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Suitable accommodation options for older people

Housing options for older people include renting, buying a home, or moving into specialist accommodation providing support.

This content applies to England

Private rented accommodation for older people

Private rented accommodation may not be appropriate for older people as there may be limited security of tenure. Tenants usually need a landlord's permission to make any adaptations.

Social rented accommodation for older people

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.

Transfers within the public sector

Older people who are local authority or housing association tenants can apply for a transfer if they want to move out of their authority's area, for example to be near relatives.

Local authority and housing association tenants who want to 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. Local authorities or housing associations incentives can 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

Mutual exchange allows council tenants and some housing association tenants to swap their homes with certain other tenants. This could enable people to move closer to family support. Both landlords must give permission. 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 can 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.

Transfer of tenancy to a family member

An older local authority or housing association tenant might want to transfer their tenancy to another member of their family. This is known as assignment and is only possible in some circumstances.

Accommodation in almshouses

Almshouses are run by independent almshouse charities. Many almshouses are old properties that have been modernised, some are newly built flats and bungalows with warden support.

An almshouse charity might only consider applications from local people or people who are associated with a particular trade, however exceptions can be made. Each almshouse charity has 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.

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 are 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]

Find out more from the Almshouse association.

Home buying schemes for older people

Older people who cannot afford to buy a home outright may be able to access other options, for example 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.

Shared ownership schemes

Some local authorities and housing associations offer schemes where people 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, eventually owning the property outright if they are financially able.

Specialist advice should be obtained before buying a shared ownership home.

Shared ownership schemes vary and specific details are available from local authorities and housing associations that offer the schemes. A limited number of shared ownership schemes are specifically for older and disabled people.

See Shared ownership for more information.

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, do not have to pay rent on the remainder, but usually have to pay a service charge.

The regulator of social housing restricts the amount of service charges that PRPSHs who own or manage LSE accommodation can charge.

Details of specific schemes are available from 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 need to take out a mortgage to buy the property. Older people may find it difficult to get a mortgage.

Sheltered housing for older people

Sheltered housing, which can either be bought or rented, usually consists of self-contained bungalows or flats with an emergency alarm system and a warden who lives on or near the premises. 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. 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. These are provided by local authorities, housing associations and private companies.

Sheltered housing for sale

Sheltered housing is usually 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.

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

There are ways to buy sheltered housing without purchasing outright. These include Leasehold for the Elderly schemes, 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. When the owner dies, 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 available from Age UK.

Sheltered housing for rent

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

Some people are 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.

Information about sheltered housing to rent is available from local authorities and housing associations. All vacancies in local authority or housing association properties are usually accessed through the local authority's allocations scheme.

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 for older people

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

Pet-friendly accommodation

Most accommodation providers in the UK operate a no pets policy. Pet owners can find it difficult if they have a 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 may be able to help dog owners finding housing providers which accept clients with dogs. 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 a care home.

Last updated: 10 March 2021


  • [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.