Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 10 May 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Housing Provision for Older People: Discussion
I welcome everyone to this meeting.
The topic of the meeting is the provision of housing for older people. It will be in two sessions. In the first session we are joined from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage by Ms Caroline Timmons, acting assistant secretary, Ms Catherine Comer, principal officer, and Mr. Patrick O'Sullivan, principal officer. From the Department of Health, we are joined by Ms Siobhán McArdle, assistant secretary, and Ms Fiona Larthwell, principal officer. The opening statements and briefing have been circulated to members.
I remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of the place where Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, to participate in public meetings. Those attending remotely from within the Leinster House complex are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contributions to today's meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamatory action arising from their remarks at the meeting. There are some limitations on parliamentary privilege for witnesses who are attending remotely from outside Leinster House and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person physically present within the Leinster House complex. Members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy. It is my duty as Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with such direction.
Members and witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I thank our guests for their attendance. We hoped to host this meeting in February but I believe there was work ongoing between the Departments, especially in respect of fair deal. We hope to discuss that scheme today. I invite Ms Timmons and then Ms McArdle to make their opening statements.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
I thank the Chairman and members for inviting me to attend the meeting and giving me the opportunity to brief members on housing for older people. I am accompanied by my colleagues Mr. O’Sullivan, principal officer in the social inclusion area, and Ms Comer, principal officer in the rental market area. Our colleagues from the Department of Health are also in attendance. We work closely with them in a number of areas across the social inclusion spectrum and, in particular, we have collaborated strongly in the area of older people for several years.
The number of people over the age of 65 is expected to reach 1.4 million, or approximately 23% of the total population, by 2040. The implications of that for areas of public policy including housing, health, urban and rural planning, transport, policing, the workplace and the business environment are considerable.
Government policy in respect of housing for older people, as set out in Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland, is to support people to live with dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. In short, it is to allow them to age in place, close to their families and friends and in their community. It is recognised, however, that some older people, no less than any other age group, may want or need to move to alternative accommodation. It is, therefore, incumbent on us as policy makers to ensure there are options to allow older people to choose the housing solution that is best for them.
Housing for All confirms the commitment to the principles and actions of the 2019 joint policy statement entitled Housing Options for Our Ageing Population. That policy statement was delivered jointly with the Department of Health,. The implementation group set up to progress the actions in the statement was very successful. I look forward to updating the committee on progress in that regard during the meeting. Housing for All reflects and aligns with the policy and actions in Housing Options for Our Ageing Population because it targets delivery of more homes of all types for people with different housing needs. It commits to delivering more than 300,000 new homes by 2030, including 54,000 affordable homes for purchase or rent and more than 90,000 social homes. It is the largest State-led building programme in our history and is financed by the biggest State funding commitment ever. Pathway 2 of Housing for All commits to expanding the housing options available for older persons and sets out specific actions on housing for older people, including a commitment to implementing the 40 actions that were contained in the policy statement.
A successful housing outcome for older people requires an effective blending of housing and health policy and, as a Department, we are already collaborating very productively with our colleagues in the Department of Health, the HSE and local authorities to plan for the delivery of services to meet the needs of older people. We also work closely with, and jointly fund, Age Friendly Ireland, the local authority shared service delivering the World Health Organization, WHO, programme that promotes the development of age-friendly policies across eight thematic policy areas, including housing and health. The shared service is a unique resource within the local government system, targeted to the needs of older people and supporting the Departments and agencies in the development of their programmes. It has a representative in each local authority across the country.
My Department delivers on housing options for older people by both stimulating supply in the private sector and directly funding social housing. Local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs, are key partners in this regard. Housing for older people is funded from the mainstream capital programmes for social housing in local authorities, as well as the capital assistance scheme, which provides funding to approved housing bodies for specialist housing, including AHBs such as Clann, which specialises in housing for older people. There are many excellent examples of the results of this funding, such as the age-friendly development provided by Meath County Council as in-fill housing on a previously derelict site at Proudstown, County Meath, and the Broome Lodge apartment development by Clann in Cabra, Dublin 7, which incorporates universal design principles. Both of these developments have changed the lives of the older people who live in them. They are living in the heart of their own communities in safety and security.
For older people who wish to remain living in their existing dwelling, the housing adaptation grant scheme for people with a disability and older people, the mobility aids grants scheme and the housing aid for older people scheme allow older people in private housing to make adaptations and improvements to their homes to enable them to go on living there in comfort. Funding totalling €81 million is available to local authorities for these grant schemes in 2022 and, in line with the Housing for All commitment, the Department will be finalising a review of these grants this year.
My Department is committed to improving housing for older people, working with our colleagues in the Department of Health and other stakeholders within the framework of Housing for All. We will continue to work with them to achieve the ambition of making Ireland a great country in which to grow old, as a truly age-friendly country works for society as a whole.
My colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions members may have.
Ms Siobhán McArdle:
I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to attend the meeting to discuss housing for older people, including the fair deal scheme. I am joined by my colleague Ms Larthwell, principal officer from the social care and mental health division in the Department.
Ireland’s demographics are changing. Welcome improvements in health outcomes and extended life expectancy have changed our expectations for how older people should live within their communities. For the most part, older citizens clearly indicate their preference to live in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. The programme for Government 2020 commits to creating an age-friendly Ireland, while Sláintecare aims to provide the right care in the right place and at the right time.
The Department of Health aims to support the will and preference of older people to live and age well in their own communities. The provision of enhanced integrated health services in the community, with a focus on prevention and early intervention of chronic disease conditions, aims to support older people to live well at home and to reduce the likelihood of hospital admission. Through the HSE national service plan for 2022, the Department of Health has invested approximately €670 million in home support provision and reform and a further €195 million to enable the continued delivery of the enhanced community care programme across all community healthcare organisations.
The Department of Health and the HSE, partnered by Age Friendly Ireland and ALONE, also provide complementary support co-ordination models to link older people with services such as befriending and signposting to local community groups. As highlighted by the health and housing joint policy statement, Housing Options for Our Ageing Population, these initiatives play an important role in connecting older people to their communities, reducing the poor outcomes associated with social isolation and helping people to quickly and easily access services they need.
Although the direction for Government policy is to support individuals to remain in their homes, long-term residential care will continue to be necessary for some older people in order to meet their healthcare needs. The nursing homes support scheme, NHSS, also known as the fair deal scheme, is the State’s means-based system of financial support for people who are not in a position to pay privately for their long-term residential care. Its aim is to ensure that when residential care is necessary, it is accessible, affordable and regulated to provide a high quality of professional care. Although we expect there will be an increased diversion from residential care as community supports improve, population ageing will continue to drive a high demand for residential care.
To avail of the NHSS, older people must have their care needs assessed to determine that they require full-time residential care. Residents contribute to the cost of their care at a basic rate of 80% of their income and 7.5% per annumof the value of their assets, with the State making up the balance of the cost.
The nursing homes support scheme is worth €1.4 billion. The core tenet of the scheme, and the reason that it is called the fair deal, is that those who have more pay more and those who have less pay less.
At this time of housing crisis, the Department is acutely aware that access to housing is one of the key social determinants of health. Providing people with a home of their own enables them to access a range of community supports, including, where required, health services in their community.
Some older people who avail of the NHSS leave their homes vacant while accessing care. While there are many reasons for this, it is probable that the standard financial assessment rules have acted as a disincentive to some who would otherwise have chosen to sell or rent out their home. This must now be balanced against the national priority to maximise the use of the existing housing stock, including the homes of those who are in care. To address this, in line with departmental policy commitments, the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Act 2021 removed a disincentive to selling a home left vacant by changing the way in which those sale proceeds were assessed.
The Department of Health, in collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, is now developing a further amendment to reduce a disincentive for participants in the scheme to rent out their home. As committed in Housing for All, it is important to ensure that this incentive is developed "in a way that is targeted, equitable, evidence-based and provides appropriate safeguards for vulnerable older people". The proposed amendment will reduce the rate of assessment on rental income from the home to 40% rather than the previous 80%. The Department and stakeholders have highlighted concerns about the unintended consequences of this measure. Many of these impacts are expected to be mitigated by the partial nature of the exemption and will be monitored through a review. This review will also provide for an ability to amend the rate of assessment further, should it prove necessary and appropriate.
In conclusion, it is a key objective of the Government and the Department of Health to ensure, where possible, that older people can live and age well in their own homes and communities. The Department is also committed to supporting equitable and affordable access to safe, high-quality long-term residential care for older people when and where required. Now, by rebalancing the incentives created by the fair deal scheme, the Department is also delivering actions to increase the number of potential properties available in the State thus further supporting access to housing for all.
I apologise for missing some of the opening statements as I was in the Chamber for Questions to the Taoiseach and hope that I do not repeat any points that have been made.
One of the main reasons I had hoped we could have this session and a subsequent is because I served as a councillor for ten years on Dublin City Council and saw a local authority provide a fantastic service for older people. Certainly during the years 2000 to 2010 the local authority built a lot of complexes in the area. Every time a complex was built one's phone would melt from the number of phone calls from people who were either in local authority homes and wanted to downsize or were in private homes and wished to avail of the new form of housing. We know that the scheme is universally popular, provides density, allows people to stay in their communities and generates a huge amount of positives. We also know that the scheme is subject to far fewer objections by existing communities. It is an easy button for local authorities to press yet in a time when we are building significantly more local authority housing I do not see a pipeline of senior homes coming through. That being said, there was a very significant one in my own community yesterday in Ballymun, which I acknowledge.
I want the Department to communicate the prioritisation of senior citizen housing to local authorities because there is a feeling that it is about family homes and maybe senior housing does not add to that picture. I believe that it does. The scheme frees up local authority homes for people who want to downsize and creates a much greater social mix, particularly in areas where there might be a high level of concentrated low-income housing. We know that whether it is mixed tenure or mixed income when one concentrates on low-income housing there can be significant resource issues. What is the Department doing to provide local authority senior citizen housing?
One of the successes of the Dublin City Council schemes was one called a financial contribution scheme. People could sell their home to the council and that did not give them priority on the list but allowed them to buy a way on to the list or become eligible for the list and then they would be housed in the normal way. Often, if one were selling one's home one could then access the scheme. Until very recently I know that nearly 140 people in my area alone wanted to avail of the financial contribution scheme. It would be a source of funding available to they local authorities but they were not in a position to do this because of the priority that I talked about earlier. Now I have heard that the Department might have this as a priority but because of a prohibition on the purchase of properties the financial contribution scheme in Dublin City Council will now end.
I ask the officials from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to clarify the following. Does the prohibition or limitation on the purchase of homes by local authorities restrict schemes such as the financial contribution scheme? What is the Department doing to encourage local authorities to provide more homes for senior citizens?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
I will respond to the last question first. Since 2019, we have had the Housing Options for our Ageing Population that comprises 40 actions and 32 of them have been completed. A report on all of the actions will shortly be available. The third and final report of the implementation group will continue work on the eight actions as well as the new actions in Housing for All, which can take that forward.
Aside from the policy basis, and I covered that in my opening statement, we are looking at how to let people age in place, how to provide grants if they want to live in their own house or if they want to move to supported housing and how best to address that. The other side of that policy space is funding. The Department has quite a good deal of funding available for older people's housing. Most people are aware of the capital assistance scheme, CAS, funding, which is obviously available for older people's housing. The budget for CAS last year was, I think, €93 million and obviously we have €96 million this year. Last year, we did 350 units and 150 bed spaces. The budget for this year will be €96 million for 400 units. In 2021, 54 units were age-friendly housing so CAS is always available for that. Interestingly, it is not just CAS that is being used to provide housing for older people it is the capital advance leasing facility or, CALF funding. As members will be aware, the CALF budget is much bigger at €293 million for 2022. There is a lot of access, particularly for approved housing bodies, AHBs, that want to specialise in older people's housing. The funding availability is there. Members will have seen organisations like Clann come forward and specialise. It is nice to see the bigger AHBs get into that and there is a host of smaller AHBs.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
In fact, we have looked at what is there for older people's housing in terms of the pipeline of units coming forward. Age Friendly Ireland has done a bit of work for us in that area. I am sure that the Deputy is aware that Age Friendly Ireland is a great service that is jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Health. Age Friendly Ireland, along with local authorities, analysed the type of pipeline that they have coming forward. They looked at the 250 units that they have done over the last couple of years as local authority and there are about 700 units coming forward. Some of them are AHBs but quite a lot of them are local authority housing, which is interesting. Local authorities, like the Deputy, are aware that there is an appetite for older people's housing and that if they bring it forward that it will be accepted and supported by communities. We can see a lot of that coming forward and there is funding for them.
In terms of the financial contribution piece, we are aware of the scheme from Dublin City Council, DCC. Last year, Age Friendly Ireland did a piece for us arising out right sizing in terms of Housing Options for our Ageing Population. One of the things that we did, as a Department, was to look at the number of authorities that had financial contribution schemes in place and there is quite a few. As the Deputy will be aware, Limerick has one at Mungret, which it advertised last December and DCC would have it as well. We have examined that as to whether it is a model that we could take forward. It is being used a part of the model at the St. Michael's development in Inchicore and will be allowed as a proportion of the allocations going that way. I do not think that I have been aware that was potentially an issue in terms of allocation.
