Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Housing Aid for the Elderly.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this matter, which is irritating. The Health Service Executive, western region, for some unexplained reason has not approved applications under the housing for the elderly scheme over the past two years. What is going on is an absolute disgrace. I do not know whether there is a problem at HSE level or whether the HSE is not getting sufficient money from the Government. I wish to place on record the standard letter which has been sent five times over the past two years to every constituent on behalf of whom I make representations:
I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 28 August 2006 on behalf of [a named person]... The Special Housing Aid for the Elderly Scheme has proven to be an extremely popular service over recent years and we have been able to assist many elderly people in essential maintenance work in their homes. Consequently, there is a year round significant demand for assistance for various works to be carried out. This inevitably places periodic pressures on our capacity to respond to each application, as we would normally wish. However, we are endeavouring to respond to all applicants as early as possible and therefore, we will be contacting [a named person] again, regarding her application.
Over two years, five such letters have been sent. What is the Government doing to the elderly? I have two copies of these letters, one of which was sent to a 79 year old woman. To expect a 79 year old to wait two years for a letter of approval is similar to asking a person aged 50 to wait ten or 20 years. If the Government and the HSE would like to scrap the scheme, they should come out and say so and should not leave hundreds of vulnerable people all over Ireland waiting for a reply regarding home improvements. If this is the best we can do as a caring society given the money at our disposal throughout the economy, we might as well pack up our camp and walk away.
Is it Government and HSE policy to scrap the scheme altogether? If so, the Minister of State should come out and say that and allow some other body, such as the local authority, to do something about it. However, the Government should not try this racket with so many vulnerable people. Is the Minister of State aware that this has been a wonderful scheme for many years under all Governments? No magic is involved. A few thousand euro is invested and supplemented by a few hundred euro by the elderly people themselves to carry out essential repairs. They can then live out the rest of their days in reasonable dignity where they want to live. For every €1 million euro invested in this scheme, people are being given the opportunity to stay at home and they do not have to move to nursing homes. Could there be anything more simple or straightforward than that? The HSE and the Government have ensured elderly people have been left in the dark over the past two years.
I hope, following this debate, that a fuse will be lit and that at least a small amount of decency will be shown. Those involved will say that as they are investing money, they need to see improvements in the next couple of months or they will pull out of the scheme altogether. The Government should at least let people know where they stand. If this is a yardstick by which we determine the attitude to the elderly in this country, God help them.
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking the reply on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank the Deputy for raising the question as it provides the Department with an opportunity to outline the current situation with regard to the housing aid for the elderly scheme. The scheme is administered by the Health Service Executive on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The primary aim of the scheme is to provide financial assistance to older people who reside alone and who, from their own resources, are not in a position to carry out urgent necessary repairs to their own homes. Basically, as the Deputy is aware, aid is made available for repairs to make a dwelling suitable for the older person by providing a warm, safe, secure and healthy environment for the lifetime of the older person, thereby enabling older people to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible. The type of works envisaged in the scheme includes the replacement of windows and doors, roof repairs, provision of heating and sanitary facilities and necessary electrical works.
Applications for the scheme are assessed by HSE personnel. While the means of the applicant and spouse or partner may be considered, eligibility for this scheme is not based on means only and a number of guidelines apply. The applicant must be aged 65 years or over, live on their own or with another older person or a person with a disability, live in unfit or unsanitary conditions and have no able bodied person available to carry out essential repairs. In addition, the housing aid scheme applies to privately owned accommodation only.
Due to the nature of the group who apply, their individual circumstances and the extent of their need, considerable latitude is taken in applying the guidelines. The works that may receive grant aid may be undertaken by private contractors engaged by the applicant or by voluntary organisations working in conjunction with HSE staff.
The budget received by the HSE from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has increased substantially year on year in recent years. In 2006 the task force on special housing aid for the elderly in the Department allocated a total of €17.02 million for the operation of the scheme by the different HSE regions. This has allowed the HSE to increase the number of grants being made available under the scheme.