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Older people: moving to suitable accommodation

This content applies to England

The options for older people who wish to move to more suitable accommodation.

Housing options include renting, buying a home, or moving into specialist accommodation that provides a level of support. The primary concerns are likely to be security of tenure, affordability and access to appropriate care and support.

Private rented accommodation

Private rented accommodation may not be appropriate for older people as there is usually very limited security of tenure, and the landlord's permission may be required for adaptations to be carried out. See the section on Private rented accommodation for more information.

Local authority and housing association accommodation

Rented accommodation in the public sector usually offers greater security of tenure and lower rents than private rented accommodation. The majority of local authority and housing association accommodation is provided through the local authority's allocation scheme.

In areas of high demand, sheltered housing may be the only type of accommodation that is offered to older people. For more general information on public sector rented accommodation, see the sections on the Allocation of local authority housing and PRPSHs and housing associations.

Transfers within the public sector

Older people who are currently local authority or housing association tenants and are seeking a move out of their authority's area, for example to be near relatives, can apply for a transfer. For more information, see the page Transfers, exchanges and nominations.

Local authority and housing association tenants who require a move to more suitable accommodation within their own area may be able to take advantage of policies to encourage older people to move from larger family-type accommodation into smaller homes. Some incentives that may be offered by local authorities or housing associations include cash payments, paying removal expenses, or providing furniture or equipment. Details of these schemes are available from individual local authorities or housing associations.

Mutual exchange

Council tenants and some housing association tenants can swap their home with certain other tenants by way of mutual exchange. This could enable people to move closer to family support. Both landlords must give permission, but this can only be withheld in limited circumstances, which may include cases where the property has been adapted.

Some local authorities operate mutual exchange schemes to help tenants find someone to exchange homes with. The local authority will be able to provide information about such schemes. There are also a number of independent schemes, some of which are free. See Exchanging council homes for a list of both free and paid-for schemes.

Note that the following housing mobility schemes are no longer available: moveUK, HOMES, Homeswap, LAWN and the Seaside and Country Homes Scheme. For more information about what a tenant should do if they were registered with one of these schemes, see the page Moving to another property.

Transfer of tenancy to a family member

In some situations, it may be appropriate for older local authority or housing association tenants to transfer their tenancy to another member of their family. This is known as assignment and is only possible in some circumstances.

See the sections on Assignment of tenancies and Succession for more information.


Almshouses have been provided by landowners and other benefactors for many centuries. Many are old properties that have now been modernised, but some are newly built flats and bungalows with warden support.

Almshouses are run by independent almshouse charities. Often almshouse charities only consider applications from local people or people who are associated with a particular trade, but exceptions can be made in some cases. Each almshouse charity will have its own selection criteria. Only applicants who are unable to afford alternative sheltered housing are likely to be considered. Rents are usually comparatively low. Some almshouses advertise their vacancies in the local press, or in churches and day centres. Read more from the National Almshouse Association about almshouses.

The occupiers of almshouses are licensees not tenants.[1] Occupiers who pay a licence fee only have basic protection under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977; occupiers who do not pay any fee will be excluded occupiers.

The courts held that people in actual occupation of almshouse premises in a state of disrepair that constitutes a statutory nuisance are 'aggrieved persons' for the purposes of section 82(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and can make a complaint to the Magistrates' Court regardless of whether their occupation is lawful.[2] See Action by occupiers, in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 section for more information.

Buying a home

There are several ways in which older people who cannot afford to buy a home outright may be able to access owner-occupied accommodation. These include shared ownership, Leasehold for the Elderly, HomeBuy and the right to buy schemes.

Most of these schemes are not specifically for older people, but it may be possible adapt a property to make it more suitable. See Older people: remaining at home for more information.

Shared ownership schemes

Some local authorities and housing associations offer schemes whereby people can buy a share of a property and pay rent on the remaining share. Applicants can buy a share of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the property, and can increase their share later on, eventually owning the property outright if they are financially able.

These schemes vary and specific details will be available from local authorities and housing associations that offer the schemes. A limited number of shared ownership schemes are specifically for older and/or disabled people. See Shared ownership for details of local authorities and housing associations that operate shared ownership schemes, and the section Shared ownership and low-cost home ownership for more information.

Specialist advice should be obtained before embarking on shared ownership.

Leasehold schemes for the elderly

Some private registered providers of social housing (PRPSH) offer leasehold schemes for the elderly (LSE). These enable older people (usually those aged over 55) to buy a share of up to 75 per cent in a property. Often, those who have purchased a high share, for example 70 or 75 per cent, will not have to pay rent on the remainder, but will usually have to pay a service charge.

The amount of service charges that PRPSHs owning or managing LSE accommodation can charge is restricted by the regulator of social housing who publish a notice each financial year with the service charge limits.

