Older people with support or care needs are sometimes being forced to wait months and years on waiting lists for sheltered housing, says older people’s charity Independent Age.
The national charity said that the quantity of sheltered or extra care properties administered by councils falls far short of what is needed for the growing older population, and as a result, pensioners are regularly stuck in limbo for more than a year.
Very few local authorities proactively publish expected waiting periods for sheltered housing, with some simply noting that there is a “severe shortage” for this type of housing, or “substantial queues”.
Sheltered housing is made up of self-contained homes that are often grouped together in a small complex, with some communal facilities and features designed for older people (like ramps).
Independent Age’s Assistant Director of Services, Simon Hewett-Avison, said that the charity received calls every week from people needing help navigating the often complex process of applying for retirement housing through local authorities.
“Sheltered housing can help people live independently for longer, but unfortunately, the supply of this type of housing is falling well short of what is needed,” he said.
“We’ve also found that many people have misconceptions about retirement housing – they often think that sheltered or extra care housing are basically the same as a care home, but in reality, they’re very different propositions.
“Challenging these misconceptions are part of the reason that Independent Age has launched its Sheltered housing and extra care housing guide.
“For most people, life in sheltered housing isn’t all that different to their previous living situation – just with the peace of mind of knowing that care is there if it’s needed. In many cases, it can actually delay a move into a care home.
Betty Garfield, 79, has been living in sheltered accommodation in Hythe, Kent for a number of years, after moving into her ground-floor flat with her late husband, who used a wheelchair.
Betty said the best part of living in sheltered housing was the sense of community, with residents regularly getting together for coffee afternoons, shared meals, or residents’ meetings.
“We have a support officer, or warden, and the people who are more vulnerable will get a daily call or visit. She manages the block, and we see her around quite a bit.
“It’s good to know that there is a port of call if anything does go wrong. For the most part though, the focus is on living independently.
“My neighbours are very supportive and very friendly. It was very important for me to have them around when I lost my husband six years ago.”
Betty, who previously worked in administration and as a stay-at-home mother to her four children, continues to live an active life, driving her own car, participating in a craft group and helping neighbours to do their shopping.
“I always feel quite busy, and no two days are the same. I think having people around you who have gone through similar experiences makes a big difference,” she said.
Independent Age’s free Sheltered housing and extra care housing guide is available to download at www.independentage.org/sheltered-housing-and-extra-care-housing, or by calling 0800 319 6789.