Elderly woman stands in front of shelves displaying a collection of family photos and mementos.

Independent living and supported accommodation

Independent living and supported accommodations are ideal if you are still active but you are older, vulnerable or disabled and would like to rent or buy a new home that’s better suited to your lifestyle. Frequently comprised of private flats or bungalows, these housing schemes provide you with your own front door and key, but they also give you the benefit of shared social areas like gardens or lounges—minus the maintenance and repairs (and even the stairs).

These accommodations are often overseen by a warden (also known as a scheme manager or officer) who either lives on site or can be contacted around the clock through an alarm system. This means your security is always a priority.

And if you have a disability that requires specially trained staff, there are some accommodations of this nature that can support you. There are even extra care sheltered housing schemes that can give you more support and access, particularly if you are frail or require homecare services at times. (For more on these service options, visit our Homecare services page.)

You may decide that independent and supported accommodations are right for you, especially if you’re not ready for residential care but you are ready to make a move. This type of housing is great if you’d like to be physically and socially connected when you want—like mealtimes with friends—but you can also maintain your independence without feeling lonely.

Independent housing options

The official labels associated with independent and supported accommodations are currently in transition. Previously known as sheltered or rental housing, independent and supported accommodations are provided by the following organisations:

Local councils (to rent) and housing associations (to rent or part-buy/lease), sometimes referred to as social housing: Each council or association will have its own allocation policy, which is usually based on need. Most schemes are open to people over the age of 60 (couples included!) or others who might be younger but have specific needs. For more on this process, go to the Home and care publications section of the Age UK website and download the Council and housing association housing fact sheet and the Housing options information guide. Age UK’s factsheet on Specialist housing for older people can be helpful as well.

The voluntary sector (to rent): Within the voluntary sector, there are some sheltered housing schemes like Almshouses that are run by charitable groups (which are free to eligible candidates). The Almshouse Association can provide more information on this housing option. There are also Abbeyfield Society homes where there is a charge, although you may get funding. Your local housing association can provide more details on social charitable housing options like these.

Developers (either private or non-private, to buy): If you wish to purchase a flat or bungalow, you may want to look into a retirement housing community or retirement village which has been built by private or non-private developers. For general information about this option, visit the About retirement communities page on the website for Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO). You can also go to ARCO's site to download a free copy of the brochure, Retirement Communities: An Overview.

Within this model, there is a relatively new concept called Lifetime Homes, a long-term housing option that was introduced in the 1990s. The homes within these neighbourhoods are based on objectives that incorporate “...a set of features that would make a home accessible and usable for disabled people...and would allow future adaptation to meet the changing needs of occupiers".

What to expect from an independent housing scheme

Properties in most of these schemes are designed to make life a little easier for you. This translates into things like raised electric sockets, height appropriate countertops, walk-in showers or tubs, wheelchair accessibility (when needed) and other conveniences. Most will also provide:

  • your own kitchen and bathroom
  • laundry facilities on site
  • communal lounges for socialising
  • optional activities
  • communal gardens
  • guest rooms for overnight visitors
  • security and safety features
  • warden, scheme manager or some other 24-hour emergency assistance through an alarm.

Typically, these schemes contain between 15 to 40 properties and range in size from studio flats (or "bedsits") to two and three bedroom units.

Financing a move

According to the Sheltered and other special types of housing costs page from the Paying For Care website, the cost of living in sheltered housing is usually made up of separate parts, which can include:

  • Charges for communal services
  • Rent for individual property
  • Heating costs
  • Costs for housing related support provided by support workers

Indeed, paying fees could have a big impact on your decision when it comes to renting, leasing or buying your independent accommodation.

Renting, leasing or shared ownership arrangements

Independent and supported accommodations are usually owned and maintained by your local authority, which will have an allocation policy based on eligibility (primarily associated with need). Even if financial assistance is not required, a needs assessment is important, as it creates an overview of the type of care and support that is appropriate for you. Once you have contacted your council, you’ll be directed to a housing association in your area so you can submit your application.

