Housing for carers

Finding appropriate housing, or adapting either your home or the home of the person you care for, can make your life as a carer a lot easier.

Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure housing needs are met, including responsibility for 'minor works' on the property, and landlords have to ensure that accommodation is suitable for tenants with disabilities.

The person you care for may have rights to have their housing made more suitable for them to live in. These adaptations can be crucial to your own health as well as theirs. There are also disabled facilities grants from the housing departments of local authorities that can be used to improve housing for a disabled person.

If you're a carer who is living in the home of the person you look after, you may have a right of 'succession' to the tenancy (if it's a rented property) after their death, even if you're not a joint tenant with them. The right of succession would allow you to take over the tenancy and continue living in the property (see caring and tenancies, below).

You will also find information in the sections below on the options that older people and young adults with disabilities have if it's difficult for them to manage in their own home or if they'd prefer to move somewhere else.

Caring and tenancies

If you have been looking after someone and sharing a rented property with them you will need to know whether you have a right take over the tenancy and continue living in the property  after their death. This is called the right of “succession”.

Your rights will depend on:

  • the type of tenancy you have,
  • your relationship to the person you were caring for, and
  • the length of time you lived with them.

You do not have to show that you were caring for the person you lived with. The right of succession could apply to you even if you stopped providing care as long as you meet the other criteria.

If you are a joint tenant you would normally take over the whole tenancy when the person you are living with dies. The rules about succession apply in cases where the tenancy is in the name of the person you were looking after.

Council tenancy

You may be able to take over a council tenancy if:

  • you were the tenant’s spouse or civil partner and you were living with them at the time of their death,
  • there is no surviving spouse or civil partner but you are a close relative or co-habiting partner and
  • you were living with the person you were looking after for at least a year before they died

If you are not the surviving spouse or civil partner, the local authority may want you to move from the property if they think it is too large for your needs. They should provide suitable alternative accommodation and it would be best to get legal advice if you are in this position.

Housing association tenancy

The rules for housing association tenancy succession are quite similar to those for council tenancies.

Spouses, civil partners and cohabiting partners are likely to be able to take over the tenancy. Other family members may not be able to do so, unless:

  • the tenancy is a secure housing association tenancy,
  • they had been living in the home for at least a year before the person they were living with died, or
  • there is no surviving spouse or partner who is eligible to take over the tenancy.

Private tenancy

If you rent from a private landlord (a private tenancy) your rights to succession may be more limited. There are different types of private tenancy. If you have an assured tenancy, for example, succession may be possible for a spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner. If the tenancy is for a fixed-term and the tenant dies before the term expires, it is possible that the tenancy could be passed on under the terms of a will or the rules of intestacy. The law in this area is complicated so it would be best to get legal advice.

More than one succession

In the majority of cases, succession is only allowed once. If the person who died had themselves taken over the tenancy by succession it may not be possible to take it over by succession again. There are exceptions to this and it is worth getting legal advice.

Age UK have produced a factsheet on Security of tenure (PDF, 161Kb)

Housing options for older people

The person you are looking after may be finding it difficult to manage in their own home or would prefer to move somewhere else. There is a variety of different options they could consider apart from residential care.

Buying or renting another property

If they own their property, or have other financial resources, they may be able to buy another property which is more suited to their needs. Alternatively, they could consider renting a different property.

The factors to consider will depend on individual circumstances but they may want to live in a property which is smaller or can be more easily adapted to their physical needs. They may prefer to live nearer family or friends and facilities such as transport and leisure could be important.

Exchanging council or housing association property

Another way of moving to a more suitable property could be through an exchange or “swap” scheme. The person you are looking after could ask their local authority or housing association for details of any schemes in your area.

Sheltered housing

Sheltered housing schemes provide extra facilities to meet the needs of those who live in them. They will normally allow for a large degree of independent living in self contained houses or flats but have a number of extra resources. This could include wardens who can be called in an emergency and other security features such as alarm systems. There may also be communal facilities such as laundry, lounge or garden and social activities and events. The level of support will vary depending on the individual scheme.

Sheltered housing may be provided by a local authority or could be a private scheme of retirement housing which can be bought or rented. Before agreeing to buy this type of housing the person you are looking after will need to check whether there are service charges and if so, how large they are.

There may be various rules such as rules about keeping pets which should be checked before making any decision.

Extra care housing

Extra care housing (which could also be called “assisted living” or “very sheltered housing”) offers a greater level of support. Residents will still live in self-contained flats but meals may be provided and care staff may be available to provide personal care or domestic support. Again, this housing could be offered through a local authority or it could be a private development of houses or flats which is available to rent or buy.

Close care

This type of scheme or development means housing for older people adjacent to a care home. The care home provides personal care services to the residents and often allows a move to the care home if needed. This form of housing can sometimes be a good option for couples who have different needs.

Retirement villages

Retirement villages can consist of a large scale development of bungalows, flats or houses designed for the needs of older people. Many of these retirement complexes will include a care home and a number of communal facilities.

