Whilst many of us may be aware of the traditional and fine almshouse buildings dotted all over the United Kingdom, few perhaps realise how vibrant and relevant the almshouse movement is today and how it continues to provide a strong sense of community; offering safety and security, and making it possible for those in need to continue to live independently, in a locality of their choice, often near to families.
The Almshouse Association has also found that many of us are not really sure what an 'almshouse' is and has written a helpful definition that can be found here.
At a time when there is a severe shortage of affordable rental accommodation, the role of almshouse charities is now more vital than ever. In some rural areas, almshouses are the only provider of accommodation for those in need.
Almshouses are managed by volunteers (Trustees), usually people who want to become involved in their local almshouses in order to preserve good quality accommodation for people in need in their area. There is a certain amount of regulation and administration which has to be handled and The Association assists and advises on this. Trustees’ support ensures the residents retain their dignity, freedom and independence by allowing them to live their lives as they see fit within a safe and secure environment.
Almshouse charities today have to invest heavily in the modernisation and updating of almshouse dwellings to provide 21st century living, either in building new, contemporary, purpose built flats and bungalows or by refurbishing their (often listed) buildings. Standards of accommodation are continually rising, with technology playing an increasing part in making life easier. Disabled access, internet connection, electronic doors and sophisticated alarms all contribute towards enabling residents to remain independent in their homes for as long as possible. Conversion of bed-sits to single or double bedroom accommodation; wet rooms and the provision of buggy stores are amongst the many improvements being provided.
Running a charity and navigating all the legislation governing the provision of homes and their upkeep, raising funds and managing finances can be difficult, cumbersome and time-consuming. Upgrading listed buildings is complex and expensive, requiring planning and conservation consent. Striking the right balance between offering the highest standards whilst preserving the historic fabric demands patience and close liaison with the authorities.
Some almshouse charities employ a Warden or Scheme Manager to provide support to the residents and assist in the management of the charity. A small number of larger almshouse charities offer extra care and residential care. Generally speaking, anyone wishing to apply for accommodation at an almshouse charity needs to be able to live independently.
The Almshouse Association provides member charities with the support and advice to help trustees manage their almshouses, guidance on how to run a charity and how to assist their residents.
Read more: Toolkit for setting up an almshouse charity
Who Qualifies to Live in an Almshouse
Almshouse charities provide accommodation for those in need within a defined beneficiary group which is derived from the wishes of the benefactor and stated in the Objects of the charity in the Governing Document (Scheme). The Charity Commission is the regulator for almshouse charities and permission for any changes to a charity’s objects would have to be sought from the Commission.
Each almshouse charity is run by a board of trustees, all of whom are volunteers. The Objects of the charity define the beneficiary group that Trustees are permitted to appoint as residents. For information on the criteria of a charity and whether any vacancies exist, applicants would need to contact the charity directly. The Association can provide a list of almshouse charities and their contact details for a given county. [contact firstname.lastname@example.org ]
The majority of almshouse residents today are of retirement age, of limited financial means and living within the vicinity of an almshouse charity or have a family connection to the area in which the charity is located. Residents pay a weekly maintenance contribution which is similar to rent but different in law, and less than a commercial rate.
Almshouse trusts were generally founded by benefactors in earlier times to provide for those in need and often to cater for a particular group of people. Today there are almshouses for retired fishermen, miners, retail workers and a host of other groups in addition to the elderly. Some almshouse charities have no age restrictions and are able to accommodate families, the disabled and key workers.
Almshouses are generally considered to be homes for life, with care packages being provided through Social Services if and when additional help is required. For those that appoint younger residents whose circumstances are likely to change through time, the appointment may be for a limited time, such as 5 years with a review of circumstances 6 months before the end of the period.
Many of our members list any current vacancies on our website.