2.0 Support Provided by the Charity

2.1 Role of Trustees Clerks

Standards of Almshouse Management published by The Almshouse Association includes a chapter on trustees’ duties and responsibilities. The Charity Commission provides guidance on their website for trustees, which includes:   

  • The Essential Trustee: An introduction (CC3a),
  • The Essential Trustee: what you need to know – - March 2012 (CC3) and
  • Operational Guidance - Almshouse Charities (OG 65)

No trustees should take office without appreciating their responsibilities and all trustees and clerks are recommended to read these documents.

However, their primary function is to provide a high standard of accommodation for those in need.

Trustees must ensure that the charity remains financially viable. Monies should be set aside to cover in–year expenditure (cyclical maintenance) and major expenditure every few years as identified by regular quinquennial inspections. Further guidance is given in Standards of Almshouse Management.

The essential tenet of trusteeship is the duty of care to residents.  Almshouses should be modernised and updated from time to time to ensure that they provide a high standard of accommodation, with aids and adaptations as appropriate to the needs of the elderly.  Improvements such as central heating, modern kitchens and bathrooms which once were considered a luxury, are now essential components of a 21st Century almshouse, reflecting best practice and addressing rising expectations.

One of the more challenging aspects of almshouse modernisation is that many almshouses occupy listed buildings which necessitate conservation and planning consent before work can be undertaken.  Trustees are advised to discuss plans with authorities at an early stage and seek a compromise between the need to provide warm and comfortable homes with the constraints imposed by listed status.

Some trustees may be concerned at the responsibility placed upon them by the duty of care but this can be mitigated through risk management, sensible policies and procedures, common sense and professional advice.  Provided that trustees act with due diligence and in good faith, they should not be placing themselves at risk.  There is an increasing amount of legislation and regulation in the rented property sector, much of which applies equally to almshouses charities, and especially those registered with the Homes & Communities Agency as Registered Providers (RP).  Guidance from the Almshouse Association and contact with other almshouse charities nearby will identify the majority of issues to be addressed.  Those almshouse charities that provide any form of care will be subject to the regulatory regime of the Care Quality Commission.  Guidance in this area falls outside the scope of this manual.

Trustees, clerks, scheme managers and wardens should be aware that while a resident may be fully fit when appointed, over time they are likely to become more frail and at some point may be deemed in law to be a vulnerable adult.  In such cases charities need to be aware of any additional protective measures that may apply in terms of liaison, provision of services and/or moving on to residential care, in order that they remain compliant.

2.2 Role of the Scheme Manager Warden

A scheme manager/warden may be employed by the charity to provide support to the residents and to assist in the good management of the almshouses. Although health and safety regulations have dramatically restricted the functions which scheme managers are able to undertake, their presence as an advisor and good neighbour is nevertheless invaluable to residents, their families and to the charity for the reassurance, day to day contact and oversight that they bring.  Furthermore, the provision of a scheme manager/warden can prolong the time that residents are able to live independently in their own homes which is both a significant benefit to those residents and their families and also to the taxpayer in cases where residential care may have to be state funded.

Scheme managers/wardens should be offered an agreed contract of employment that clearly sets out their responsibilities and hours of work. Appropriate arrangements should be in place to cover periods when they are off duty and efforts made to educate residents not to call scheme managers/wardens out of hours unless there is a genuine emergency.  Guidance on this issue should be included in the Residents’ Handbook.  A model handbook is at Annex J of Standards of Almshouse Management.

Smaller almshouse charities are unlikely to employ a scheme manager/warden but other means of monitoring and liaising closely with residents should be considered.  This particularly applies to those residents who may be frail, unwell or when the weather may prevent normally independent residents from shopping or fending for themselves. The principal responsibility will lie with the clerk or administrator on behalf of trustees but the use of more active residents or visiting trustees can bolster the team.  However, it is equally important to avoid unwanted intrusion and so arrangements may vary from resident to resident in accordance with their wishes.