That is something I can take away and look at. I am aware of the overall issue and we have addressed it in the context of previous issues with homeless accommodation and the points raised about people with notices to quit. I will, however, have a look at what the Deputy mentioned. I was not aware that Dublin City Council was considering winding it down. We have issued a circular in respect of the allegations. We have said that local authorities can purchase properties within the categories that already exist. We can re-examine this to see if it is causing a difficulty in that space. We will then respond to the Deputy.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
Yes. To explain what we are doing now, with the Chair's agreement, regarding St. Michael's, that scheme is being reviewed by the Housing Agency as it goes through each phase. The final review by the Housing Agency will be to recommend an overall model that we should use. It will be interesting to see if it will come forward and propose what the Deputy referred to as part of the model. It will also, in some ways, be explored as part of our rightsizing policy that we are developing this year. I am not sure what direction that will go in. I will wait to see the advice we receive from the Housing Agency and then we will move it this forward.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. We have some wonderful housing for older people, especially in the public sector, right across the State. In deference to Senator Cummins, I was in St. John's College in Waterford, which is a wonderful Respond development recently funded by the Department. I refer as well to McAuley Place in Naas, which is also such a wonderful facility, and even to some of the slightly older schemes, such a Verschoyle Court, just off Mount Street not far from here. Deputy McAuley will be aware of it. What is wonderful about all three of these examples is that they do not consist only of housing. They also have a variety of other facilities. The public garden in Verschoyle Court is incredible, while McAuley Place is an entire community. If the Chair has not been there, he really should visit. Not unlike the Respond facility, it has a community hall and a public café and provides a host of activities in which the residents are involved. Several new apartments have been built at the back of the complex.
We know what works in this regard, certainly in the public sector. It is important when we have these conversations to emphasise this is about choice and not about putting any pressure on older people living in larger homes to move out of them. They are not the cause of, nor contributors to, our housing crisis. This is about giving older people who may wish to rightsize as many options as possible to enable them to do the right thing for themselves. The reason I say that is that sometimes when these matters are debated by other people on the radio, many politicians get calls from nervous pensioners who feel like they are being blamed because they have an emotional attachment to the homes they are living in. They might be the only people living in them, but these are their homes and they have a right to live in them. I do not think anyone at this committee would say otherwise.
My one concern, however, is that while some funding is available, it is not anywhere near enough. More important, I am not so sure if we are setting the right kinds of targets. A good local authority will take all the good policy instruments Ms Timmons has outlined and access them through the capital assistance scheme, CAS, the capital advance leasing facility, CALF, the AHBs or the strategic housing investment programme, SHIP, to deliver good quality rightsizing. The great value of doing that is that a rightsizing social housing development built in an existing local authority estate will make it possible to get more dormer bungalows on that piece of land, which in turn will free up more two-, three- and four-bedroom homes in that existing estate. That is a good model of practice.
My first question for Ms Timmons then concerns whether we are moving towards starting to set targets in local authorities whereby a certain percentage of their social housing output, based on an evidence-based need for rightsizing in existing estates, would be incorporated into their housing plans. There is also a need to go a step further because we will also need rightsizing options in the private sector. Do we need to start considering amendments to planning legislation? As part of the housing need and demand assessment, HNDA, of planning applications, should consideration be given to ensuring an appropriate proportion of rightsized properties, especially dormer bungalows and ground-floor apartments, can be delivered?
I will raise a major concern about the fair deal scheme. The age organisations, representatives of which will be before the committee later, have been particularly concerned about issues of potential elder abuse and extended family members applying pressure to family members, some of whom are vulnerable, to access the fair deal scheme to enable a property to be let out. I am not opposed to trying to incentivise getting some of these properties into the private rental sector. I think it will be a small number and not anywhere close to 8,000 properties, or even a half or a quarter of that figure. Any properties we can get into the rental sector will be a good development. How do we fully protect the owners of these properties from the kinds of concerns we have heard the Minister of State in the Department of Health, and others, express? How can we ensure that while we get the properties into the rental market, we do so in a way that fully protects the interests of the older owners of these homes?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
Regarding target setting and understanding the demographics of a population, we fully agree it is important that local authorities plan properly for the future in this context. This is underpinned by the fact that the proportion of the population aged over 65 is increasing. Local authorities will need to understand that. The way we are asking them to do that is principally through the HNDA, which now forms part of a suite of tools local authorities can use when preparing their housing strategies as part of their development plans. We have seen some six local authorities successfully come through that HNDA development plan process, including Dublin City Council and Kildare, Kerry, Clare and Galway county councils. Part of the HNDA framework requires local authorities to have a chapter on specialist housing. It means they must explore the demographics of their populations and then plan in their housing strategies for what their provision will be for older people as part of their development plans. They must then signal that to the planners and the housing sector. It is extremely important that this starts coming through.
The second strand of this relates to more immediate implementation. In the housing delivery action plans, we asked all the local authorities drawing up their implementation plans for the next five years to make provision in those plans for housing for older people, those with disabilities and other specialist groupings. Older people are one of the groups being considered. More recently, at the end of March, we communicated with the local authorities that we wanted to see a little more in the content of those action plans to describe the targets that are going to be set and how they are proposing to achieve them. I fully agree with Deputy Ó Broin on this point. It is important that local authorities are examining this issue and have targets they will try to reach in this regard. We will see the fruits of this in the next few years as the local authorities progress through their plans and get better at the planning part of HNDA, which is being bedded into the process now.
I thank Ms Timmons. I will make one strong recommendation. When I speak to constituents living in larger homes, which they feel are too big for their needs, the one condition they always express for a rightsizing option is that it be in the same immediate locality. They would like to be able to walk to the church or bingo and remain part of their social networks. We are moving to some larger social housing projects and the smaller in-fills are not necessarily coming through now as frequently. Smaller in-fills, however, are ideal for dormer bungalows. They are within existing communities, especially in our larger council estates. I wish to impress upon Ms Timmons that in-fill is ideal for those dormer bungalows. Additionally, it provides a win-win scenario. As I said, we had a wonderful development in north Clondalkin. It was originally meant to consist of five family homes. Through the Part 8 process, we amended the plans for the development to get seven or eight dormer bungalows. We still freed up seven or eight larger homes in the local community. It is possible to get the rightsizing options and the larger number of two- and three-bedroom homes as well. That kind of policy, if it was pushed hard with the local authorities, could produce real dividends.
Ms Siobhán McArdle:
Deputy Ó Broin has made a very good point. We are certainly open to it. Awareness in local authorities has really improved in recent years, especially following the appointment of the age-friendly technical advisers and the advent of Age Friendly Ireland having representatives in each local authority raising awareness of what is needed for older people's housing and trying to put that in place. These developments are contributing to that being brought forward. We are open to any suggestions of in-fill housing undertaken in the manner outlined by the Deputy. It completely chimes with our NPF objectives, so we are happy to take that point on board. I thank the Deputy.
Ms Fiona Larthwell:
I will be brief and perhaps we might revisit this topic later. The point about the vulnerability of the cohort is important. From the national dementia strategy, we know that more than 70% of people in nursing homes have dementia or some other type of cognitive impairment. This is an issue affecting a majority rather than a minority in trying to determine the will and preference of the person in care is. One of the main safeguards we are looking to, and something we have made clear in all our communications on this issue, is the implementation of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015. Its title is a bit of a mouthful but the legislation is all about ensuring that people who wish to rent out their homes are supported in being able to do so and have someone on hand who will work with them as a decision-maker to reach the extremely important decision that will have many consequences for them downstream.
The other aspect of this is something that Age Friend Ireland representatives told to us about signposting, namely, that older people will not do anything in this regard unless it is made easier for them to do so. Once all of this is in place, we will have to consider, as a group, how we can help older people to understand what we would like them to do, the implications of doing that and how they might go about it.
All of that is very important in helping them take that decision. As the Deputy mentioned, when communicating about this it is so important not to, in essence, spook people in this regard. We do not want to make people think we are trying to take their houses from them. We have to do this in a very careful and considered manner that is respectful of the residents. Overall, the Department is separately working on the adult safeguarding policy, which will also bring in consideration of risk assessments.
This is a very important topic. It is probably an area that does not necessarily get the focus it needs. Deputy Ó Broin is correct. There are some excellent examples of schemes throughout the country, not least in my county. He referenced St. John's College and the significant ad hoc work being done by organisations on the ground in communities, but there is less of an overarching structure to it, which is necessary. As we see an ageing of our population, and the projections to 2051 are that we will have an additional 1.7 million people over the age of 65, we have to address that and grasp that we have an under-provision of rightsizing options in our State.
I want to tease this out with the departmental officials. Other than H and A zonings, is there a case to be made that we now need to look at specific zonings in respect of older persons or at least specific guidance on making decisions on planning applications? As the officials know, local authorities are being pushed into making decisions on higher density. That is laudable and there for a reason. We have a specific amount of zoned land we need to maximise, but perhaps 35 houses per hectare in Waterford is not appropriate when providing a particular scheme, yet it has to be adjudicated on from a planning perspective that is being driven by densities. What is the thinking in the Department on how we can address that issue in the context of the drive for density and the need to make provision for older persons' accommodation?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
One of the things to mention in respect of planning and local authorities, and how to help them to plan where to put their older people's housing, is we have made significant progress. One of the working groups from the four working groups under the housing options for ageing population policy looked very specifically at that. At the time, it looked at where that housing should be brought forward. Should it be in urban or rural settings and where is the divide? That led us to a very interesting place to do with geographic information system mapping and what we can use it for. We can take all the information we have, such as where all the services and older people are, and identify the location that would serve the best interests of the older people. We are developing a tool for local authorities to score and rate development potential of particular sites. That will help them to plan for where they should put their older people's housing. That is one of the ways they can bring that forward.
On specific zonings and density, I am not sure density is the issue per se. We could have a conversation about that, but it is about raising the awareness of planners about what makes a good older persons' development, why it is necessary in the area, what could be attractive about that, and what the needs are. The housing and planning departments of each local authority have to communicate on that front. That is maybe moving us back to the housing strategy being the key part of the work that needs to be done so that everybody sees the importance of it in the first place. I am not sure a specific zone is required or that we should necessarily be prescriptive about density. Sometimes apartments can work very well for older people if they are well designed and have good principles behind them. I would not say every development should be the same, but I can see what the Senator is saying about keeping in mind the overarching need for older people's housing.
I agree with Ms Timmons. When we think of older persons accommodation we think straightaway of the bungalow but that is not necessarily the most appropriate land use. We have excellent schemes and St. John's College in Waterford is one of those. There is a scheme in Manor Hill, Waterford, that consists of 71 units to be delivered through the repair and lease scheme, which will be predominantly geared to older persons.
To take it a little further, we are predominantly talking about local authorities and people who are in social housing provision. I consistently get queries. A developer is looking at developing a small scheme for the private sector in the context of rightsizing in Waterford at present, and the second it was put out there the phone just rang off the hook. Cork city has a scheme where the council purchases private property and gives a guarantee of lifetime tenure within an older person's scheme but that is more an ad hocthing it has developed. The officials can correct me if I am wrong. Perhaps there needs to be a national overarching policy for that because I would like to see us freeing up more private housing stock for young families to move into, such as three- and four-bedroom homes, when those properties are no longer suitable for older people. It has to come back to that person's decision, of course. Nobody is saying anybody is being forced out. It has to be that person's decision but from the engagement I have had in my locality it is very much something that is in demand. We need to get that mix between the private and the social side of it. There needs to be an overarching policy. Cork city is doing something quite good in that space. The officials might be able to elaborate on it.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
I will come back on that. I agree with the Senator. Last year, Age Friendly Ireland did some very good work for local authorities on rightsizing, including developing a guide to rightsizing. All of this is available on the Age Friendly Homes website that we and the Department of Health jointly sponsor. The Housing Agency is involved in that as well. Age Friendly Ireland has put together a rightsizing template for local authorities that is particularly to do with social housing and considers many of the issues the Senator talked about. This year, we will try to take that more national overarching view in our national rightsizing policy. The team is working on that at present. It will be developed over the next couple of months. There will be consultation to enable all those views about the right way to promote it to be put into that policy and to try to come forward with some ideas about what people need to enable that.
I am delighted to hear private developers are coming forward and demand-----
I welcome all the witnesses. I am from County Limerick. I was a councillor for six years and was then elected to the Dáil. I have been in construction all my life and had elderly parents, God rest them. We are talking about Housing for All and housing for the elderly, but there is no infrastructure in Limerick to build any of the houses the officials are talking about. I will give them a brief synopsis of the situation in County Limerick.
At present, the Government can deliver 53 houses in Limerick city this year. It cannot deliver any houses in County Limerick at present because there is inadequate water. I could deliver 70 houses this year in Croom if I had water supply. I could deliver houses in Hospital if there was sewerage capacity, of which there is none. I could deliver houses in Askeaton, if I had sewerage capacity, which has been waiting for an upgrade, for 40 years. Dromcolliher has been waiting 15 years for a sewerage supply. There is fantastic housing for the elderly in Athlacca. It is a fantastic facility. I was there many times and grew up around there, but there is no capacity to build more. Not everyone lives in the city. People live in County Limerick, in rural towns and villages and in rural areas, but there is no infrastructure because of the failure of previous Governments to invest in infrastructure in the counties.
We are talking about Housing for All, but everything coming out of here seems to be housing for cities. It is not coming for the counties. If we are about Housing for All, then it should be for all.