Details of specific schemes will be available from the housing associations that offer the schemes.

Right to buy

The Right to buy scheme enables secure tenants who meet the qualifying requirements to buy the freehold or leasehold of the property at a discounted price.

Most applicants will need to take out a mortgage, which can be difficult for older people to get. For more information on the right to buy, please see the section Buying local authority and housing association housing.

Sheltered housing

Sheltered housing (which can either be bought or rented) usually consists of self-contained bungalows or flats, with a warden who lives on or near the premises and/or an emergency alarm system. There are often communal facilities such as a lounge or laundry. It is sometimes called 'warden-assisted accommodation'.

Sheltered housing is usually suitable for older people who need a low level of support, although there are also models of extra-care housing that cater for people with support needs who don't need the full support of a care home. It is provided by local authorities, housing associations and private companies.

Sheltered housing for sale

Sheltered housing is normally sold on a long lease with the builder passing on the freehold to a specialist management organisation once all the flats are sold. Sheltered housing should be bought only from builders registered with the National House Building Council (NHBC), which has a code of practice for builders.

Owners of sheltered housing pay service charges to the management organisation to cover the cost of the warden and maintenance of the building. For information on meeting the cost of accommodation and care, see the page Older people: remaining at home.

When the property is resold, the current market value minus some administrative charges is refunded. The management agents often want to approve the sale to ensure that the new owner is appropriate, as occupation is normally restricted to people over a certain age. The management agents may offer to organise the sale, but will usually charge a fee of around 2.5 per cent of the sale price.

There are ways of buying sheltered housing that do not involve having to purchase outright, including Leasehold for the Elderly schemes (above), or finding a developer that offers a discounted purchase price in return for paying a lower amount on resale. Others allow for purchase, through a finance company, at a percentage of the asking price. On death, the whole value of the property passes to the finance company. This is also known as buying a 'life share'.

Independent legal advice should be sought when considering these options. Information about sheltered housing for sale is also available from organisations such as Housing Care: Elderly Accommodation Council or Age UK.

Sheltered housing for rent

Sheltered housing for rent is usually managed by local authorities or housing associations.

Some people will be eligible for housing benefit to help pay the rent. Housing benefit can also cover some or all of the service charge, provided the person's income and capital is low enough, and as long as the payment of service charges is a condition of occupying the accommodation, rather than an optional extra. See the section on Housing benefit for details.

Information about sheltered housing to rent is available from local authorities and housing associations. All vacancies in local authority or housing association properties are normally accessed through the local authority's allocations scheme. See the section Allocation of local authority housing for more information.

Two separate cases have dealt with decisions to replace residential wardens in sheltered housing with floating wardens. In one case the decision was deemed unlawful because it was conducted without consultation and this made it a breach of the landlord's contractual obligations under the tenancy agreements.[3]

In the other, which dealt with decisions made by two local authorities, the decision was quashed because the impact assessments and consultation procedures conducted by the local authorities had not fulfilled the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.[4]

Care homes

Older people who need substantial care may need to move into a care home.

Care homes are run by local authorities, voluntary organisations, NHS bodies or private organisations. They usually consist of single or shared rooms and shared facilities with staff on site to assist with day-to-day tasks and personal care.

Care homes vary greatly in the level of support they provide. It is worth visiting a few before deciding which home would be most suitable. For information on moving to a care home, see the page Older people: care homes.

Dogs and pets

Most accommodation providers in the UK operate a 'no dogs or pets' policy, so dog or pet owners can find it difficult if they have a dog/pet and want to keep it with them. However, even the court of protection has recognised the importance of pets in the life of a vulnerable people.[5]

The Dogs Trust's Hope Project maybe able to help dog and pet owners finding housing providers which accept clients with dogs and pets. The Dogs Trust's Freedom Project gives details of organisations that provide temporary foster care for animals whose owners are unable to look after their pets because they are in hospital or care home.


The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] Gray v Taylor [1998] 1 WLR 1093;(1999) HLR 262, CA; Watts v Stewart and Ors as Trustees of the Ashtead United Charity [2016] EWCA Civ 1247.

[2] Watkins v (1) Aged Merchant Seamen's Homes (2) Historic Property Restoration Ltd [2018] EWHC 2410 (Admin).

[3] R (on the application of Garbet) v Circle 33 Housing Trust and Eastbourne Homes Ltd (Interested Party) [2009] EWHC 3153 (Admin).

[4] R (on the application of (1) Boyejo (2) Towler (3) Rush (4) Saunders (5) Kemp) v Barnet LBC : R (on the application of Smith) v Portsmouth CC [2009] EWHC 3261 (Admin).

[5] Mrs P v Rochdale BC and another [2016] EWCOP B1.

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