.

Similar schemes may also be called very sheltered, close care or retirement communities.

Finding specialist housing to rent

The majority of retirement and extra care housing to rent will be managed by social landlords, such as local housing associations and councils. These are not-for-profit landlords and the rents are intended to be affordable to those on a low income or in receipt of state benefits.

Most councils and many housing associations will make their vacancies available through a system called ‘Choice Based Lettings’, which aims to give greater priority to those in the greatest need for accommodation. In order to be considered for these properties you will typically need to register with your local council in the first instance before being able to put yourself forward for any vacant properties.

Another option is to contact housing associations directly, some of the national ones, as well as the small local ones, will have their own waiting lists that you can apply to directly.

Abbeyfield and Almshouse properties are managed by local charities and often set their own criteria for applicants. If you meet this criteria then you may find you are offered a property much quicker than applying through the council system.

Finally, if you are looking to rent privately, you may wish to visit the website for Girlings, a private landlord specialising in retirement housing. You can visit their website, here.

You can look for retirement housing with current vacancies on the HousingCare website.

Finding specialist housing to buy

Although the majority of specialist housing is to rent, there are still over 5,000 developments across the UK with private purchase options available.

A good starting point is our factsheet on Buying a retirement property which provides information on a lot of the key points and considerations you should be aware of when exploring this option.

To start your search you may wish to enquire with local estate agents, visit online property websites like Rightmove and Zoopla, and keep up-to-date with the latest vacancies on HousingCare.