That means investment needs to be made in infrastructure in the likes of Counties Limerick, Cork and Waterford. Infrastructure is key and that is what Housing for All should involve so that is what I would like to see included in it. We also have people living in towns and villages in rural areas who want to sell their houses and downsize. There is no infrastructure in the countryside so they want to buy smaller sites, build smaller houses and be nearer to their community but the planning authority states the case that if someone has a house then he or she does not need a house and so he or she does not qualify to build a smaller house. If someone is in a rural area then he or she does not qualify for a second house because those are the planning laws.
I welcome everything the Department can do but I am looking for their help when it comes to housing for all people, whether they are in the city or the countryside. The Land Development Agency, LDA, is only investing in infrastructure and housing in Limerick city and unless people live within 15 minutes of the city. That precludes two-thirds of County Limerick, including Newcastle West, which has a population of more than 4,000 people and Kilmallock, which has a population of 3,000. This needs to be assessed county by county. Not everyone is in a local authority house and the biggest problem we have is that we do not have the infrastructure to carry out the fantastic plans the Department has for housing for our elderly people. What can the Department do to address that for the people of County Limerick?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
I might address the Deputy's point on downsizing first because that is an interesting one. The Town Centre First policy is quite focused on rural areas and I have a rural perspective on this myself; I am not a city person. The Town Centre First policy is mentioned in Housing for All and one of the important parts of that is making sites available in the smaller towns and areas where people might want to move. That will facilitate one of the scenarios the Deputy raised where some people will want to sell their rural houses and move to the outskirts of a town where they will have a little more access to infrastructure like primary care services, GP services or-----
I am sorry to cut across Ms Timmons. People live in small villages where there is no infrastructure so if you are an elderly person, for example, you have lived your whole life in a village or a small town where there is no infrastructure to carry out what I am talking about. Then you are being offered to move 20 miles away where there is elderly housing. That takes people away from the friends and families they have built up around them over a lifetime. That does not address towns and villages. There is no infrastructure for the towns and villages to do what the Department wants to do. With the greatest of respect I am a rural person and I have lived outside of the villages and towns. I live in a parish with 396 people and there is no infrastructure in the village. In Banogue village, where I was born, there is no infrastructure. I do not want to move 20 miles away or have people in my community have to move 20 miles away as they will lose the network of people they have gone to mass with and met at the shop. That is not housing for all and that is not covering everyone in County Limerick. What is happening here is that the towns and villages do not have the infrastructure. We only have three towns in County Limerick that have infrastructure; the rest of them are gone. The local authorities know about this and now they are looking at putting plans in place for infrastructure that will not include two-thirds of County Limerick. I need the Department to help me to highlight this to the Government.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
On infrastructure, the point about Irish Water came through in some of the consultation we did for Housing for All last year and Irish Water is included as a partner in developing housing for the future. It is a key partner for infrastructure, along with electricity and so on. We included Irish Water in our overall structures. Under the Housing for All governance structure Irish Water comes in to report regularly to the public sector delivery group. It is making further provision for housing, it is prioritising it in every way possible and we are adequately funding it do so. I take the Deputy's point that infrastructure is a serious difficulty and the Department's ambition is to bring forward supply as quickly as possible. That is one of the key areas we need to tackle. We have heard the message and we have delivered it firmly to Irish Water, which is collaborating with us to try to make a change. Perhaps it is not yet-----
I will make one last point because my time is running out. Did the officials know that the biggest polluters in this country are the local authorities? All the surveys that have been done show that the biggest polluters in this country are the local authorities because of the lack of infrastructure and funding from Government to invest in our towns and villages
I thank the officials for their presentations. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has never really co-ordinated the opportunities there are for developers in downsizing and in older persons' housing. One of the critical mistakes the Minister made was not applying the bulk fund for investors in properties that were coming onto the market to apartments and that will hit older people who are looking to downsize. Apartments, particularly in suburban areas, are perfect for people who want security, a smaller footprint to manage and access to lifts or ground floors. It is a real shame that institutional investors are still able to bulk-buy apartments and that will particularly affect the older population.
I also want to make a couple of points on Dublin city, where I come from, and the number of build to rent properties there as opposed to apartments. I know friends of mine whose parents have moved into apartments because they were not able to manage their houses. They are happy there, it is a good, safe and secure way for them to live and they know they have all the services there. In Dublin and particularly in my area we are simply seeing build to rent properties being built and that denies older people the opportunity to downsize as build to rent properties do not have proper storage or balcony facilities. The Department should consider harmonising the build to buy and build to rent standards because we need to make sure that in years to come housing will be flexible and can be changed. What might be a house for one generation might end up being a group of apartments for another generation and we need to ensure that what is being built is flexible in that way. The tendency has been for the developers to want to pull down everything and then build something else. We cannot do that with the carbon emissions that come from building and housing and I ask that the Department consider harmonising those standards.
In my questions I want to focus on renters and on older people who are renting. There is a generation of people who are of pension age, who have paid off their mortgages, who have pensions and who do not have to worry about housing costs but in the not too distant future we will have a generation of people for whom housing costs will make up more than what their pensions will be. How does the Department see this matter developing in the coming years and what future planning is it doing for older people renting and spending their entire pensions on rent? While we can talk about downsizing and trying to get people into more appropriate housing and while we can adopt a strategy for same, we need to have a look at the older persons' rental crisis that is coming down the line and developing. To what extent does the Department see the intake in the fair deal scheme reducing in the coming years because of people renting in older age and because of the reduction in home ownership? Has the impact that paying for fair deal will have on the Department of Health been costed?
I refer to rightsizing. Has the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage costed giving people either bridging loans, tax incentives or a clawback of capital gains tax after death? I have a number of people who are in a difficult financial situation but who own an asset. The Department is looking at private companies and we know that in the UK some of those companies have behaved unethically towards older people who do not have the wherewithal to know what they are signing at the time. Is there potential for a local authority home loan, which Deputy McAuliffe addressed? I will let those questions be asked and not ask my last question.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
I thank the Senator for her questions and I might start with the point she made on apartments. It is a good point to make that we need to make more apartments available for owner-occupiers, particularly in our urban areas.
We launched the croí cónaithe scheme today which will incentivise the development of apartments in urban areas. It is designed to bring forward apartments of four storeys or more in urban centres, which is in all of our cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. It will look at the gap between the development cost of apartments, which is very high, and the sales price to owner occupiers, which is one of the reasons that they are not available for owner occupiers. It is simply not economical currently for developers to bring these forward. That scheme is specifically designed to bring up to and over 5,000 apartments for sale to owner occupiers over the next few years. That is one way in which Housing for All is addressing that particular point.
On renters and older people, Senator Moynihan is making an interesting point. Approximately 84% of older people own their own homes and we have a very high percentage of such ownership in the country. The phenomenon of older people renting is a relatively new phenomenon. A very high percentage of older people also own their property without a mortgage. It is probably one of the wealthier cohorts but we will see a small percentage coming to the social housing waiting list and we are looking at that. It is still a very small percentage of the overall list and local authorities are good at dealing with that and in providing housing for older people. We need to keep an eye on that to ensure that we are planning for provision for the future.
The same outlets for supply, and for the supply of affordable accommodation in particular, apply to older people, equally, as they do to anybody else. We need to bring cost rental forward at scale together with affordable housing and a supply of social housing for those who would be eligible for such housing, and ensure that it is available for older people.
The same avenues which address the wider housing crisis will also address housing for older people who are finding difficulties with their rent. Older people are also eligible to apply for social housing, as it stands, if their income qualifies them for that and can also get housing assistance payment. The tools are there to address this issue and it is a question of incorporating that into our planning as we go forward where we have a higher percentage, potentially, in that rental market.
On right-sizing, I hear the Senator’s points. I made points earlier on bringing forward that right-sizing policy, which I would expect will address the Senator’s points there.
I will start on some of the issues that have been discussed. One issue which is brought up with me a great deal by older residents in my constituency is exactly as Deputy Ó Broin has stated, which is that some people want to stay in their family home. They have a long and strong emotional connection there, with all of their memories. They completely want that and this needs to be supported. Others fully want to move to something which they feel is more appropriate to their needs. It is a great frustration to them to see all of these build-to-rent apartments being built which they cannot and do not even have an option of buying. There is a problem of reduced standards but there is also the problem of not having the security of moving from homeownership to renting then. This is not something that they would be interested in. The best way to address that would be through ensuring that there was enough affordable purchase apartments. That would be a much better use of resources than the giving of subsidies to developers.
On that issue which was brought up earlier, if one looks at Vienna, one of the reasons that it was able to do a great deal of cost rental and to bring it to completion at a good cost was because there was affordable housing zoning, so that it could provide much more affordable accommodation for people, including for older people. Has affordable zonings or zonings specific for elderly people been considered because there is good practice in other countries? Could this be put in rather than more subsidies for developers looking for higher prices? That would be a much more cost-effective way of delivering. I ask that Ms Timmons might address that point.
On the fair deal scheme and the proposals that are coming forward, what is the timeframe on that and when are these likely to be implemented? Is it that the homeowners will need to register with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and that full tenancy rights will apply? The point made by Ms Larthwell about signposting and making things easier for people is a key one. Many people will not, if they have not been a landlord before, want to manage this. They could go to a letting agent but if there was a particular pathway also, for example, for some not-for-profit approved housing bodies to perhaps manage that, that might take much of the worry and risk away for some people. Has that been considered and have the proposals which such groups as Community Law & Mediation have worked on, where it has looked at where homes could be managed by not-for-profit bodies, been looked at and considered? What are the thoughts of the Departments on those proposals? These are my main questions.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
I thank the Deputy. I will start my replies on the issue of staying in the family home, which is a very good point. The whole of our joint policy is about ageing in place and of giving people options, where if they want to stay, they can. The Deputy is right in that some people, a small proportion, will need an option to move on. I agree with the Deputy that apartments should also be coming through the affordable housing space. A good deal of affordable housing is coming through the pipeline and some of these will definitely be apartments. Local authorities and the Land Development Agency, LDA, are all being told that it is certainly not all about one’s traditional three-bed, semi-detached house and that it is also certainly about apartments. These can be very suitable and can really work for cost rental and could be ideal for older people who are looking for somewhere which gives them security of tenure for the foreseeable future and a stabilised rent.
I do not want to give the impression that the private space is the only way in which to bring this forward but we are certainly bringing this through the affordable housing space also.
Local authorities are being encouraged to look at density and the funding available for suitably dense, apartment-driven developments in any urban areas. I hope to see that coming through.
On the affordable-----
Could I ask a question on that issue, please? The idea of these very high quality housing schemes for older people with services, facilities and activities are very successful and attractive. These can be facilitated if some land is zoned specifically for that use. If it is an up-zoning, it increases the value. Otherwise, in a full residential zoning, investors are always going to go for the best return and providing such housing may not be the best return. Has that been considered?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
My apologies, but I do not work in the planning division so I will address that question from the best of my knowledge. When we had walked through the Vienna concept, it is certainly just the cost rental costs that the Deputy will have seen. I have not seen it coming through into planning as affordable zoning as we do not zone for tenure-type, as things stand. I do not know if there has been any consideration in the Department of that. I can check when I return to the Department if there have been any particular moves on that front but I am not aware of any at the moment.
Ms Fiona Larthwell:
I want to take the Deputy’s question on the RTB. We are looking at the timeframe at the moment. The legislation is being developed as we speak and is being brought through, I believe, in the SIRI Bill. Forgive me, I am not in housing, and I cannot remember what that stands for. That will be brought through before the summer. On implementation, we have two dependencies. One is, as I have mentioned before, the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act. We do not want to bring this measure in before that Act is fully enacted. We understand that there is a very strong push on now to get that in place and fully enacted by the summer session also. That should not be a limiting factor.
The other limiting factor is probably the impact on the HSE. The HSE’s systems, unfortunately, are simply not designed to track rental income, that is, that dynamic movement of income where typically a person has one assessment and three years later, one may have another assessment if one is still on the scheme, but that is about the totality of it. We will need to put a great deal of different systems and processes in place with the HSE with, possibly, some amendment to their financial IT systems. That, in itself, may take a bit of time but we are very committed to doing this. One of the things that has been emphasised very strongly by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and indeed by Government, is that this is a measure that is expected to be in place and to start delivering as soon as possible. That is where our focus is.
On the RTB, the tenancy rights and the other interesting proposals the Deputy raised, in developing the scheme we considered having a preferential rate which would apply to social housing or to people in receipt of housing supports but it is not something that we were able to pursue for various complex reasons. That is why we have gone with the flat rate of 40% across the board.
From the point of view of the fair deal scheme, we are agnostic about what the source of the income is. We are working, however, to ensure that within the legislation, there will be a couple more categories other than just private landlords who are registered with the RTB, in order to ensure that we can also facilitate social housing models.
I thank Ms Larthwell for that reply. The Department is trying to facilitate social housing models which could mean not-for-profit approved housing bodies, AHBs, being involved in the management of this.
Ms Catherine Comer:
If it is okay, I will come in here, Vice Chairman. As my colleague Ms Larthwell has said, this is being considered as a Committee Stage amendment to the Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill, which is commencing on 16 May.
In addition, it is being drafted to allow for not just private tenancies, but also local authority, approved housing bodies and other providers as well, to make it as expansive as possible. Coming back to what Deputy Ó Broin said earlier, it is to provide that choice for people and that voluntary capacity as well.
On the point of land zoning in Vienna that Ms Comer mentioned, obviously, the proposed system in Housing for All is for it to be planning permission connected with owner-occupied guarantee, which we do not yet have details of. It would be useful to have the details on both the owner-occupied guarantee and the 20% social and affordable housing in advance of us finalising that report. It touches on Deputy O'Callaghan's point that we may want to reference the different models in the final report.
