This article explores the definition of 'sheltered housing' with the town planning system in the UK and its interface with the term 'care homes'.
The key difference between sheltered housing use, and nursing homes for the elderly, apart from the age of the people living in the building, is that the period of occupancy of any one individual is likely to be relatively short term, but in some cases the potentiality for amenity harm will be greater .
The term 'sheltered housing' includes residential homes for the care, shelter and rehabilitation in the community of groups such as the recovering mentally handicapped, ex-alcoholics, ex-addicts, vagrants, discharged prisoners, battered spouses and single mothers.
Most proposals for such development require a change of use from a dwellinghouse, in the form of a planning application. It is rare that developers would wish to build such premises from scratch, when planning law affords. Small new-build developments providing for special security or clinical needs are covered in this article. However, these are uncommon as it is normally considered that rehabilitation, to be fully effective, should take place in premises as much like a conventional house as possible.
Legal Precedent to Use Class Determination
Many problems relating to the correct classification of care hostel uses were cleared up by the 1987 revision of the Use Classes Order. Class C2 Residential Institutions refers to use for the provision of residential accommodation and care to people in need. Care is defined in Article 2 of the Order as personal care for people in need of such care by reason of old age, disablement, past or present dependence on alcohol or drugs or past and present mental disorder, and in Class C2 also includes the personal care of children and medical care and treatment. This means that a use which falls within Use Class C2 conclusively do not require planning permission if the previous uses were hospitals or nursing/residential homes, or residential schools, colleges or training centres. Even if the new use is not considered to fall within Class C2 there may still be no material change of use.
For instance in Salford it was considered that a resettlement training centre for those recovering from alcohol or drug abuse did not constitute a material change of use from a residential care home. Here, an inspector agreed that the new use was not C2 because of its composite range of activities, but both the previous and the proposed use had similar effects on the character of the area.
It is to be noted that, from April 1994, hostels where no significant degree of care is provided were removed from the C1 Class, and thus such uses become sui generis.
Interface with use class C3(b)
Certain types of hostel use that would be located within existing houses, particularly of the half-way house type, may not require planning permission at all, as they would be classed within Use Class C3 Dwellinghouses where the use is by not more than 4 residents living together as a single household (including a household where care is provided for residents). Circular 03/2005 explains that small group homes play a major role in the Governments community care policy which is aimed at enabling disabled and mentally disordered people to live as normal lives as possible in touch with the community. The Circular also advises that the 6 resident figure C3 includes resident carers provided that all (the cared for and the carers) live communally as one household.
However, the Class cannot be interpreted as meaning that if the 6 person ceiling is exceeded, the use automatically becomes C2. This would not be the case until the numbers living in a house are such that it can be determined that material change of use has occurred from the former dwellinghouse use.
Interface with sui generis hostels
Hostels were removed from Use Class C1: Hotel Use in the 1990s and are therefore sui generis. Circular 03/05 states that there is no definition of a hostel in planning legislation but it would normally provide overnight or short term accommodation which may be supervised, where people (sometimes the homeless) can usually stay free or cheaply. Hostels may provide board, although some may provide provision for self-catering. The Circular adds that the element of supervision should not be relied on as a determining factor to take into account in considering the use class status of the premises. It also states that, occasionally hostels are used to provide longer-term accommodation, but it should be stressed that a hostel is not a residential care home, irrespective of any supervision it may have. If there is an element of care in the service provision, this might mean that the premises became a C2 Residential Institutions use.
Bail or probation hostels
Considerable contention has surrounded the correct Use Class classification of bail or probation hostels, and C2 or sui generis status is often suggested. In (Wolverhampton (1991) a determination was made by the SOS that a probation/bail hostel use was sui generis. It was argued that the supervisory element of the use, and the special conditions of residence applicable, took the use out of the C1 Class, which then included hostels. The other arm of the determination was, not surprisingly, that a material change of use would occur from the previous use of the premises for bed-sitting rooms.
The Wolverhampton case was cited in a Blackpool case where a change of use of a building in C2 use was proposed. An inspector mused that the proposed probation and bail hostel was more akin to a residential training centre and was sui generis.
Other relevant legislation
The Registered Homes Act 1984 provides for the registration of nearly all private and voluntary homes where personal care and board are provided. Registered properties are subject to periodic inspection and monitoring by local Social Services departments to ensure the welfare and interests of residents of homes/hostels are adequately safeguarded. Further advice is found in Circular 03/05 para. 65.
There is little ministerial advice specific to uses the subject of this sub-section, although general guidance derived from PPG4 Industrial and Commercial Development and Small Firms 1992 favours diversity of uses in existing rural and residential areas. PPS1 also gives relevant general advice, stating that local support or opposition to a proposal is not, on its own, a ground for refusing or granting planning permission, unless it is founded upon valid planning reasons.
DCPN 15, long since withdrawn, stated that persons in special need of care or supervision should be given accommodation in the centres of communities in homes as similar as possible to others. They should be within easy reach of shops, parks, transport and other public facilities, in order that residents may participate as fully as possible in normal community life. The Note acknowledged the fact that proposals to site special needs homes and hostels within established communities may arouse some local opposition but made it clear that planning permission should not be refused on the grounds that such a use is in principle unsuitable in residential areas. NB. Many local authority policies are still based on this former guidance
Circular 11/95 Conditions has a note of general relevance to the subject stating that planning controls are concerned with the use of land rather than with the identity of the user, and therefore the question of who is to occupy premises will normally be irrelevant. However, as shown by the West Midlands Probation Committee case this advice has been interpreted as referring to particular individuals or organisations, and that the general characteristics of the occupants of premises can have land use or environmental implications to be taken account in decision making.