Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Question 50: To ask the Minister for Community; Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of applications received in respect of the community support for older people scheme since August 2009; the number of applications that have been processed; the funding in place for this scheme; and if there is sufficient funding to match the applications which have been received to date [18957/10]
Question 67: To ask the Minister for Community; Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the changes to the community support for older people grants as recently announced; his views on the outcomes of the changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18999/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 50, 59 and 67 together.
In the period from 4 August 2009 to 5 May 2010, my Department received 648 applications for support under the scheme of community support for older people, CSOP. Of these, 511 have been processed in full and paid, while a further 37 are being processed and are expected to be paid in the coming week. Of the remaining 100 applications received, 85 have unresolved queries with the applicants, while the receipt in recent days of information on the other 15 will allow my officials to begin processing them shortly.
In general, where the documentation received with an application is in order, my Department can process and pay the grant within ten to 12 working days. Funding of €3.1 million has been provided in my Department's vote for the CSOP in 2010. Expenditure to the end of April amounts to some €580,000 and I am confident that sufficient funds will be available to meet the likely demand over the coming months.
The Deputies will be aware that my Department reviewed the operation of the CSOP last year. A copy of the review, which I published last week, is available on my Department's website, www.pobail.ie. A revised grant scheme was recommended on foot of the review and this will become operational on 24 May next. Further information on the revised scheme, which will be known as Seniors Alert, will be made available over the coming weeks. Details will also be made available on my Department's website. In the meantime, my Department will be processing all grant applications received up to 21 May under the existing scheme.
Deputies will be aware that the CSOP focuses on the provision of monitored personal alert equipment. Consultations undertaken with community and voluntary groups as part of the review process confirmed the value of personal monitored alert systems and did not identify a demand to extend the scheme to cover house alarms. Personal alarms can bring greater ease of mind to the user as they allow for direct two-way interaction with a monitoring station in the event of any concerns being raised. These systems can also be used to monitor other features such as the presence of smoke and carbon monoxide in the home. The provision of these services would not be possible with standard home alarm systems. Accordingly, it is not proposed to extend the provisions of the revised Seniors Alert scheme to cover house alarms.
I look forward to briefing Deputies in more detail over the coming weeks on the provisions of the revised scheme. I am happy to do that on a cross-party basis.
This is the second time this year that the scheme has been suspended.
The Department's website confirms that no further applications are to be taken until 21 May. I believed the budget for the year was €2.9 million but the Minister stated it was €3.1 million. Is there enough funding available in the Department to deal with the 648 applications? Will the new scheme be up and running this year or will it be next year? How long will it take to introduce the new scheme? It is important that we send out a strong message that we are concerned about the elderly and that the scheme will be in operation.
This is the second time this year that the Department has suspended the taking of applications. It did so some months ago, reopened the scheme and then closed it again until 21 May. Will the Minister confirm to the House and those involved in the scheme that the applications already received will be dealt with, that the new scheme will be up and running before the end of the year and that the money will be in place?
I can confirm that the applications under the current scheme will continue to be taken and processed up to 21 May. The new scheme will become operational on 24 May. Much work has been already done. Existing groups will be able almost as a matter of course to register for the new scheme. The scheme is quite streamlined and the funding available is €3.1 million. My Department officials tell me it is expected there is enough funding to meet the demand for the current year. It is anticipated the scheme will continue into next year.
Why is the Minister still using the title "Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs" considering that the other Department titles have been changed? Perhaps the Minister will change it in his own good time.
This is a wonderful scheme and should be continued. With regard to my question, houses with alarms have a sign on the outside stating there is an alarm installed therein. This, in itself, deters intruders, who see immediately that there is a link between the house and a Garda station. Is it possible that each senior citizen with a personal alarm could be given a sign to be put on the side of his or her house to show it is guarded by a personal alarm system. It is certainly preventive and should be considered.
The Minister stated all the existing co-ordinators will be in the new system. Since many of them are based in urban areas, I am concerned about coverage in rural areas such as my own. Is there a mechanism to address this? Perhaps there is in the Minister's new proposal.
As it turns out, I was in Athlone last Friday and met representatives of Helplink South, which installs and monitors alarms for many people in the midlands. Among the people I met were people from Deputy Wall's county who said they were very happy to have a personal pendant alarm that did not draw attention to the fact they were elderly or living on their own. I asked their views on traditional alarms and they replied they were happier with pendant alarms because, in many cases, house alarms can be very complicated to operate. Those of us with house alarms probably ask ourselves whether we can remember the code. The system in place has been found to be trustworthy. It gives assurance to older people and, most important, they are satisfied with it.
With regard to rural areas, the new scheme will have a greater reach than its predecessor. We certainly will be able to roll it out on a more streamlined basis once the initial registration takes place. It will be very seamless.
The scheme has worked. Some of the Minister's proposals refer to a reduction of between 15% and 25% in regard to voluntary groups. The Minister is correct to review the scheme. A review is very wise and it is wise to correct any abuses of the scheme if they exist. The scheme is working and it should not be restricted by the Minister in such as way as to prevent it from working. This would cancel its benefits. I hope that whatever new proposals the Minister makes will be for the people rather than to save moneys for the Department.
I assure the House that the redesigned scheme will respond more effectively to the needs identified regarding older people. It will be easier to access and will simplify and modernise the administrative processes, address the need for better information to support volunteers, improve the targeting of limited resources and make the grant available throughout the country. It will work with other agencies such as the Garda and health services which work with all the people in remote and isolated communities.
I will be happy to do so. The transfer orders have not been completed yet but are virtually completed. When this is achieved, the order for the delegation of functions to the Minister of State, Deputy White, will be also completed. It is anticipated this will be done in the next couple of weeks.