I thank all of our contributors here today. This is a particularly interesting topic. For so long we have talked about reforming the fair deal scheme to unlock, if you like, more housing within the rental market. The fact that we all know that there is a massive deficit in this country of older people-specific housing is just a huge issue. It is something that we, as a committee, need to shine a light on. I am very pleased to have officials from both of the relevant Departments here today to do exactly that and bring their expertise to the fore.
I have listened with interest to what Ms Timmons said around the housing need and demand assessments, HNDAs and the fact that in respect of future planning, local authorities will now be not just asked, but mandated and required to have targets and policies that allow for right-sizing that support our older people who might like to downsize or move to an older person-specific housing accommodation, ideally, as other speakers have said, in villages where access to local services, medical services, shops and support is very easy for them. That is a very long-term statement. That is what is so frustrating for so many of us who have been in local government for so long prior to being elected to the Dáil or the Seanad. While there are some very good innovative examples of where this has worked throughout Ireland, it is painfully slow. I appreciate that the HNDA reports will be the catalyst and framework for giving us the parameters of building all of this into our plans. However, again, it just seems like that information is coming now and not necessarily in tandem with development plans that have the ink is drying on them at this stage in many local authorities up and down the country. I suppose I am just concerned about that. I would love to hear Ms Timmons’s view on the targets and how they should be set and managed, and how we can plan for older people's accommodation to be delivered in local towns and village across Ireland in the short- to medium-term, rather than just the long-term.
I refer to the Department of Health. It is very encouraging that we are now getting information from the Minister that the fair deal scheme will be changed to enable people who would otherwise be losing 80% of their rental income to incentivise them to rent out their home through the new 40% statistic. That is quite an important thing when looking at housing in the context of the Ukrainians, who in so many hundreds and thousands are coming to our shores. We need to be there to make sure that we are providing short-term as well as long-term offerings for them. The fair deal scheme has the potential to unlock a huge amount of housing relatively quickly.
I was quite concerned to hear the figure that 70% of people who are availing of the fair deal scheme have dementia. I know that adds complexities to all of this. We want to make sure that there are safeguards there so that no older person feel they are forced in any way, shape or form to rent out their home. That is not what this is about. This is about incentivising those who wish to do so by allowing them to reap the financial rewards because, ultimately, they do not at the moment.
ALONE and a number of other organisations, many of which will be coming in later today, have done a bit of research in that area. I do not know if it is possible for Ms Timmons to answer this question, but does she get any sense that there will likely be an issue around the homes that are owned by people who are in fair deal nursing home schemes in respect of rental regulations and the homes not being up to standard or scratch in terms of all of the regulations that we now require through the Residential Tenancies Board?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
When looking at the planning and the Deputy’s view that it is painfully slow, I understand what she means. Sometimes developments can take years to come to fruition. However, it is interesting that, when one gets a more global view of what has been going on over the years, there has actually been loads of small developments. They are not necessarily at scale, but they are there. Interestingly, when we were talking to the Irish Council for Social Housing recently, it was looking at nearly 9,000 units of older people’s accommodation that it identified that AHBs are running at the minute. There is actually quite a bit of scale there, it is just not easily identifiable perhaps. It seems slow, but there is progress on it and we are kind of making progress in the local authority sector in particular on it. There is pipeline on that.
In terms of the planning for it, I agree with the Deputy that it needs to come through the HNDA. The housing areas of the local authorities need to be aware of the demographics. One way they can do that is by looking at the HNDA repository on our website, which will give a full view of an area’s demographics out for a space of a number of years. They can see how many in their population will be over 65 and they can think about it from that space. As I said earlier, they can then translate that into housing delivery action plans. They can set their targets in respect of older people, in particular in social housing developments and what they may need to do, and they can think about where they should plan them.
There is a very good example in Kells of using vacancy as another element. One does not just have to do social housing. There is a development in Kells that Meath Count Council is bringing through. It is using some vacant housing as part of the older people’s housing that it is bringing forward there. One can use many different tools to bring forward older people’s housing. That is a very good development. I will give my colleagues time to come back on the other question.
Ms Fiona Larthwell:
There were some other very interesting points that might come up later, but in terms of the housing condition specifically, that is something we had considered. We understand from Age Friendly Ireland that about 31% of older adults report moderate to major problems in housing. We have engaged ALONE, which provided us with a submission as well. It indicated that about half of people over 50 have some kind of issue with their housing and nearly 10% have a sort of critical difficulty in keeping the housing warm if they are older. We think that will be a challenge. At the end of the day, if a person is going into care because their needs are such that they cannot look after themselves in their own home, it is highly likely that they will have had difficulty maintaining that home as well. That is something we are expecting. The initial six-month period that have to kind of test this all out will give us a bit of a view as to how quickly those homes actually start to materialise.
I presume the way the amendments will be set up for the fair deal changes would not preclude, for example, an owner entering into a housing assistance payment, HAP, or rental accommodation scheme, RAS, arrangement with a local authority. The reason I am saying that is because obviously then the signposting to make sure that the owner of the property who may want to rent out knows what all of those things are is very important.
One of the concerns I have is around the fact that we know one of the reasons a large of number accidental and semi-professional landlords are leaving is because they have realised how much work it is to be a landlord. It is not a passive investment. It takes a lot of active, hands-on work. Obviously, that is not something the fair deal recipient will be able to do and their extended family members may not as well. Is there also an option, for example, with the provision, whether it is of social housing or public transitional accommodations, for an AHB, rather than placing the owner of the property as a landlord in conjunction with the folks who deal with leasing in the local authorities, there could some leasing-type arrangement, albeit on the shorter time horizon like RAS, where the management of the property is actually taken over by an AHB, for example? That might be a way of facilitating greater ability of people to access the scheme if they so choose.
Again, I do not believe anything in the Department's amendments would preclude that, but signposting and encouraging it might take some collaboration between the Departments. That is my first question.
I will go back to Ms Timmons for my second question, which is on McAuley Place because I was very taken by it when I was in Naas. I do not know if Ms Timmons has been there but it is an old historic building that was handed over by a religious order and then converted into a café, community centre and residential units. Apartments were also built at the back. Most of this was done with charitable funding. It is funded through that weird and wonderful thing, capital assistance scheme-rental accommodation scheme, CAS-RAS, funding. I am sure Ms Timmons is one of the few people in the world who fully understands that. The difficulty for that facility is generating a revenue stream to keep it going. Because the Department does not fund the non-residential element and because there can be problems with having some private renters living in the development to generate some surplus income to recycle back into it, this is the kind of project that probably would not have got off the ground if it had not been for a lot of bending of rules and determined flexibility, which the system does not always allow. What can Ms Timmons say on the Department's future approach to CAS-RAS projects, if such a thing is permissible these days? That would facilitate developments of this type. What is wonderful about McAuley Place and the Respond development at St. John's College is that, by refurbishing existing buildings, carbon emissions are kept low and an important part of the urban neighbourhood is regenerated. However, such projects do require flexibility beyond just a CAS allocation or a capital advance leasing facility, CALF, allocation. How flexible can the Department be with approved housing bodies, AHBs, or other community groups to get these kinds of end results?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
It provides a lot of different services. I understand it has tea rooms, an arts and culture centre and so on. A lot of volunteers are engaged in that particular project. I am not familiar with how the project is funded so I will not comment on it specifically, but I will say we have been looking for an exemplar project to tell us how to keep these projects going in future. I believe St. Michael's will tell us quite a bit about how properly to fund housing with supports. Both Departments will probably be involved in that. We do a lot as regards putting the infrastructure in place and building the actual housing. Wrap-around supports need to be put in afterwards and the AHB needs to keep it going. In the case of St. Michael's, that AHB will be Circle Voluntary Housing Association and ALONE, which will be acting as the support. It will be interesting to see if that model will come through as the preferred model for doing this in future because I do not have an answer for the Deputy today as to how it should work. It is definitely something we want to explore as we move forward. Perhaps Ms Larthwell would like to comment on this matter as well.
Ms Fiona Larthwell:
Our comments relate to the points about the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. With regard to the signposting and communication with residents, it is a very interesting idea and something the Department of Health would be in favour of. When schemes are operated by local authorities, there are far more opportunities to ensure those safeguarding touchpoints are included and that everything everybody is doing has the consent and preference of the resident at its heart. That is really important. The difficulties arise because, as I know from real life, the HAP can be a bit longer term and approximately one eighth of residents pass within six months, more than a quarter do not stay longer than a year and at least two thirds spend less than three years in the scheme. Something that also involves inheritors would therefore probably have to be looked at. There may also be interaction with the nursing home loan. Approximately one quarter of the people in the scheme who have a house have a nursing home loan, which is secured against the house and becomes due once a person passes away. Those kinds of implications would also have to be thought about but it is something we would be quite interested in.
While it is no consolation for the tenant, I should say that HAP and RAS landlords can exit lease agreements, for example, on the grounds of sale, even within those two or four years. For me, a more interesting idea relates to the long-term leasing run by the Department and local authorities. This allows people essentially not to be landlords while remaining the property owner. Such people lease the property to the local authority or AHB for a long term. A not-for-profit body like the North and East Housing Association is often brought in to manage the property and the tenancy. If there was a way to combine that package with the flexibility of HAP and RAS, for the reasons the witnesses have outlined, it might provide a more viable option for some families who would like to go down that route but where nobody in the family has the ability and wherewithal to be a landlord.
The witnesses also made the very important point that we need to think about the tenants on the other side of this. We do not want 1,000 fair deal properties coming into the market and then exiting a year later. That is not a long-term gain for the family, the owner or the tenant. A combination of the support of long-term leasing with the flexibility of the short-term lease might be an option. I say that with the caveat that tenants need security of tenure as well but we have to live in the real world. If that is not something that is being discussed, I would encourage people to do so. Because I again suspect the Department's amendments would not preclude any of that, it is something that could be agreed and signposted by the Department after the legislation is enacted.
I am choosing my words very carefully because we do not want to frighten people, but let us imagine somebody rents out his or her property and has a tenant in it. In the case of the owner of the property passing and a debt being due to the HSE under the fair deal scheme, would such a debt be due immediately or would consideration be given to the fact there is a tenant in the property? Can some flexibility be given in that regard? Has there been a conversation around this? I am treading very carefully because I do not like even the nature of this discussion but the witnesses can see the question I am asking.
I thank all of the speakers for coming in. It is a very interesting debate and it is timely and important we have it here. I will preface my contribution by saying I started to read Richard Osman's The Man Who Died Twiceat the weekend. For those who do not know, the protagonists live in a retirement village. In that book, there is an awful lot of wine and an awful lot of pizza, so I look forward to the Departments' plans coming to fruition in approximately 20 years' time.
On a more serious note, the plight of the elderly is a hidden aspect of our housing crisis. Everybody in this room will have been out canvassing and come to the home of an old person who just wants to talk. I always say it is indicative of how lonely people are when they want to talk to a politician, but that is the reality. In many cases, we may be the only person they have seen that week. That situation was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Some local authorities have done well down through the years. Deputy Ó Broin mentioned the clusters of houses. It is my personal view this does not work. We probably have a view of young people in one place and then a cluster of houses together, but I do not believe that works. The Sue Ryder Foundation has a community for people with Alzheimer's disease in Bruff, where additional supports are provided. There is a real crisis looming but it also presents us with an opportunity within the area of housing. In many respects, the officials are probably ahead of the politicians in the work they have done. It may have been remiss of us not to have taken more detailed note of what they have been doing because there is a real opportunity there for us.
I have some questions. With regard to the provisions of the nursing home support scheme, most of these homes will not be up to the standard required to let them. If somebody has to go around and ask John, Michael and Marty to put up a few bob to get the house ready to rent out, that will be very divisive. Can we provide within the scheme for some kind of grant, which could then be recouped when the house is sold? With my hand on my heart, I can say that none of these homes will be up to the standard required to let them. That is one query for the witnesses.
The witnesses have spoken a lot about rightsizing. The tenant purchase scheme has been very successful for us. We made a change earlier in the year whereby people in receipt of the State pension can now opt to buy out their home.
There is a downside for people who successfully bought out the home under the tenant purchase scheme and would like to downsize, because there is no opportunity to since they have ended up in their own home and are automatically precluded from downsizing. We need to look at this. The witnesses mentioned something to Deputy McAuliffe earlier. Will they expand on that? Unfortunately, I missed that section.
It is great to see all the different agencies here today. We need something collective and radical for housing for the elderly in the future. Greater input is needed from the Department of Health. Some work has been done on that. In Longford, we recently appointed an old-age liaison officer in conjunction with Westmeath. It is one of the best initiatives that we have seen. Visits are made to people's houses and small, incremental improvement works are done, which is great to see, and we need more of it. We need something radical, such as what Senator Cummins mentioned. We need a mix of private approved housing bodies and local authorities coming together.
We also have to look at the challenge that care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities have. In many cases, the primary carers are over 70 years old. Challenges will arise related to Down's syndrome and dementia, which will feed into our housing policy over the next 20 to 30 years. It will be an additional challenge that will require a smart living solution. The Vienna model is very good. At a risk of sounding like Deputy O'Donoghue, there is an urban-rural divide. Cost rental will not work out in the sticks in Limerick and it will certainly not work in rural Longford. We need something. The Vienna model is great and it will certainly work in Dublin and large cities but not in the country. I hope the witnesses picked up on what I asked and I would appreciate if they could reply in the two minutes left.
