The recognised definition of an almshouse is:
An almshouse is a unit of residential accommodation (usually a house or flat) which belongs to a charity, is provided exclusively to meet the charity’s purposes (for example, the relief of financial need or infirmity) and is occupied or is available for occupation under a licence by a qualified beneficiary.
An almshouse charity is typically a charity which is established for purposes which are to be furthered by the provision of one or more almshouses.
An almshouse charity is usually a charity for the relief of financial hardship by the provision of housing and associated services or benefits which must (or is authorised to) provide its primary benefit by the grant of a licence to occupy the accommodation that it owns to its beneficiaries.
In addition, an almshouse charity is likely to have one or more of the following features:
- The origin of the charity is a private gift for the relief of poverty;
- The beneficiaries are required to pay a weekly maintenance contribution that must not be set at a level that would cause hardship;
- The nature of the accommodation is such that the licence requires that beneficiaries must show particular consideration for the needs of other residents;
- A significant proportion of the accommodation is permanent endowment;
- The beneficial class or the geographical area from which it can be drawn is restricted.
Note: Almshouses do not necessarily have the word “almshouse” in their name; they may be referred to by another title, such as ‘College’, ‘Hospital’ or ‘Homes’. This is due to the historical nature of some almshouses and the contemporary usage of these terms at the time the almshouse was established.