2.3 Criminal Records Bureau Checks

The rules relating to the necessity for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks were revised by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. They now state that only those who are involved in “general household duties” need to be checked.  The Almshouse Association’s interpretation of these rules is that it would be prudent to continue to register those members of staff or trustees who have regular, unsupervised access to vulnerable residents.  A resident may be active and independent upon appointment, however, as they become more frail with age, charity staff may become more involved in assisting them, and at that stage the resident could be regarded as a vulnerable person.  The intention behind the Act was to relax the rules and hence it is a matter of judgement whether charities consider that registration is necessary in every case.

On 1 December 2012 the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) merged to create the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Further legislative changes will come into force in 2013 and 2014 and details of these will be published on the DBS website.

If the charity needs to check whether a scheme manager/warden or trustee is eligible for a DBS check they can either contact DBS by telephone, email, or speak with one of the umbrella bodies listed on the DBS website. DBS or the umbrella body will need to be advised of the role and duties of the person in question.

2.4 The Almshouse Community

It is becoming more necessary to provide extra support in the almshouse community since:

  • People are living longer
  • Residents wish to remain in their dwellings
  • There are fewer opportunities to “move on” to residential homes
  • Frailties and disabilities of old age hinder totally independent living
  • Loneliness is a major difficulty for older people living alone.

Whilst respecting the independence of each resident, trustees and residents should extend to each other basic principles of being a good neighbour.  In the larger charities this sense of community can be enhanced by a chapel or meeting room where the trustees and residents can come together for festivities. Frequently these common facilities will be used for residents’ social events and also for joint management meetings where trustees and residents can consult each other on a wide range of issues.

Some almshouse charities offer increased support for residents by providing communal facilities for meetings, social events and non-denominational church services. Others have educational connections whereby young and old can socialise resulting in a great improvement in community spirit. As some residents become housebound and in need of wheelchairs, easy accessibility to the residents’ meeting room for sharing a meal, coffee or other events reduces the feeling of isolation.  The meeting room can be adapted for use by a visiting chiropodist or hairdresser. Some residents wish to be independent and do not want to join in; it is their choice and this should be respected.

Availability of a meeting room within the complex means that outside voluntary groups such as Inner Wheel, Women’s Institutes and others can provide events such as strawberry teas, Christmas lunches and entertainment. Religious groups can volunteer support. Individual residents can have family parties to celebrate that important birthday, anniversary or milestone. Some charities use their common room as a day centre for older people from the wider community and others provide a separate purpose-built day centre that their own residents can also use.

2.5 Excursions

Trustees should be encouraged to organise excursions and day trips from time to time as a means of enhancing their residents’ quality of lives and cementing friendships.  Smaller almshouse charities may be able to join with other charities in the vicinity in order to make these events cost effective and worthwhile.  Prior to any excursion, a risk assessment should be undertaken by a competent person to ensure that potential problems have been identified and addressed.  These assessments should be recorded in writing.

2.6 Risk Assessment

2.6.1  General Risk Assessments

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) replaced the housing

fitness standard in April 2006. It is a risk assessment tool, covering some 29 potential home hazards, used to assess risks to health and safety of occupants in residential properties. Although assessment is the responsibility of local authorities, trustees are advised to self-assess their properties to determine whether there are hazards that may cause a health or safety risk to residents. This is different from the risk assessment of the charity. See Standards of Almshouse Management. An annual visit is recommended specifically to check on safety issues. Trustees and clerks are recommended to involve the residents in their own risk assessment.

2.6.2  Holidays and Excursions

If the charity organises outings and holidays for their residents, it must undertake a risk assessment prior to the activity.  The charity must consider all who will be affected by the activity and any potential risks should be identified and appropriate precautions need to evaluated.  All this needs to be recorded by the charity.  Further advice on risk assessments for activities can be found at the HSE website:  www.hse.gov.uk

2.6.3  Gas, Electricity and Water

It is a legal requirement that all gas and electrical installations owned by the charity should be serviced within the regulatory time limits. At the same time it may be advisable to have the residents’ personal equipment checked. Other fixtures and fittings in communal areas should be tested for safety. The temperature of the hot water supply to baths, showers, hand basins and sinks should be properly temperature regulated by temperature mixing valves (TMVs).