There is probably a ready solution already, with the grant scheme for the elderly or those with disabilities. People can currently only access that grant if they are living in the house. If we made a slight change so that people could access the grant if they are in a nursing home, provided they rent out the property, that would be a ready solution. That grant would be up to €30,000, which may not be needed in most cases. That is a ready and immediate solution that could be tapped into.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
A review of those grants is ongoing. We can certainly examine that point. I would need to think about it more, but we can talk to our colleagues in the Department of Health and see where we go with that.
The Deputy mentioned the tenant purchase scheme. A positive amendment was made to that. We talked about the financial contribution scheme earlier, which is run by some local authorities. It enables people to downsize from a private house, which they sell to the local authority, and to move into social housing. There may be options in that regard for people who have bought under the tenant purchase scheme once they get permission to sell from the local authority. The Deputy's point on the urban-rural divide is well made and noted. I echo his points on Longford and Monaghan. Age Friendly Ireland is spreading out, with regional managers, and a person in each local authority who is key to developing awareness and progressing housing for older people. It has the healthy age initiative in Ireland. People go to check on others in their homes. We have more community involvement to ensure people are able to live where they wish to.
I welcome the teams from the Department of Health and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It has been an interesting debate. I acknowledge the substantial work and progress around the country. Deputy Flaherty referred to the hidden plight of older people in housing. I will focus on the plight of older people in the specific category about which I have a particular concern. Rather than ask too many questions, I ask the witnesses to give feedback on some issues I would like to touch on. We know older members of the Traveller community are a group towards whom the Irish housing stock cannot fulfil its requirements or meet its obligations. It is a vulnerable group, especially the older people. Older members of the migrant community face issues. There is a large migrant community in Ireland, which is ever-growing. There are major challenges and yet they are low in the pecking order, from my experience of meeting members of community.
There is also the issue of older people with disabilities. Over 36% of persons aged 65 or over in Ireland were reported as having a disability in 2016. I know that is some time ago. They are more likely to live alone and not to have a job. They need extra supports. This group is particularly vulnerable. They are more vulnerable when they are elderly. Older women in Ireland are disproportionately likely to live alone, going by the statistics provided to us. They are vulnerable people. There are significant challenges in getting suitable housing for the five groups I have mentioned living in parts of rural Ireland compared with those in urban Ireland. It is a problem everywhere, but it is a bigger problem in rural Ireland.
I flagged those five groups. I do not doubt the witnesses recognise that through their own work, but what are we doing for these groups? How can we bring in extra, focused or targeted measures that will address older persons with disabilities, older women living on their own, older members of the migrant community and older members of the Traveller community? There is an added problem in rural Ireland. Are there focus groups? What do the witnesses think should happen? What is happening behind the scenes to focus on these groups?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
We have a new policy this year for housing for people who are disabled. That covers much of the ground the Senator is looking at, so we will start there. Flowing from that, disability steering groups in local authorities address housing. That looks at the population and the age profile of those with disabilities as well as what housing they need. The Senator is right that there is a relationship between disability and older people that we need to recognise. Universal design needs to be brought in. In Housing Options for Our Ageing Population, we looked at the question of universal design. We are trying to make progress on that with the National Disability Authority, to bring forward a cost-benefit analysis related to incorporating universal principles into social housing. It is important we understand the cost and benefits of progressing that. Universally designed housing is not specifically for a cohort the Senator mentioned, but it could be used for any of the cohorts he mentioned. If he is looking for a specific measure that would cover each person, I would say that all of them will be designed for older people.
The Senator is right, though, that for older members of the Travelling community that could be slightly more complex. We have provided a budget of €18 million for capital works for Traveller accommodation. It is important that local authorities look at how many of those projects are for older people. Whether the preference is for Traveller-specific accommodation or, as in many cases, social housing proper, which is absolutely fine, it is important that local authorities understand themselves what the need in the locality is. The HNDA provides for them doing that level of work. The local authority and its Age Friendly Ireland officer should be aware of the demographics of the older population in that local authority. That information should be supplied to the local authorities in order that they make the decisions with the categories in mind as well as what they might need to cater to.
As for the migrant community and older women, all social housing that comes through for older people will apply to them as well. It is not necessarily that they need something specifically different; it is just that we need more of it to provide for them. That comes back to the supply factor, promoting the supply of housing generally, which the whole of pathway 3 of Housing for All does. That can address any older person who is in the market. Then it is a matter of promoting more generally the supply of social housing, which, of course, can be allocated to older people as well as any other category of person. It is not just about developments specifically for older people; it is about all social housing such that there are options for people in their local areas if they need social housing.
Senator Boyhan's point about rural Ireland has been accepted a number of times. Obviously, this is not just about the city dwellers. We can look at that as well.
I think Ms McArdle wants to come in on some of the community aspects so I will hand over to her.
Ms Siobhán McArdle:
I thank Ms Timmons and Senator Boyhan. To add to what Ms Timmons said, the Department of Health works very closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the agencies on joint delivery and joint design. We are very much supportive of and involved in the Housing for All programme, in particular for people with disabilities or particular vulnerabilities.
As for the community response, it is really important to consider the role home support plays in supporting people with disabilities and older people who are frail or who need support. The home support budget is based on need rather than the fact of coming from a particular group. It is open to all and based on assessed need. The Department of Health, through the HSE, funds to the level of €670 million per annum home support that enables people to live well and safely in their own homes. That is very important, picking up on the point Ms Timmons raised about the universal design and the appropriate future-proofing of future accommodation, aligned with the community-based supports such as home support or those provided through the community healthcare networks. The integrated healthcare programmes for older people are resourced out in the community. Together, I think those two pieces will make a variety of choices and safe options available to older people as they age.
There are two slots left to complete the rota, my own and Senator Seery Kearney's. That will bring us up to 4.57 p.m., ahead of our 5 o'clock meeting with the approved housing bodies. You might have three minutes, Deputy Gould. I will try to squeeze you in if I can between Senator Seery Kearney and me, but I remind Members that we will have the organisations housing older people before us at 5 p.m.
The point Deputy Ó Broin made about the changes to the fair deal scheme is interesting. There are the financial changes, but some of the reasons people are put off by or resistant to it are emotional, some are about their connections to their home and some are about not yet being ready to think about that home as not being the family home. Some of the reasons are logistical and relate to the practicalities of renting the home, dealing with the tax return and all those issues. Deputy Ó Broin makes a valid point that while the changes to the fair deal scheme are crucial, local authorities could play a role in trying to support the transition or the administration around it. They could do that in a way that supports that delivery.
The financial contribution scheme I spoke about earlier is another one of the factors many people raise with me. People come to me with houses worth €300,000 and tell me they want to participate in the local authority financial contribution scheme, whereby they give 40% of the value of the house to the council and then move into a one-bedroom home that they might have to wait some time for. I often say to them that that is €120,000 they will have to give to the local authority and that they might be better buying an apartment on the open market and not giving that €120,000 to the council. Often the main reason they say they want to go down the route of the financial contribution scheme is that they do not want to have to engage with a solicitor or an auctioneer and do not want to put the house up for sale. We should consider that. The benefit of the financial contribution scheme is not just the financial element of it or the access to great public housing that is our senior citizen schemes; it is also the transition and the process of the transition. For both those schemes, I would like the Department to consider the management of the hassle, if I may put it in those terms, and how we can make them simpler.
We talk about the huge demand for senior citizen schemes when they arise. When communities see them being built, there is lots of interest and they ask whether they are eligible. Many people are not eligible for senior citizen accommodation. I was joking with Deputy Ó Broin earlier about age criteria. Many people are really surprised to learn that they qualify. Others do not qualify or their financial circumstances put them beyond the eligibility criteria. It is amazing that the market has not responded by providing senior citizen accommodation similar to that provided by local authorities in respect of both density and owner occupation. I am taken aback that the market has not provided those types of schemes whereby they may get more density and more numbers and may make more profit. They may be more viable, yet the market has not responded. Has the Department examined the reasons the market has not responded? We see in other countries that there is more senior citizen-type accommodation or accommodation marketed as senior citizen accommodation. It may look very similar to an apartment complex but it is marketed as a senior citizen complex or there might be covenants that make it such a complex. Has the Department looked at why the Irish market has not responded in the way other countries have by providing for owners who want to sell in order to downsize and why it has not provided those types of sheltered communities that could be sold?
Ms Caroline Timmons:
As part of the work on Housing Options for Our Ageing Population, through the four subgroups we did a lot of research and looked at the benefits of older people's housing and supported housing. That was one of the papers done by the Housing Agency. It was very clear that there is a real benefit to bringing forward supported housing. It could be seen that there was a clear need for it. Why is it not coming through? That is hard to answer in some ways. In some cases it is expensive to provide. Housing supports are expensive to provide, and one will need a provider to come in. Developers will not necessarily know how to do that, but we see some developments come through now on the private side that are specifically designated for older people and advertised as such. There is not necessarily a support element involved because not all older people will need that, but it may be appropriate to their needs in respect of the facilities provided. I am interested in that and it is coming through. With the age-friendly homes website we have provided all the resources to developers to look at what they need to do to make developments age-friendly. That has been really useful to them over the past year. Also, the designation of age-friendly technical people in the local authorities to whom they can talk about how to make developments age-friendly has been really useful to them. That will perhaps stimulate some more development on the private side.
In respect of the point about age criteria, the Vice Chairman is right. Many people are surprised to find that they qualify as needing age-friendly housing. Some people put that point at over 55. I do not necessarily agree, but it is certainly something we need to plan for a lot earlier. I agree with the Vice Chairman that we need to do that.
We consider the financial contribution scheme as part of the right-sizing policy we are bringing forward. It is a matter of considering how we manage that and provide solutions that are options to come into social housing but also what the barriers to people downsizing are. We looked at that as part of the ideas research we did in our Department on what would incentivise people to right-size. People identified the hassle and solicitors' fees. They want not necessarily someone who will guide them through the process but something like that, that is, someone who will help them to make the move. Sometimes that person is lacking in their family. We might consider that as part of our overall response to the right-sizing policy and what we can do on that front.
As for the fair deal scheme, I will hand over to Ms Comer.
Ms Catherine Comer:
To reiterate, the reform of the fair deal scheme is about reducing disincentives. The scheme will remain voluntary and is about providing choice.
In line with what Ms Timmons was saying, we have been interacting with Age Friendly Ireland in regard to providing options and helping with that signposting we mentioned earlier. It is very keen to get involved and that will be a key part for us. We are working with the Department of Health to ensure it will be in place.
On the point about the private market, the supports are, of course, important but in many local authority places, there will be a liaison officer and, perhaps, a community room, and that might be the extent of the supports. What is more attractive is the size of the unit and the collective nature of it. There is an area in my locality known as Wadelei, which was privately built in the 1950s, and maisonettes were built as part of the offering. In several parts of that estate, people have moved from three-bedroom houses to the maisonette on their road, and may even have sold the house to a family member who took the larger property. They moved because the stock was available. I believe the private market has missed a trick and, therefore, it is up to us to try to respond to that. Those types of houses marketed to senior citizens that are purely for a private transaction, whereby the financial resources are there from selling the private family home, are something Ireland does not do, unlike other countries, and I think we are missing a trick in that regard.
I will probably repeat much of what the Vice Chairman said, so I apologise in advance. I will watch the video recording of the meeting later because I am sure much of what I had intended to say has been covered.
A proposed development in my home constituency, Dublin South-Central, arose recently and is currently at the pre-planning phase. It is in the order of about 300 apartments in an area full of three- and four-bedroom houses and of people from a generation who would happily downsize or right-size if they had somewhere to go. When I met residents' associations to discuss this proposal for a major development in the area, they were in support of housing but the problem was the development related only to build-to-rent. The build-to-rent aspect is off-putting for people who have had a lifetime of owning their own homes, whereby there is a precariousness about it. It seems to be a cultural barrier such that if someone has worked hard and has a home, selling it and moving into a build-to-rent, perhaps without qualifying for the criteria that may be inherent in that, is a problem. The local community's attitude is such that were the development to go ahead, at least a certain proportion of the homes needed to be able to be bought in order that they would be incentivised to move. As the Vice Chairman said, sufficient housing stock is not available. People want to stay in the communities in which they have been all their lives, where there may be familiar faces in the church or the post office. They want to stay in those areas but they are not necessarily able to do so because the housing stock is not sufficient.
This brings me to the recent newspaper article in which the Dublin city manager was quoted as having criticised the proliferation of build-to-rent in Dublin city and the destabilising nature that may have on the community and on the sense of the surroundings of the community and familiar faces for a long time. That is my observation and I would welcome our guests' comments on how we can overcome that and ensure people will have housing stock in a given area. Would it involve forced planning decisions whereby there would have to be criteria, such as specific numbers and a ratio? Is there a sufficient level of home care and other supports to keep people in their homes, since that is their overwhelming desire to stay in their homes and their communities?
Again, I apologise if these questions have been answered.
Ms Caroline Timmons:
Of course, we are happy to see apartments coming through for build-to-rent, but we need to incentivise the building of apartments for sale as well. Today, we launched Croí Cónaithe cities scheme, which involves €450 million to incentivise exactly that, namely, apartments for sale to owner-occupiers and not for rent. The difficulty is that the only financial model that makes sense for developers at the moment is build-to-rent. That is the only way units can be built at the cost it takes to develop. We need to address the cost of development, bridge that gap for the viability of those developments and ensure they will be available for the very people the Senator mentioned, namely, those who want to right-size or downsize into an apartment. We are absolutely, 100% bringing that through and we are looking at a target of about 5,000 apartments over the coming years. That is very much at the top of our agenda at the moment.