Housing options for younger adults

You may be looking after a young adult who lives with you. They may want greater independence or have care needs which mean alternative options are required. Those care needs may be related to, for example, physical or mental health problems, learning disability or drug or alcohol misuse. There are a variety of housing options they may wish to consider.

Buying or renting another property

Depending on their financial resources and care needs they may be able to find a property which is suitable for their needs. If they have physical health problems, for example, the local authority could help to find a property which has already been adapted. Alternatively, they may be able to get a housing grant to cover any adaptations which need to be made.

Sheltered housing schemes

Sheltered housing schemes are flats or homes which are designed for independent living but have extra facilities such as a warden who can be called in an emergency or communal facilities such as laundry and lounges.

Some of these schemes are specifically for older people but there are some which cater to the needs of younger disabled adults.

Supported housing in the community

There are a wide variety of residential units in the community. They could be managed by the local authority themselves or by, housing associations, voluntary organisations and charities which run the units to meet particular needs, such as those of adults with learning disabilities.

Whereas residential care homes provide personal care for people with a high level of need, there are many housing units which cater for people who are able to be much more independent. They may go to college, work or day centres during the day and need only a limited amount of support when at home.

Supporting people programme

This government programme aims to keep people in the community with as much independence as possible but with appropriate support. It may be an option for someone whether they want to continue living where they are or whether they move elsewhere, either to their own property or a hostel or shared accommodation of some type.

The programme provides the funding for the support people may need. This support may include help to access training and employment, help with claiming benefits or social skills. It could also include life skills such as healthy eating and budgeting. Personal and health care, such as help with washing and taking medication will not be included.

Example

Ivan has Asperger’s Syndrome and lives by himself in a bedsit. He has an outreach worker who visits him once a week to help make sure that he can cope with budgeting and shopping for food. Sometimes the worker will go with Ivan when he has an appointment with housing services or a doctor. The worker also goes swimming with Ivan on occasions to help him build up his confidence in using the local pool.

To find out if the person you are looking after is eligible for supported living they will need to be assessed by social services.

Shared living schemes (formerly called adult placement)

These schemes match up vulnerable adults with carers in the community who can provide support of various types.

In many cases the adult will live with the “shared living” carer in their own home. This could be a long term placement or a short stay. In other cases the carer will provide support to the adult who continues to live in their own home but the carer will act as a family member, providing a consistent relationship and emotional support.

Disabled facilities grant

Disabled facilities grants are grants made by the housing departments of local authorities to help improve housing for the needs of a disabled person.

The person you are looking after may apply for a disabled facilities grant if they have a disability. It does not matter if they are owner occupiers or tenants. You can apply if you care for someone with a disability who is living with you in your own home. It does not matter if you are an owner occupier or tenant. Landlords can also apply on behalf of their disabled tenants.

In all cases, the property must be the sole or main residence for the disabled person and that they intend to live there for the following five years.

Grants can be used for a variety of uses to meet the needs of the disabled person including:

  • access to the property from outdoors and access to a garden,
  • access inside the property such as widening doorways for a wheelchair or installing a stairlift,
  • installing better washing facilities or adapted bathroom,
  • adaptations to a kitchen such as lowering work tops, and
  • improving heating systems.

The maximum grant which can be given is £30,000 subject to means testing (see below). The housing department of the local authority has discretion to increase the maximum amount if it’s not sufficient to cover the planned works.

Means testing

Disabled facilities grants are subject to means testing, so the amount which is given may be reduced or the grant could be refused. Only the financial resources of the disabled person (and their spouse or civil partner) are relevant. Your own financial resources as a carer are not relevant even if you own the property. If the disabled person is under 19 there is no means testing at all.

A calculation is used to determine how much the grant will be and calculate how much would need to be contributed by the person applying for the grant. If you are in receipt of certain social security benefits you are likely to be entitled to a full grant. There is no upper capital limit which will prevent a grant being made but set amounts on any capital over £6,000 will be taken into account.

How to apply for a disabled facilities grant

Contact your local authority housing department and ask for an application form. Once they have received your completed application, the housing department would consult with social services and normally arrange for an assessment by an occupational therapist. The occupational therapist will consider the needs of the disabled person and also whether or not the adaptations are reasonable or practical given the age and condition of the property.

Information the housing department will need

The housing department will need details of the work and the likely cost. You will normally be asked to provide at least two estimates and may also need to show plans from an architect or surveyor. The architect’s or surveyor’s fees could be included in the grant.

You should not start any work until the grant has been approved.

Decisions and appeals

The housing department must give their decision in writing within six months of the date of application for the grant. If you are unhappy with the decision you could use the local authority’s complaints system. A further complaint could be made to the Local Government Ombudsman if you are not satisfied.

How the grant will be paid

Some local authorities pay the grant will in instalments while others will pay it as a lump sum once the work is finished. You will need to show invoices and receipts for the work.