The temperature of stored water has to be suitably monitored to avoid it being too hot to cause scalding. If there is a central hot water system, hot water is to be stored above 55°C to eradicate Legionella bacteria and temperature mixing valves need to be fitted at every outlet to bring down the temperature to a level suitable for use. (TMV3s are required to supply hot water to facilities wherein people may be immersed and are normally set at 50°C. TMV2s are normally fitted to supply hot water for washing. The temperature setting for such outlets would normally be at, or lower than, 45ºC). Cold water tanks must be covered and the water temperature maintained below 25°C all the year round.

2.6.4  Lighting and Fire Risk

Failing eyesight demands better lighting and level access. Make sure that internal and external lighting is good, paths and driveways are levelled off, hand rails provided and arrangements made for clearing ice and snow in winter.

It is strongly recommended to discuss with the fire officer an evacuation procedure in case of fire and the holding of fire practices.

Simple steps to limit risk include:

  • Ensure adequate heating and consider installing trace heating overrides
  • Ensure adequate lighting (often achieved by fitting higher wattage bulbs)
  • Highlight steps
  • Supply personal emergency alarm systems
  • Avoid trailing electrical leads, especially in the lounge and bedroom areas
  • Fix grab rails by toilet and doorways and fit banisters on both sides of stairs
  • Avoid rugs or make sure they have non-slip fixtures
  • Fix a letter basket to front door.

2.7 Almshouses With a Communal Hall

If an almshouse scheme has a communal hall then it is possible and desirable to encourage regular activities which may be organised by the clerk/warden in conjunction with a residents’ committee and may include:

  • Coffee mornings
  • Lunches
  • Guest speakers
  • Bingo
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Exercise classes and other physical indoor activities.

These activities may be delivered by visiting tutors/instructors; access to these tutors/instructors can be gained from libraries, local adult education centres and classes already running in local community halls.

It is important to confirm that all visiting tutors/instructors have public liability insurance.

2.8 Almshouses Without a Communal Hall

If an almshouse scheme doess}**snot have a communal hall then it is possible and desirable to try and develop partnership arrangements with other almshouses and sheltered schemes, care homes or extra care schemes that are conveniently located. If there is sufficient interest then it may be possible to enter into an agreement whereby residents are able to attend activities at these other centres.

It is important to establish the costs, transport and other arrangements before entering into any agreement.

2.9 Local Community Activities

If residents wish to take part in their local community, the charity may wish to help them do so.  These contacts might involve activities and visits that bring the wider community into the almshouse environment and encourage its residents to visit other organisations externally.

There are enormous benefits to be realised in pursuing this course of action, both tangible and intangible, and providing that the activity is correctly organised and monitored. Not least of the benefits is the raising of the profile of the charity as an entity and this leads to a better understanding of its achievements and importance.

The types of organisations that it may be possible to partner with are:

  • Schools
  • Other older peoples’ charities and organisations
  • Local Round Table groups
  • University of the Third Age
  • Women's Institute

Many almshouse charities with a communal lounge or hall encourage exercise and art/craft classes to be held there and arrange for their residents to be given preferential booking.

If an almshouse scheme has a large communal garden area then it is possible to provide outdoor sports such as:

  • Putting
  • Boules
  • Croquet
  • Quoits

2.10 New Residents

Moving is a stressful experience at any age and moving in one's latter years is especially so. It is imperative therefore that the process from initial contact, by whatever means that may be, to the point that the applicant is informed that their application is successful or otherwise, is a pleasant experience. Anything other than this has the potential to damage the reputation of the individual almshouse scheme and the charity.

Trustees must ensure that the policy and process in place to find, assess and select new residents is clear, relevant and applied without favour. They should be robust in their application of the policy that underpins the process and they must ensure that policy and process are correctly followed by whoever is charged with its implementation and management.

It is essential that all applications are correctly scrutinised and that where information is provided in support of an application, it must be properly verified and an audit trail of all applications is maintained, including those that are unsuccessful. Trustees must be careful to conform with rules pertaining to data protection of personal information.