I might ask the representatives from the Department of Health to address the availability of home care in this context.
Ms Siobhán McArdle:
I am happy to take that question. Home support, or supporting people to live safely and independently in their home where they have additional care needs, is a key policy in the programme for Government. The HSE is getting an investment in the current year of €670 million to provide home support services. Compared with what has been provided over the past four years, that is a very significant increase, in excess of €250 million. This year, we have provided an additional 2.9 million hours of home support, which means that throughout the country, people who are assessed as needing additional care, whether for assistance with daily living, self-care, mobilising out of bed, washing, dressing and so on, are assessed on a standardised care assessment and are prioritised for those home support hours. They support individuals, families and communities to help individuals to remain safely in their home.
The Department of Health is implementing change to, and reform of, the home support system. This will introduce regulation and standards into the area of home supports in order that we can be assured throughout the country that people who have been assessed as needing home support will access an equally high standard and safe levels of care. That will involve licensing of our home support providers and work is ongoing in that regard.
Furthermore, standardisation is happening throughout the country in order that all providers of home support and our healthcare systems will use similar assessment tools and care banding. This will ensure that regardless of whether it is in Cork, Dublin or Galway, persons with the same type of clinical need will access equitable levels of home support. It is a growing area and the investment has been considerable over recent years. At one point at the start of 2020, many people were awaiting home support because the funding was not in place. The addition of considerable funding over recent years has meant that is no longer a barrier and waiting times have reduced, but we are aware some families and individuals in the community are still waiting for a number of weeks for their home support because we, the HSE and other providers are trying to catch up in our services to recruit sufficient numbers of home support workers to meet that increased demand.
Ms Siobhán McArdle:
There certainly is and that is recognised, given there has been considerable financial investment into the area of home support. We are now working to attract people into home support by putting in place regulations and standards, and we are also working on the strategy. The Department of Health has developed a strategic workforce group, which, along with key stakeholders throughout government and society, looks at the area of staffing and how we can attract and maintain staffing. It is important for older people that their home support worker will not change from day to day and week to week. We want people to stay and develop their skills in that area.
There are some excellent complexes for older people in my constituency, Cork North-Central. One of them, in Knocknaheeney, is a beautiful place, with excellent wraparound services, and the people who live there, in the heart of the community, love it. They come from within the community. The problem is there are not enough of these places. More of them should be rolled out, and the disappointing point I have taken from this meeting is that not enough funding or resources are going into their delivery. Cork City Council has done some excellent work on such projects.
However, it is about the amount of money and staffing resources needed to bring these complexes to fruition. We have some excellent ones but we do not have enough of them.
I am conscious my time is limited. I am being contacted by people who are being affected by long-term equity loans they took out on their homes during the middle of the Celtic tiger period. The problem is they cannot access the fair deal scheme because the HSE will not engage with the people who hold the equity loans on their properties. Have the Department officials looked at this issue? Is there a solution because people who need to go into nursing homes and need access to the fair deal scheme are being blocked out because of the rules around equity loans.
Ms Fiona Larthwell:
I can answer that question quite quickly. This is not an issue we are particularly aware of. It is really important that people who have been assessed as needing residential care get access to that care. If the Deputy would like, we will certainly raise and discuss that matter with the HSE.
I welcome our witnesses to the second session. From Age Action, we have Ms Mary Murphy, Dr. Nat O'Connor and Ms Celine Clarke, who are attending via Microsoft Teams, from Alone, we have Mr. Seán Moynihan and from the Sue Ryder Foundation, we have Mr. Gavin Reid. They are all very welcome and we appreciate their input. This is part of a process where the committee is examining this issue of the supply of housing for older people. We will issue a recommendation via a report and thus the organisations' insights are very welcome indeed.
I must repeat part of the privilege warning for our new witnesses. They are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contribution to today's meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. There are some limitations to parliamentary privilege for witnesses attending via Microsoft Teams from outside the Leinster House complex. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as does a person who is physically present within the complex.
Witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy. It is my duty as Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with such direction. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Time is against us. We will move to our opening statements. Our guests have five minutes. I may cut them off but they have been supplied to the committee. I do that so that we can have the best interaction during questions. I will start with Ms Mary Murphy of Age Action.
Ms Mary Murphy:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak about some of the housing issues affecting older persons. In my remarks, I will build on the submission Age Action made to the committee in March this year. Age Action is Ireland’s leading advocacy organisation on ageing and older people. We advocate for a society that enables all older people to participate and to live full, independent lives.
There are over 1 million people in Ireland aged 60 years or older, representing more than a quarter of all adults. The number of people aged 80 or older will rise from over 170,000 people today to over 340,000 people by 2035. This is a success story but when it comes to something like unmet housing needs, the scale of the challenge needs to be matched by the scale of the response. Four in five older persons own their own home. Because of this, many people assume older persons do not experience housing problems. I will now mention five areas of unmet housing need. Then I will address the proposed changes to the fair deal scheme.
First and foremost, older persons want to age in place and to grow old in the communities where they have built their lives. Barriers prevent many people from ageing at home. These include lack of physical accessibility around the home, lack of transport especially if people lose the ability to drive, and problems securing home care support. A third of people aged 65 years or older have a disability or serious impairment. Local authority grants help with things like grab rails or ramps, but there are not enough to meet the needs of all older persons. Although many older persons will have funded home modifications themselves, Age Action estimates that up to 56,000 households still have unmet home accessibility needs.
A second concern is that older persons who want to rightsize cannot access bridging loans. We have spoken to people who own their home outright and want to sell it to buy a cheaper home better suited to their needs but they cannot get a loan because mainstream banks look only at their income, not the value of their assets.
The third problem also relates to rightsizing. There is often a lack of suitable alternative housing in the communities where people have built their lives. While some older persons might like a smaller home, they do not want to give up all their social connections. Planning needs to ensure that more diverse housing types are available in every community.
Our fourth concern is that many older persons cannot afford home repairs or insulation. Older persons tend to live in older homes. Out of roughly 500,000 homes in Ireland that have a building energy rating, BER, of E, F or G, at least 300,000 are likely to be occupied by older persons. Only a third of older persons receive fuel allowance and the two thirds who are not eligible are also not eligible for the free upgrade under the national retrofit scheme. CSO surveys indicate that half of older persons have cash savings of less than €5,800. Most older persons cannot afford to make major investments in their homes, even with the other retrofit partial subsidies.
The fifth issue is the affordability of housing which is a growing concern for older persons. In 2019, 9,370 mortgage accounts held by people aged 60 years or older were in arrears with the majority in deep arrears. This means they were 720 days or more behind in payments. In future, more people will reach their 70s still paying off a mortgage. Some 2.4% of older persons rent in the private sector. Many have no idea how they will afford their housing once they stop working in their 70s. Social housing tenants also pay rent, which can be a significant proportion of their weekly income.
Finally, since January 2022, we have received more than 200 calls about the nursing home support scheme or fair deal scheme. The recent announcement that people will be permitted to keep 60% of rental income under the scheme improves on the 20% under the old rules, but why not 100%? Very few people rent out their homes under the current scheme. There is no incentive. The HSE is not gaining income through this and will not lose any if people kept 100% of their rental income. That would maximise the incentive to free up housing that might otherwise be left vacant for the years that a person spends in a nursing home.
That said, we have other concerns about this proposal. The older person must have choice and control throughout the process and a package of safeguards is needed. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 needs to be implemented in full, including for the new decision support service to be fully operational. Anyone with impaired decision-making capacities needs to be assisted with making a decision about renting out their home rather than having someone else make it instead. We also need safeguards to prevent abuse, such as family members or others pushing an older person to rent out their home, or pocketing the rental income. In the 30-month period from 1 January 2019 to the end of June 2021, Age Action’s information service received over 100 contacts about financial abuse of older persons.
Age Action’s core concern is for all older persons to have choice and control over where and how they live. Planning, housing standards and housing supports all play a huge role in determining older persons' quality of life. We would like to see housing and planning take a rights-based approach. We are happy to take questions from the committee.
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss housing for older people. ALONE supports older people to age at home. ALONE has supported more than 24,000 older people in the last two years. On average 20.5% of the people we support have housing issues. By 2031, around 20% of households will contain people over the age of 65. This, coupled with declining home ownership rates, means we need to increase the focus and range of housing options and choices for older people.
So what do the older people want? They tell us that they are united in wanting to age at home in their communities for as long as possible; that they want to live safely and securely in their communities; and that if they have health difficulties, they want to receive care in their own community. We welcome enhanced community care projects that work towards meeting that need. The other needs and wants depend on every older person’s individual preference, health and home ownership situation.
The current model of housing provision that we are relying on, the private sector rental model, will not fully serve the community or the needs of older people. If you are renting, there are more barriers and fewer choices available. If we continue to rely on the model as it stands today, with greater numbers renting into older age, we will see a dramatic increase in the number of homeless older people and the support needs among this age group. It is not the landlords' responsibility, nor is it within their capabilities, to provide the support and security needed by this age group.
According to census 2016, 2.4% of people aged 65 and over, and almost 10% of people aged between 50 and 54, are renting from a private landlord and we anticipate this to grow further in the next census. Cost rental models will help as will the new pension provision but not on the scale or within the timeframe needed.
ALONE’s Housing Choices for Older People in Ireland report projects that a range of housing options and demand are needed over the next ten years. We welcome the work that has been done so far under Housing for All and the joint policy statement by the Departments of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Health, Housing Options for Our Ageing Population. The three sectors - private, voluntary and State - contributed to the joint policy statement, which was warmly welcomed as a significant step forward in housing policy for older people. However, just one report from the implementation group for this policy statement is currently available publicly online, and this is dated from 2019. We would ask that these reports are updated regularly and that the sectors that supported the development of the plan are involved in its implementation. Implementation of this report will go a long way to resolving some of the challenges facing older people. Without these reports and the meeting of these specific targets, ALONE is concerned that the issue of housing provision for older people could fall off the agenda and prevent all sectors from making further progress in this area. Therefore, ALONE recommends that the first priority of the joint committee is to ensure the 2019 joint policy statement and implementation plans be fully reviewed, updated and released publicly on a regular basis, and to ensure all outstanding actions aim to be completed by the end of 2022 where possible.
ALONE is happy to work with the relevant bodies to identify gaps and blocks and support delivery however we can. In addition to the actions outlined in the joint policy statement, ALONE believes we need to take a range of actions to meet the needs of our ageing demographic and to strengthen our communities. The housing stock that older people occupy is often in need of extensive work. Anyone who has purchased a house from probate will see this. While the housing adaptation grant application process has been streamlined to some extent, the grant requires significantly more funding.
Our research indicates that annual funding of €84.5 million would be required for older people alone. Also, 95% of the work is covered by the grant. Those on low incomes find it extremely difficult to pay the 5% where extensive works are required, as well as the additional costs involved in the application. ALONE recommends that funding for the housing adaptation grant be set at €84.5 million for older people to meet the demand and that, for individuals reliant on State transfers, the grant cover 100% of the cost of the work.
We need to increase the numbers of local authority, approved housing body, AHB, or other subsidised accommodation. The sustainability of homes on reduced post-retirement incomes is a concern. The current private rental model does not serve the vast majority of people after they retire. At ALONE, we see this already. We must adjust our system accordingly to ensure appropriate protections for tenants in the private rental sector, including long-term leasing. Measures such as cost rental schemes, as outlined in Housing for All, must be prioritised and delivered at scale.
The quarter 4 progress report on the implementation of Housing for All indicates that just 65 cost-rental homes had been tenanted by the date of publication. Long-term leases and cost rental must be prioritised and delivered on a greater scale, and other measures to protect older tenants must be introduced.
We need to continue to create the conversation, safeguards and incentives that allow older people to rightsize. Rightsized one- and two-bedroom units must be delivered within existing communities so older people can avail of family and community supports as well as enhancing their quality of life. These should be brownfield sites to help to rejuvenate our towns and villages where services and communities already exist. The demand from older people is nearly 60,000 homes. The proposal would release family homes back into the housing stock. The provision of rightsized modern housing will release homes to younger buyers almost instantly. The way these conversations have been approached in the past may not have helped this debate.
Mr. Gavin Reid:
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity.
The Sue Ryder Foundation is an AHB that has been in Ireland since 1979. What makes it slightly different from many AHBs is that it caters for the elderly with supports. We provide housing in our six schemes: Ballyroan, Kilminchy, Dalkey, Holycross, Carlow and Nenagh. Apart from housing, the key supports we offer include a four-course lunch with choice; a laundry service; the cleaning of apartments or bungalows; maintenance; social and recreational facilities, gardens, exercise rooms, TV rooms, libraries and oratories or prayer rooms; and staff on site to support our residents, coupled with an emergency response system.
Our experience is that people live longer and healthier lives as a result of the additional supports we provide. GP and hospital visits are reduced, loneliness and stress are removed, and people live in a safe and secure community. The challenges for this type of housing are not really recognised or understood in the State. Where we have schemes, our private lists illustrate a clear demand. For example, we have over 300 people on our private list in Dalkey. It rarely falls below that number. Our hope is for a greater focus on housing with supports for our elderly citizens, with a dedicated subclass in housing with adequate funding.