Social services responsibilities

The person you are looking after may have had a community care assessment which identified a need for adaptations or improvements to their housing.

They could apply for a disabled facilities grant to pay for the work needed. This type of grant is administered by the housing department of local authorities, normally after an assessment by social services is carried out. Social services may have additional responsibilities to ensure housing needs are met:

  • if the person they have assessed is refused a disabled facilities grant,
  • if the grant is not sufficient to carry out the work, or
  • if there is an unreasonable amount of delay in processing the grant application.

If a disabled facilities grant is refused or it is not sufficient to carry out the work social services should liaise with the housing department in their local authority to see if discretionary powers can be used.

Housing departments have discretionary powers in law to give assistance to meet housing needs. These powers can include:

  • Providing extra loans to top up the disabled facilities grant.
  • Assisting with the purchase of other, more suitable, accommodation. Local authorities are being given increasingly flexibility by the government in the way in which they are allowed to use disabled facilities grants. The housing department may think that it is not practical to spend money on adapting the property for which a grant application has been made. They may argue that money would be better spent on acquiring and/or adapting another property.
  • Working in partnership with other organisations which could provide an equity release scheme to fund the costs of the work. If you are considering this type of scheme you or the person you are looking after should be careful to get independent financial advice.

If the housing department refuses to use its discretionary powers, social services may still have a legal obligation to resolve the situation by providing funding or a loan. In that situation they are allowed to make charges and would carry out a financial assessment.

Unreasonable delays in processing the application

Housing departments have up to six months to respond to the grant application and have up to twelve months in which to actually pay the grant. This delay may cause hardship if the person you are looking after is in urgent need of the adaptation to their home.

If this delay causes hardship, you or the person you are looking after could ask social services to ensure that needs are met quickly. This could involve interim financial help or even a temporary move to another property.

Challenging a decision refusing help to meet housing needs

You or the person you are looking after could challenge a decision by using the local authority’s complaints system. You could also consider getting legal advice.

Adaptations and minor works

You should also bear in mind that social services should not make a charge for any adaptations or minor works which help someone living at home and cost less than £1,000 (see the section on “community equipment” for more information).

Disability Discrimination Act and the responsibilities of landlords

Landlords have a duty under the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure that accommodation is suitable for tenants who have disabilities. This duty also applies to those managing rented property, such as a management committee or residents’ committee of a block of flats.

There are some landlords who are excluded, for example, those who own the property and live in the same small premises as their tenant.

Tenants who have disabilities

Tenants’ rights under the Disability Discrimination Act apply to those who have either a physical or mental impairment. That impairment must have a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

What duty does the landlord have?

The law says that landlords must make “reasonable adjustments” for their disabled tenants. The purpose is to ensure that disabled people can use and enjoy their rented accommodation in a similar way to people who do not have disabilities.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments may involve:

  • providing auxiliary aids and services, such as offering information in large print or by audio tape;
  • replacing furniture or equipment with items which meet the needs of the disabled person; providing signs and notices or replacing existing ones; replacing taps and handles; providing appropriate door bells or door entry systems,
  • changing practices, policies and procedures, and
  • changing a term of the letting.

Example

Linda is partially sighted and asks for a notice board in the block of flats in which she lives to be moved nearer the light so she can read it more easily. She also asks for walls and doorways to be painted different colours to make it easier for her to move around her flat.

Changing practices, policies and procedures

The Disability Discrimination Act means that there is a duty to change practices, policies and procedures that make it difficult disabled tenants to enjoy the premises or make use of a facility they are entitled to use. For example, if the landlord’s policy is to inform tenants of any rent arrears by letter, a tenant with learning difficulties who cannot read standard written letters may be unaware of their arrears. Tenants could ask that the landlord visits the tenant to inform them of the arrears or provides an easy to read letter.

Changing a term of the tenancy

In some cases, a term or condition of the tenancy presents difficulties for the tenant who has a disability. For example, if a tenant’s eyesight deteriorates they may want to have a guide dog but it could be a term of the tenancy that animals are not allowed. The tenant could raise this with the landlord and ask for this term to be changed.

Getting reasonable adjustments

The tenant needs to ask the landlord to make the adjustment. The landlord is not obliged to make any adjustment unless a request is made. The request could be made in writing but does not have to be. The landlord will have to make the adjustment if it is reasonable, and this will depend on the individual circumstances. Factors determining what is reasonable may include the extent to which the adjustment is practical, the costs of making the adjustment or the disruption to other tenants which may be caused.

Challenging a decision refusing a reasonable adjustment

If the tenant who is disabled is refused a reasonable adjustment, they may be able to claim that they have been discriminated against on the grounds of their disability. They could put their complaint in writing to the landlord and ask them to review the decision. However, if the matter is not resolved the tenant could take action in a county court. The time limit for taking this type of action is six months less one day from the date of the decision refusing the reasonable adjustment.

The tenant can get advice about the county court procedure from a Citizens Advice Bureau or may be able to get advice and assistance from a firm of solicitors.

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