A home visit to an applicant is extremely useful and the report produced resulting from it greatly informs the trustees when the final decision on the applicant's submission is made.

It is important that, once selected, the applicant is informed in writing. The following documents should be in place:

  • Letter of Appointment
  • Residents' Handbook
  • Welcome letter from the trustees or warden.

Model Letter of Appointment and Resident’s Handbook are available as annexes of Standards of Almshouse Management.

The trustees or clerk/warden should liaise with and oversee the move of new residents into their accommodation. They must ensure that the accommodation has received any redecoration or other building work that is required prior to the new resident moving in and the accommodation is safe and ready in all respects for them.

2.10.1  Data Protection

The Data Protection Act 1998 came into force in October 2001.  This applies to all personal information which is kept on file either on computer or in paper records.  Charities must comply with the eight data protection principles laid down in the Act.  Registration with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is not mandatory for charities though larger charities with staff may decide to voluntarily notify the ICO.  Not-for-profit organisations have an exemption from notification where the data they hold is for provision of their beneficiaries with whom the trustees have regular contact.

Almshouse charities must comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act.  Trustees should regularly review the information that is held, how it is used and who has access to it.  Where records are stored on computers, particular care must be given to ensuring computer security – do not allow sharing of passwords, ensure regular back-ups of information and always use firewalls/virus checkers.

As part of the compliance trustees must include the following statement on application forms (see Annex C of SAM for model application form):

“It is part of the Trustees’ responsibilities to ensure that applicants for almshouses are suitably qualified under the terms of the charity’s governing instrument. Trustees, therefore, need to investigate the personal circumstances of applicants. The personal data supplied on this form and other information relating to an almshouse appointment or your care management, will be held on file. Some details may be checked with relevant organisations but none will be disclosed for any inappropriate purpose. You may have access to your personal information on request”.

If you handle and store information about identifiable, living people you are legally obliged to protect that information.  Under the Data Protection Act you must:

  • Only collect information that you need for a specific purpose
  • Keep it secure
  • Ensure it is relevant and up to date
  • Only hold as much as you need and only for as long as you need it
  • Allow the resident concerned to see it on request.

For further information and advice on Data Protection see www.ico.org.uk

2.10.2  Moving In

Moving house is well known as one of the most stressful experiences we all undergo during our lives.  What therefore could, or should, the trustees and/or the clerk and/or the scheme manager/warden consider as they contemplate the arrival of a new resident?

As soon as the selection of the new resident has been made, detailed communications with the resident could commence in regard to:

  • The automatic collection of maintenance contributions through the banking system
  • The detail of the Next of Kin
  • Encouragement to make a Will and/or Lasting Power of Attorney and to advise where it is held
  • The likely date of occupation (when any refurbishment is completed, re-decorative effort completed, cleaning completed and [if applicable] new floor coverings laid)
  • The issue and return of a signed Letter of Appointment
  • Whether assistance will be required on the day of moving in or not.

Additionally the clerk or scheme manager or warden should be taking appropriate action to ensure:-

  • Utility supplies are connected and switched on
  • The Emergency Call System has been checked with the Call Centre  (and thus the telephone installation)
  • The heating, hot water and fridge/freezer have all been switched on the day before (depending upon the season of the year)
  • An up to date Resident’s Handbook is available in a prominent position in the dwelling
  • Keys and spare keys are available for hand over.

Day of the Event:   The removals day is tiring, stressful and very busy for the new resident, his/her family, and helpers.  The involvement of representatives of the almshouse charity will differ very much from one charity to another dependent upon:-

  • The employment or not of a scheme manager/warden
  • The job description of the clerk
  • The willingness of trustees to be involved.

Whilst it is essential that at least one representative of the charity should welcome the new resident, the friendly “visit” should be completely informal, none disruptive and may dovetail in well as a part of undertaking some, or all, of the following:-

  • Providing a “Welcome to Your New Home” card from the trustees
  • A basket of flowers or a plant.....no bouquets!  Vases can never be found amidst the other chattels!
  • Taking the meter readings (jointly with the resident if he/she wishes)
  • Explaining the procedure to be followed in the event of a fire which should be simply a matter of reading the appropriate paragraphs in the Resident’s Handbook.

The friendly, welcoming visit should not be over long!  The new resident and his/her helpers have much to do!

There is, of course, much more for the charity’s representative(s) to achieve but the programme can be carried out during the first week or ten days of residency.  An example of some of the suggested undertakings during this period are at Appendix A.

2.11 Communicating Effectively

It is essential to both listen to your residents and to speak with them and the benefits of clear and regular communication cannot be overstated. Trustees should have a clear communication policy and plan in place and work closely with any staff to ensure that it is fully and effectively implemented.

There are a variety of methods open to trustees, for example:

  • Residents' Handbook (this is also an essential reference document)
  • Regular trustee visits
  • Weekly/monthly newsletters
  • Coffee morning informal discussions
  • Surveys

Trustee/staff and resident relationships must retain a professional status. That is not to say that one cannot be empathetic, caring and helpful, but becoming too close to a particular individual may result in difficulties with other residents and may become problematic, should there be a disciplinary, medical or welfare problem, involving a particular resident where the impression has been formed that a relationship is special.

Some charities arrange for a trustee to take particular interest in a small number of residents. In others, trustees take turns to visit residents on a rota basis.  If individual trustees are visiting residents regularly it is prudent for them to have a CRB check.  It is recommended that general visiting of residents is undertaken by two trustees together.

Care and tact is needed during trustee visits as they must ensure that a resident’s desire for privacy is respected.

2.12 Residents Handbook

Standards of Almshouse Management recommends that all charities should have a Resident’s Handbook that sets out inter alia the rights and duties of residents. This is a very useful guide for trustees and residents. A copy should be given to all potential residents, as well as to existing residents, and their families. It is also a very useful aide-memoire for the initial application interview and for reference when difficulties arise.

The residents, scheme manager or responsible resident should have the telephone numbers of the charity’s contractors nominated to carry out emergency repairs. The gas leak or the frozen pipe always happens at the most inconvenient time! The control centre for the emergency alarm system should also be supplied with these contractors’ telephone numbers.

2.13 Residents Committee

A residents’ committee can provide a way of communication between trustees and residents and allow for consultation with residents. The involvement of residents in management decisions has much to commend it and is a requirement for Registered Providers (rPs). A residents’ committee is a way for the residents’ opinions and concerns to be heard without any one vociferous resident having the upper hand.  Residents should be encouraged to elect their own representatives and there should be a clear statement of the committee’s terms of reference.

For smaller charities, a resident’s committee would be inappropriate and impractical.  Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon every almshouse charity to maintain regular and friendly discourse with residents and consult them as appropriate.

2.14 Advocacy

In an ideal world, residents would have implicit confidence and trust in those who manage their charity. In practice, most of us need someone in whom we can confide and discuss matters of concern. For many residents, relatives and established friends fulfil that need but there are those with no equivalent contacts.

Residents may need independent advice on issues such as power of attorney, making of wills, claiming benefits.  The charity should ensure that residents have access to organisations that are able to advise and assist them.

Signposting residents to the organisations that are best able to assist them is the most efficient safeguard that can be put in place.

New residents should be strongly encouraged to have a will in place prior to their Letter of Appointment being given to them as this will alleviate some of the difficulties that can occur after the death of a resident.

Organisations that are able to help residents and provide advocacy services are:

  • Age UK
  • Local Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Local solicitors (though cost may be prohibitive)
  • Social services
  • Arbitration services
  • Court of Protection services.

The Residents’ Handbook should clearly state the procedure for handling complaints and for dispute resolution.

2.15 Information Technology

Access to up to date IT systems and the Internet is fast becoming an essential  component of everyday life and should be considered by trustees for their schemes.  This can give residents email access so they are able to contact extended family, shop online and communicate speedily with friends and businesses (and the clerk or trustees).

Many charities now provide at least one computer terminal in a communal area that residents are able to access with their own login and password.  There are many companies offering training for the elderly and it is also possible to involve a local college or youth organisation that may be prepared to come and assist (for example, some youth clubs need community assistance hours for their members to complete Duke of Edinburgh Award Schemes).

2.16 Guest Room

Many residents will not have family and friends living nearby. Providing a guest room will encourage friends and family from a distance to visit. All that is needed is a room large enough for two single beds, en suite toilet and shower room and a kettle and toaster. Main meals will be taken with the resident. Someone has to take charge of the booking system and some charities limit the use of the guest room for each resident’s visitors to an agreed number of days at a time and weeks in a year and make a small charge for its use. This prevents the room being monopolised by one family or used as a holiday flat. The guest room should also be fitted with smoke detectors, an emergency system with pull cords and instructions about their use fixed in a prominent position and information about the fire assembly point.

If electrical appliances are provided (kettle, toaster) they must be regularly PAT tested to ensure they are safe for use.

2.17 Laundry Room

The provision of a laundry room is essential if the almshouse is not able to house washing machines and/or tumble dryers in the residents’ accommodation. It may also be desirable to install a laundry room with dryers and an ironing facility in preference to allowing individuals to have washing machines in their accommodation, as this will reduce the possibility of flooding from poorly maintained machines.

In determining whether to provide a laundry room, especially with dryers, it is important to consider the initial cost of establishing the room and the through life costs of maintenance and replacement. The laundry room must comply with all aspects of fire safety and other statutory regulations and would usually be managed by the clerk/warden.

Washing machines and dryers should preferably be top-loading or, if front-loading, set on a plinth to avoid too much bending for the users. Depending on the number of residents, some charities operate a rota system so that each person knows when he or she can use the machines. This can avoid internal disputes between residents. A small charge may be made to cover the cost of washing powder and hot water for each wash. An enlargement of the manufacturer’s instructions, including diagrams of the dials, should be fixed to the wall to assist users.

2.18 Pets

Pets may help older people combat loneliness and studies have shown that pets can bring therapeutic benefits for the physical and mental health of older people, however, consideration has to be given to other residents in a close community. The type of accommodation available will dictate the variety and size of pets that can be sensibly allowed. Trustees should develop a policy and publish it in the Letter of Appointment and Residents’ Handbook.

Trustees must decide whether it is in the best interests of the majority of residents to allow a new resident to bring pet(s) with them and whether to allow pets to be replaced when they die.  Whatever the decision, it must form part of a clear policy and it must be enforced fairly and firmly if it is to be effective.

The Cinnamon Trust is a charity providing advice and help in looking after pets in sheltered housing (see Appendix B).

2.19 Library Service

Most mobile libraries provide books in large print on CD or on tape.

Check with your local library for the nearest mobile and home library service.

2.20 Contingency Planning

Contingency planning gives consideration to the consequences of a disaster occurring, such as a flood or fire, which would have a significant impact on the almshouses and residents.

Where would the residents be accommodated if such an occurrence were to happen and how would a plan be put into action that caters for this type of eventuality?  Detailed consideration should be given to this scenario no matter how unlikely it may appear to be.

As a minimum, trustees should:

  • Check that the charity's insurance covers the cost of temporary housing
  • Keep a copy of residents’ next of kin, GP, solicitor and their addresses off site in case fire/flood destroys the office
  • Make sure any resident who is going away notifies the clerk or a neighbour so that emergency services do not search for someone who is not on site. (It is equally important for a resident to notify someone if they are returning early)
  • Arrange for the village hall or community centre to provide shelter in the short term (first few hours)

Liaise with nearby almshouse charities, other housing providers and local hotels to take in people who cannot stay with relatives in the longer term.

For Further Information:

Charity Commission:  www.charity-commission.gov.uk

Health and Safety Executive:  www.hse.gov.uk

Information Commissioner’s Office:  www.ico.gov.uk

Age UK:  www.ageuk.org.uk

Citizens Advice Bureau:  www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Cinnamon Trust:  www.cinnamon.org.uk

The Home Office:  www.homeoffice.gov.uk

© 2013. This document is copyright of the Almshouse Association and no part of it may be produced or published without the Association's written consent.