I thank Mr. Reid. We have 35 minutes remaining and seven groupings so I propose slots of five minutes each per group. It is likely that one or two groups will not be represented, and that is why I will allow a second round. People can decide themselves how to spend their five minutes, giving witnesses time to answer. Deputy Flaherty will take the first five minutes.
I thank all the speakers for attending. As I said to the departmental representatives, this discussion is very timely. If anything, legislators are behind the ball in respect of the work officials have done heretofore and that is being done by the delegates. It is not said enough that there is a crisis concerning housing for the elderly. That is probably because we do not have many 70- and 80-year-old journalists. It just does not tickle the fancy of the media. However, this is a massive issue and we can see its effect. As we told the Department, if you want to know whether there is a loneliness and housing crisis for the elderly, you should knock on an elderly person's door. If someone is willing to talk to a politician for 40 minutes, you know he or she must be lonely. The politician is the only person he or she will have seen. For a while, I thought I was going to be a very popular politician and then I realised there was actually a loneliness crisis. It goes to show we have not given this due attention. That is why today's presentations are very important. I commend the guests on the significant work they are doing.
The ALONE submission referred to 60,000 homes. How has it arrived at that figure? Is it based on departmental figures or its own research? Has it got a geographical breakdown of the figures?
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
In the submission to the committee, we provided a link to a housing research report that backs up the numbers, which are based on CSO data. For us, rightsizing creates an opportunity for us all. It is all about choices for older people. Around 15% of older people said they would rightsize if choices were available close to them in their community so they could maintain a relationship with friends, family and the services they use. Up to now, the conversation has sometimes made older people feel as if others wanted access to their homes rather than focusing on giving them a positive choice in old age.
There is a sea change among older people in that they are now finding it too expensive to keep larger houses. They want to rightsize but it is a question of how we go about it.
This brings me on to the Sue Ryder Foundation, which is doing incredible work. I misheard Mr. Reid when he was giving his opening statement in that I thought he said "archery or prayer room". I thought that was an eclectic offer so I had to check what was said. He actually stated "oratories or prayer rooms".
Good. The model that the Sue Ryder Foundation is offering is particularly interesting. We are unfortunate in many parts of the country because we are not familiar with the work it is doing. Will Mr. Reid expand on the private list he referred to? How does it work? Is the foundation unique in offering a service to both the private community and local authorities? Could Mr. Reid expand on the working model?
Mr. Gavin Reid:
I referred to the private list in Dalkey because that scheme is out of mortgage. We still work at the local authority even though we have no real obligation to do so now. That is predominantly private. I referred to the number of people on the list. We do not focus very well on this type of housing. Once it is built and people know it exists, the lists grow. We often feel that local authorities go back to the housing lists. Local authorities will not have elderly people on housing lists. As Mr. Moynihan mentioned, there will be people for whom bigger houses are unsuitable and do not work, but they do not really see the downsizing option. Does that answer the Deputy's question?
It does, yes. It relates to the point I was making to Mr. Moynihan initially on the source of information. Mr. Reid obviously gleaned the information on the number living alone from the CSO. We need detailed work to drill into the statistics, reach out to people and determine what exactly they want to do. The Department officials, when they were before us earlier, told us this is part of the process they are to engage in.
While we have a housing crisis and this is very much part of the challenge, there is a great opportunity for us to get this right. Our population is getting older and there are challenges with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. We want more people living in their own homes and communities such as those facilitated by the Sue Ryder Foundation. I thank the delegates for the work they are doing. We need to be more responsive to what they are bringing to us. I put my hand up and say we have not been to date.
Mr. Gavin Reid:
We need to create more awareness. I had a look at the rightsizing studies. My own mother said I was trying to take her house. Without showing people the alternatives, they fear we are trying to take their home to give it to somebody else. We need to get over that barrier. People need to understand what is available.
I have a few questions, the first being for Ms Murphy. On the safeguards we are discussing, my first question is on the reduction from 80% to 40% in respect of the fair deal scheme. Ms Murphy made the point the rate should be 0% because there is no income coming in at the moment. There is no loss to the Exchequer. The hope is that more people would be encouraged to rent out their properties. Could Ms Murphy expand on that? Could the delegates expand on their concerns over putting safeguards in place to allay the fears of older people who get involved?
Ms Mary Murphy:
Absolutely. I suppose the major concern for Age Action Ireland would be that undue pressure would be placed on older persons by family members or other interested parties into putting their homes on the market when they themselves are unwilling or not ready to do so or may simply lack the capacity to make a decision like that. We believe that if they are being incentivised to do so as part of the fair deal scheme, that needs to be matched by thorough safeguarding measures which may be adequately delivered through the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act once that is brought into effect. We would see the solution coming from the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act.
I have another question which I posed earlier to the departmental officials. I am not sure who might wish to answer it. I have been contacted by people who took out equity loans on their homes during the Celtic tiger era and now, when they need to avail of the fair deal scheme because the equity loan is in place, that person cannot avail of the fair deal scheme. Is this something any of the witnesses have come across or is it a new phenomenon? When those people borrowed that money, they were much younger and now they are getting to the age where they need the fair deal scheme.
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
I have not come across it, but I will research our information to see if other people have come across it and I might reply in writing.
The Deputy also asked about people renting out their homes after they go into a nursing home. In some ways, we feel there has been a large focus on it but it may not produce that much. There is considerable dispute over how many houses are available. It could be as low as 4,000 units, many of which are not in parts of the country where people want to rent. In addition, on average a person lives for 2.9 years in a nursing home. When someone goes into a nursing home, his or her possessions need to be stored. The house needs to comply with tenancy laws and meet health and safety standards. Authority may need to be handed over to a relative because it is probably not something a person can do within a nursing home. Considerable effort might go into this scheme and produce very little. In addition, we hear stories that many of these houses are full of children, grandchildren and other relatives. It has been suggested that we might get a significant amount of housing but I do not think so because when people unfortunately die, that housing comes back into the stock of available housing anyway.
I accept what Mr. Moynihan has said. Where I live on Cathedral Road in Cork, there are three beautiful homes within 100 yd. It would be possible to go in and hang up a coat. The people who own those houses are in nursing homes and will never come out. It is a sin. The person in the nursing home is not getting any benefit from their home. The lights are set to come on at 8 p.m. and they are on for four hours. The heating comes on for a couple of hours. At the same time, we have families who are homeless. No one is benefiting.
Further to the point Ms Murphy made earlier, to try to get these houses into play the Government needs to think outside the box. Mr. Moynihan made a point about the fear factor of people trying to take their homes. I hear that from people in Cork. What Mr. Reid of the Sue Ryder Foundation described is what we would love to see rolled out. We have a very popular scheme where I come from called the Solas Apartments. It is a brilliant scheme. We could fill it ten times over, but the problem is there are not enough of them.
In Barrett's Buildings, Roche's Buildings and Madden's Buildings in Cork, there are smaller properties of one-bedroom. At the time, 20 or 30 years ago, they were probably brilliant because older people were all put together. There are no services with them. We are dropping elderly people, many of them with health issues or disabilities, into old houses that have not been retrofitted or anything and they are left there. Instead, we need to get to what Mr. Reid is proposing.
I agree with much of what Deputy Gould said. I begin by complimenting the Sue Ryder Foundation on everything it is doing to provide practical support and day-to-day assistance. As Deputy Flaherty mentioned, combating social isolation is really important. The previous discussion dealt with the point I was going to make relating to rental income from houses belonging to those availing of the fair deal scheme. I know we have heard from Age Action Ireland the perspective that at the moment nothing is being taken by the Exchequer on this and homes are instead lying idle. Should we look at 100% going to the person whose home it is?
We have heard a very different perspective from Alone. Obviously, the representatives of Age Action Ireland are also talking about safeguards, which I fully agree need to be in place. Mr. Moynihan from Alone raised other concerns, including concerns he has raised directly with me prior to this meeting, not just about safeguarding but also about the additional expenditure incurred for solicitors, auctioneers or estate agents. There is also the issue of security of tenure. Up to 50% of houses would need to be upgraded to meet the current standards and regulations in order to bring them back to supply, a matter we discussed in the first session today.
Even if the figure is as low as 4,000 units, those are 4,000 families we could help by unlocking these homes. I would be on the side of what the representatives of Age Action Ireland said about increasing that figure as much as possible so that the rental income is being seen by the person in care. I know the proposed 40% rate is not quite there, but it is a doubling of what is currently available and a step worth taking. I would be interested in hearing the two different perspectives. I know they both come from the same place, which is safeguarding older people and helping to resolve the housing crisis. I would like to hear those different perspectives from Alone and Age Action Ireland, elaborating on the pros and cons of homes of people in the fair deal scheme.
Dr. Nat O'Connor:
The key issue is choice and control for the older person. Just because someone is in a nursing home, it does not mean that person cannot or does not want to manage his or her financial affairs. That should be front and centre. Even if someone loses some capacity, in order to be able to make those decisions, he or she needs the decision-making service under the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act to be fully operational, which is not yet the case.
We are introducing a new statutory home care scheme and we are waiting to see details of that. We know most people want to age in place; that is in the programme for Government. People want to stay in their homes. This new scheme may unlock properties this year, but in five years' time, all going well, many more people will be staying at home longer and therefore their stay in a nursing home will be later in life when they have a higher degree of needs. Therefore, the tenancies that could be achieved from those houses will be shorter. I quite agree that, for the time that is in it, if we could free up 4,000 dwellings, that would make sense. However, the older person must have control over the process, which is why we need that wraparound of the safeguarding so that his or her wishes are adhered to at all times.
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
I do not think there is much between our view and that of Age Action Ireland. It is more a difference of emphasis. Safeguarding is very important. We are concerned at the excessive focus on this. We might say it is 4,000 units, but the reality is that if somebody rents something out and unfortunately the individual in the nursing home dies, the chances are that the property will be sold and somebody will move up. There are obviously examples in every community where houses are lying idle, but given the amount of support and protection the older person needs, the amount of costs that somebody is going to have to come up with and the length of time that people moving in might get, would we be better off shifting the emphasis and energy away from this and providing housing choices for older people, such as rightsizing and providing housing with on-site supports for older people? That would free up housing on a much bigger scale for families and provide much more long-term options. We might put in a lot of effort and produce very short-term gains for the people who move in. There is not much difference between us; it is just a difference of emphasis.
I thank all the witnesses.
We have read the submissions that were submitted in advance of the meeting, which were helpful. We are focusing in particular on supporting and responding to the complex housing needs of older citizens. We are all going in that direction. I am not there quite yet but I am always looking around for places I particularly like. That tees me up to talk about the Sue Ryder Foundation. I am familiar with its facility in County Laois and I know there are other such facilities in counties Tipperary and Carlow. I am particularly familiar with the facility in Dalkey, which is, to say the least, a fantastic site. It is a brilliant place for anyone to live. It is by the coast. Its site is what makes it so special. The siting of these locations is very important because they are, effectively, sheltered villages. Dalkey is a particularly nice place, as our guests know. It is served by many restaurants and pubs, a library, doctors and two or three churches. It has everything, including public transport. People do not need a car to live there, even if they are not living in sheltered accommodation. The Sue Ryder Foundation facility in Dalkey is a community within a community. It is double-wrapped in community. Mr. Reid will know that many people seek to go to that facility.
Someone spoke earlier about ageing in place. Ageing in place does not necessarily means ageing in the same building and the same fabric. People like to age in the same community. That is a subtle difference and sometimes we lose sight of that. Many people in their 60s, who are not very old, find that their children have moved on and their circumstances have changed. They realise they have a lot of capital tied up in bricks and mortar and could have a better quality of life by releasing some of that equity.
The Sue Ryder Foundation model is wonderful. However, having said that, I am aware of some difficulties that do not specifically apply to the facility in Dalkey. I want to be clear about that. Mr. Reid or another of our guests might tell us the costs involved. This is not a cheap housing option. I am not saying that all housing should be cheap but it is quite an expensive option for some people. I would like to hear more detail on the way that is costed. I would also like to know more about how people are selected for this support housing, because that is what it is. Meals, laundry, cleaning services, maintenance, gardening and interactive activities are provided. There is a cost to that. Clearly when there is cost and demand, there needs to be a mechanism for prioritisation. Those who are most in need should be prioritised and not the people with the biggest wallet, purse or mouth. I do not say that disrespectfully. I want to be clear about the people who have the most important need. I would have thought that people who have no homes are more important than people who may be leaving a home to move to another home. That is not a luxury we all have. I understand that people do not want to live in isolation and do not want to be lonely. Many of the people elderly people know may be gone.
I am interested in the bigger picture of the policy and how we are going to proceed as a committee. What do our guests say about all of that? What do they recommend? Bearing in mind our time constraints, perhaps each of our guests would give us a strong line about what they would like us to do in terms of policy.
Mr. Gavin Reid:
The Senator asked about need. We have six schemes, as the Senator will be aware. Dalkey is unique because most of the residents in Dalkey would be downsizing. In other schemes, most people are from local authority housing lists. Each scheme has an allocations committee that assesses the need in conjunction with our obligations under our mortgage agreements. It differs from scheme to scheme, but it would be determined by our mortgage arrangements.
As I said, Dalkey is unique. It is out of mortgage and much of it was built using our private funds so, therefore, we run a private list. An allocations committee assesses the need before an offer is made.
In terms of pricing, I believe the Senator may have been referring to the prices we charge our residents.
Mr. Gavin Reid:
That is per unit. A two-bed averages approximately €250 per week. A one-bed costs €180 per week. Residents can avail of a payment under the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, of €55 towards that. I would like to see suitably funded elderly housing as its own subclass. We charge approximately €9,000 per annum per unit. It costs us approximately €14,000 to keep a resident. We subsidise that amount through our retail shops, as committee members can see in our submission. Those sales are collapsing.
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
The Senator asked what policies we would like to see. Housing and support go together for older people in many cases. We need housing with on-site support. We would like to see within health and housing policy, and the Housing for All plan, a demonstrator site that involves building 24-7 on-site support. In Ireland, one either ages at home or in a nursing home. In the middle of those two options is housing with on-site support as a positive choice when people may be facing other reasons they cannot age at home. At the moment, the policies of both Departments mean it is hard to get a funding model. The Senator asked about housing. The policy we would most like to see is a commitment to housing with support under that joint policy statement and a funding model for it. Whether the answer is accommodation provided by the Sue Ryder Foundation and a loan, private suppliers or another approved housing body, we must ensure there is an ability to build housing with on-site support as an alternative to nursing homes for those who cannot stay in their current location.
Dr. Nat O'Connor:
Overall, we would like to see a strategic approach. As a society, we are not ready to meet all of the unmet housing needs for older persons, given the pace at which the numbers of older persons are growing. Ms Murphy earlier mentioned many things with regard to unmet needs and there are two additional things to consider. Many of the calls we get about the fair deal scheme are from people who are uncertain about how it works. There is a lot of worry and concern in that regard. Some people are not making applications under the scheme and are instead taking out credit union loans because they are afraid of the scheme. There is a need to explain the fair deal scheme to people and reassure them about what is happening. That is even more the case now as we change the rental rules.
Another thing to consider is the local authority assessment of housing need that happens under the Housing Act. At the moment, there is a narrow examination of how many social housing units will be needed. That could be broadened out to consider the full range of housing needs, including the supports people will need to stay in their homes or the needs people might have to right-size and so on. A wider definition there, and a wider duty for the local authority, might help, on an area-by-area basis, to identify the needs of older persons and their desire, as the Senator said, to age in their communities and not just be ignored because they are currently in a house. Just because a person is in a house does not mean he or she does not have many unmet housing needs.
A lot of good points have been made that emphasise the variety of issues that are involved. I would welcome the views of any of our guests as to whether a dedicated zoning for affordable housing that includes housing for older people or specific zoning for housing for older people would be a way of ensuring that more land and sites are available.
Some very good points have been made about the hope that people will be in nursing homes for a much shorter time because they are supported better to stay in their homes for longer. If we have a choice between getting long-term vacant homes back into use or short-term vacant homes, it would be better to pick long-term vacant homes. We could make less out of short-term vacant homes. There is probably political consensus on trying to achieve both.
I will ask Age Action Ireland about issues around people being pressurised by the fair deal scheme and the safeguards required in that regard. The representatives referred to the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act and that the provisions there are part of the safeguards. What about people who are not covered under that Act and who are not be defined as a relevant person under the Act? Let us take, for example, the case of a person who may well be capable of making their own decisions but who could also be subject to pressure from family members. As people get older, sometimes there are a lot of dependencies and interdependencies involved. Have our guests any ideas or views on the safeguards required for that cohort of people who may not be specifically covered by that Act? That is an area about which I have concerns.
I thank the Deputy. If any committee members would like to speak again, I ask them to indicate that to me while the answers to the Deputy's question are being given. I will allocate time accordingly.
Ms Celine Clarke:
The Deputy makes an important point. We have put together a package of safeguarding measures that we would like to see coming on stream.
One of those would be safeguarding legislation for adults who would fall outside of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. The other is a change to the coercive control legislation to include any crime within a relationship where there is a power. Currently, it is only within couples in intimate relationships. That is where one would see issues to do with pressure, for example, from a nephew, from a neighbour or from a community, for a person to leave his or her home.
The adult safeguarding HSE team annual report in 2022 had more than 600 reports of financial elder abuse, and that is what is reported. Organisations, such as Age Action Ireland and Sage Advocacy, believe that is well under reported in the issues that come to the fore. It is a very genuine concern.
Steps can be taken in the safeguarding packages, such as the assisted decision-making, ADM, adult safeguarding legislation and changes in coercive control, but a cultural shift is also required and an understanding that older people have their rights, regardless of their age and setting. We need to respect and understand, and root out ageism from our practice, society and attitudes.
Dr. Nat O'Connor:
If I could come in on the zoning question, we would look at planning rather than zoning in the sense that we would be wary of an idea that older persons should be segregated. In fact, if people want to stay in their own home, if we have universal design in modern homes that allows adaptation, for example, a downstairs loo and access for a wheelchair or mobility devices, people should be able to live in their communities. A planning requirement of a certain percentage of houses with universal design - we have that but they could be grown - and, likewise, a planning requirement for accommodation for older persons rather than necessarily separate zoning would be the way we would look at that.
On adult safeguarding legislation, former Senator, Colette Kelleher, introduced a Bill on and there was political consensus that this would be advanced. There are commitments in the programme for Government but we are still waiting on it. We need it in terms of a fair deal but we really need it in terms of many other areas as well. I would make the point as strongly as possible that this urgently needs to be moved on.
I will touch on two issues they might share with us. The first is their relationship with the local authorities. That is critically important. In some cases, local authorities co-fund or support the rents, depending on the circumstances. That is a good one.
I know quite a few people who have fallen out of social housing through no fault of their own in different circumstances and they have ended up coming back to charities looking for housing. This is the second, and sometimes the third, time they have sought support housing through no fault of their own. It is sad, but more common than one might think. They might touch on their relationships with the local authorities. I hope that is positive.
The second is this point about the universal design. I have walked into support housing in recent times that does not fit the criteria of universal design. While we can advertise universal design, I would be of the view that no State funding should be given to any new housing scheme that does not have going forward in its development plan universal design. One hears of cases anecdotally. An elderly woman said to me recently that her family said she had to leave because she cannot get upstairs and there is no downstairs toilet or wash room. That is easily resolved. The local authorities have funding for that, but this was more pressure that it was time the woman moved into a place. The woman felt pressurised and vulnerable and really did not have anywhere to go to. Those who tried to advocate for that elderly lady were told they were poking their nose in somewhere. It is a difficult situation.
The witnesses might talk about their relationships with their relevant local authority or authorities, and also this issue of universal design because that is the key. We should be able to walk into any home with any set of circumstances or any set of disabilities and be able to live there. We visit people and people with disabilities in different sets of circumstances. We are human after all. It is about people living in these places but also family and friends coming to engage with those people in those places. I would be interested in some comments on that.
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
On the universal design, the centre of universal design, under Dr. Ger Craddock, has done huge work and most people are supportive of that. They have done a lot of costings and, under Housing for All, a report is due soon. They are coming out with there being between 3% and 5% in extra cost per unit for universal design. I agree with the Senator that, ultimately, for future proofing and stopping us having to retrofit in the future, it makes more sense to put that investment in now.
On the local authority, between the local authorities and the HSE, the Department of Health and others, there is much common ground in the understanding of the issues that face older people around housing. The problem we have is probably agreed models, implementation and funding mechanisms so that if people need care and support, the question is: how do they tap into that? Obviously, the right to home care that is progressing at present and the quality standards in legislation will go some way towards that, but that can be the challenge because the same people who sometimes need support also need housing and maybe the supports that people need are beyond the statutory responsibility of the local authorities. That is why we would focus on that joint policy statement. That is where they intersect. That is where they have identified where those sections are. If we do not get implementation on those intersections, ultimately older people will fall between the different Departments.
Dr. Nat O'Connor:
I might just speak on the universal design aspect. The Senator hit the nail on the head. It is not about where people live; it is about them being able to visit their relatives and being able to get out and about and meet people. This is what we mean by a rights-based approach to housing and planning - that the older person or anybody who has a disability is the rights bearer and we should think in terms of removing any barriers to him or her living the same kind of life we all enjoy in terms of being able to go and visit anyone in any home. That is absolutely what we would like to see in terms of universal design. We have achieved great things in terms of recently-built housing, in terms of its BER rating of A, because of nearly zero energy building, NZEB, housing. We should be able to do the same with universal design and simply raising the bar in the quality standard.
I apologise to all our guests. I had to go out and do a "Drivetime" interview and the argument with Senator Cummins lasted longer than RTÉ expected.
I have one question. My colleague, Deputy Gould, and others raised earlier most of the issues I would have raised. I want to return to Mr. Moynihan's comment on the policy statement on Housing Options for Our Ageing Population and the fact that no implementation reports have been published since 2019. When the departmental officials were before us earlier, they extolled the successful implementation of almost all of the 40 actions. My question, to Mr. Moynihan and the other two organisations, is: from their experience on the ground - I acknowledge it has been difficult because we have had Covid and it is not necessarily a fair comparison from the Department's point of view - how much implementation of those 40 key actions that were in that important policy statement have they seen progressed and are there any that they would have a concern that are progressing less speedily than they should do that they would like us as a committee to raise with the Department or issues where there could be more progress than there has been?
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
The Deputy is correct that the pandemic has probably made it harder to know exactly what is going on and made it less transparent. It is an interesting model. The reality is many organisations, such as ours and Age Action Ireland, even in the private sector, and campaigning organisations would have put a great deal of effort into providing inputs into the development of that policy but when it goes to implementation it really goes back down in the public service and the statutory bodies. In the public service there are plenty of very fine individuals working on them but many people who may have created the thinking that led to the policy are not involved in the implementation. We have felt some of it on the ground, in fairness, but the point is we are not quite sure to what extent and how much national coverage there is of some of the actions. It is time to see an implementation report so that we can have that conversation.
I also believe the statutory bodies are full of fine people. There is a common understanding of what we want to do but there may not be a common understanding of how and when to do it.
We would welcome seeing that report so we could re-engage in the debate that led to the development of the policy in the first place.
Before Dr. O'Connor or others come in, I want to ask a further question. In other areas of housing policy with this Department, there is often a cross-sectoral group that oversees or reviews those implementation reports that would involve the local authorities, other Government agencies, NGOs, academics, etc. Would we benefit from something like that at this level, even on an annual or biannual basis? Those reports could be considered and discussed, and feedback could be given to the statutory bodies.
Mr. Seán Moynihan:
I think so. The reality is that there are things in that policy statement which go across two and three Departments, so it is not clear at which stage a Secretary General or assistant secretary general may not have the authority to cross a particular statutory line. The point is to provide housing and support. What is in those statements is that we need changes, some of which may require legislation or may need Government Departments to shift in their policy stances. Ultimately, it will have to go to the highest level. I would not be surprised if some of the actions within that policy statement are not implemented because they are stuck at a point at which there is a need to go higher, even for a statutory instrument, a change of law or because people do not have the authority to change the responsibilities of their Departments.
Ms Mary Murphy:
It would be great to see a review of the housing assistance for older people and for people with disability grants. This is something we have become invested in recently because the housing aid for older persons grant is one of the few ways for elderly individuals to get central heating systems installed in their homes by the State in a subsidised way, which would be crucial for a lot of those who still do not have central heating and who may be dependent on something like turf. In this way, their heating source might be jeopardised or restricted if certain Government measures are enacted soon.
Dr. Nat O'Connor:
On the general point, I agree with Mr. Moynihan on the need for cross-departmental work and a many of the schemes like the housing aid grant underpin that. We get the data on the number of people who apply for these schemes but it is up to people to apply. We do not know or have a good sense of what the level of housing need in the population is. The census only gets us so far; there is a need for more analysis of the overall housing needs of older persons and of all the costs associated with ageing. There needs to be a great deal more research done to bring together the three Departments to help drive policy forward.
I thank Deputy Ó Broin. Aon rud eile from Deputy Cian O'Callaghan? No. I will pick up on one point. The Department officials said that they are undertaking a review of the grants for the elderly and disabled. I am taking a leap of faith and assuming that neither Age Action nor any of the groups have been invited to make a submission or observations for that review.
The Department officials are listening in so hopefully they will reach out. It would be important to get their input into something like that. Access to bridging loans for people to right-size was mentioned. That is a problem, and it is hard to pinpoint it. One option is the local authority housing loan, which could be tweaked to enable people to downsize if they want to do so. Is that an obvious solution?
Dr. Nat O'Connor:
It is a good idea. Local authorities can do mortgage lending so there could be a tweak to that, as the Acting Chairman says. Someone may own a home which is an asset and which could be worth €300,000, €400,000 or €500,000. They may want something smaller that is, in theory, cheaper. They may also want to take their time to get the right house and when they see it they want to purchase it and it may take them three to six months to sell their house. That is the level of bridging involved and there can also be issues with mortgage financing as they will not lend to people over a certain age and so on. There is a real gap there where people need a product and the local authority could fit well in those instances.
On that point, the Housing Finance Agency was before the committee recently on a separate issue and it stated, albeit in the context of social and affordable cost rental, that it would be more than open to providing low- or no-cost bridging loans in that context. Given that it is the primary conduit of funding for the local authority loan you could even look at something which has a low cost or no cost in terms of the rate for such a bridging loan because it was talking about a loan of up to five years.
I thank all the witnesses for coming in. This has been an informative meeting. We need to listen to the witnesses more. They are doing valuable work. Hopefully the Department will invite them to feed into that review, particularly with regard to bridging finance. The Department has an opportunity there and we are being too rigid in the implementation of the local authority loans.