For local housing authorities in England and Wales, visit the page entitled, Apply for sheltered housing on the GOV.UK website and enter your postcode.

In Northern Ireland, visit Housing Executive’s page entitled, Help finding sheltered accommodations. Or you can go to the site for the Clanmil Housing Group and download ERoSH's Directory of Sheltered Housing in Northern Ireland.

The Scottish government website has a directory that covers sheltered housing schemes throughout that region. Go to the page entitled Find Sheltered & Retirement Housing to search the Scottish Government's database.

There is often a waiting list for housing that is funded through your local authority, so you may need to check out other alternatives. If you have limited income but you do have some funds, you can look into shared ownership through your housing association.

Buying sheltered housing

If you have the funds to purchase a retirement flat, there are a few things you may want to consider first. And if you’re someone used to owning your own house (but you’re ready to break free of the burdens of regular upkeep), buying within a private community may be just the thing for you.

However, the cost of living in independent flats or bungalows in a local housing authority, retirement housing community or retirement village should also factor in running costs that won’t be included—like service charges, ground rent, council taxes and utility bills. Other fees are described on the Which? Elderly Care page, Additional costs of sheltered housing.

Age UK's section on Housing choices recommends that you only buy from a builder registered with an accredited body, such as the National House-Building Council. Age UK also has a helpful factsheet entitled Buying retirement housing.

Which? Elderly Care looks at the prospect of Buying or renting sheltered housing privately in England or Scotland. Make sure you check out the following sections:

  • Buying sheltered housing
  • Legal matters
  • Before buying
  • Renting sheltered housing

Finally, there is an Information sheet on Sheltered Housing you can download from Help The Aged that goes through all of the buying, renting and leasing options in great detail. 

Preparing for your visits

If you are interested in independent and supported accommodation, your options will be determined by the information in your assessment, so you really won’t have all that much choice when it comes to making a decision. Basically, the information you provide will determine what place (or places) are available to you. The same holds true for housing in the voluntary sector.

When it comes to housing in a retirement community, it’s a good idea to have a list of questions at hand so you can find out as much as possible during the visit. If you’re not sure how to start the review process, ARCO has set a benchmark of operating standards for retirement housing communities. To find out more about these benchmarks, visit ARCO’s Information for Residents in its Setting a Standard for Communities website.

The Association of Retirement Housing Managers (ARHM) has established best practices for any leasehold retirement housing managed by private companies or housing associations. These codes can help clarify the level of service you should expect to receive in leased independent living facilities. The Codes of Practice are posted on ARHM's website.

Finally, there are several great checklists that can help you when evaluating your options. Take a look at these links and jot down the questions you think are important.

Independent options with a Jewish lifestyle

Sheltered housing with a Jewish lifestyle may offer some, or all of the following:

  • Shabbat observance;
  • Kosher food;
  • Regular synagogue services;
  • Traditional Friday night meals;
  • Celebration of festivals; and
  • Entertainment with a Jewish flavour.

To find out more about Jewish sheltered housing options throughout the UK, check out the Independent living and supported accommodation directory section of Jewish Care Interact.

Making the move

Now that you’ve considered all of your options, how can you prepare for moving day? Age UK has a moving home checklist in its Housing options information guide you can download.

Since you will probably be moving into a smaller space, try to concentrate on bringing along only the things that matter most to you. When packing, mark your boxes carefully. It will make life so much easier when you go to start your life in your new home.

Another way to make things easier on moving day is to surround yourself with family and friends. At the very least, they can help make you feel more comfortable and follow up with questions for management and staff. Which? Elderly Care has very helpful information on Organising a move into a smaller property.

Useful links

The decision to move isn’t one you have to make alone. While the Jewish Care Interact Directory of independent living and supported accommodation has an extensive list of resources, the following links can give more information about choosing the right option.

General sheltered accommodation information:

Location based search engines:

Listen to this page: