Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Housing (Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for ease of access to a housing adaptation grant for people with a disability for those applicants qualifying for same and to provide for related matters.
The purpose of the Bill is to ensure local authorities administering the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability shall, as far as is practicable, process applications for a grant within a period of not more than four weeks from the date of receipt of the application. By "application", I mean the date on which an application form plus all relevant documentation is received by the local authority, which would include an occupation therapist's report recommending the works and the estimates of cost from certified contractors, in conjunction with required medical documentation. If it is necessary, which will depend on the nature of the proposed work, an architect's or engineer's report should also be submitted. All information should be gathered by the applicant and submitted together so that it can be checked and approved within the shortest time and I propose that should be a period of four weeks.
The reason I am bringing this Bill forward is that I have been made aware that many disabled people and older people require adaptations to their homes as a result of an accident or illness. They are often unable to live in their own homes until the required works are carried out. That regularly requires an extended stay in hospital or having to relocate to a nursing home for a period, which can be costly for the person concerned and their families, but also costly for the State as the additional stay in hospital adds an extra cost to the State and takes up hospital beds for which other people are waiting. Some 200,000 bed days were lost in 2019 due to delayed discharge. While all of those lost days may not have been due to unsuitable accommodation, some certainly were. I know many people who have made an application for this grant and have been forced to wait months for approval. I am aware of one woman who is unable to use the bath in her house as a result of knee problems and is required to wash herself at a sink. Another lady is petrified of getting into the bath because she has an issue with balance and eyesight. She has fallen and hit her head getting out of the bath in the past and, therefore, requires a level-access shower, which would be life-changing. She has been waiting months for approval.
The Covid-19 pandemic has substantially increased waiting times. That is unacceptable because it is having an unfair and disproportionate impact on older people and disabled people, and needs to be addressed urgently. Many people are struggling on a day-to-day basis and something like a stairlift or level-access shower could make a big difference. As an aside to the Bill, I am aware that the lack of contractors and the additional cost of construction material is having an additional and adverse impact on this grant. I hope budget 2022 will address this and the grant will be increased to meet these additional costs.
I thank my colleague, Teachta Tully, for her assistance with the Bill, which is timely. We had a recent discussion about response times from county councils to various representations from elected members. Indeed, there is currently a ten- to 12-week waiting period to get on the housing list in Kildare. Let me be clear: I do not blame the staff or the officials. They are being let down by the Government too. Yesterday, at the monthly meeting of Kildare County Council, a number of councillors received unfavourable reports from officials in response to their motions. It was not that the officials disagreed with the motions themselves. Their answers were due to a lack of resources and, in particular, staff. We need to invest in local government if we are to have true local democracy. We have a form of local administration at the moment and not local government.
As the Sinn Féin spokesperson for older people, I have been contacted by many people from all over the country who have experienced delays of many months in receiving a reply to their applications. I recently helped to bring to a successful conclusion to two applications that were ongoing for more than two years. These kinds of delays are unacceptable. At yesterday's council meeting in Kildare, a motion was tabled by Councillor Nuala Killeen, which sought an increased budget for housing adaptation grants. The report from the directors of housing and finance stated that the additional costs associated with the councillor's request would take €200,000 from other areas of expenditure. It went on to state that without additional funding from central government, it is not expected that Kildare County Council can achieve this without cutting front-line services. The reality is that people are waiting far too long, with priority 2 and 3 applicants not even receiving a reply, in some cases after months of waiting. They deserve a better quality of life and this Bill is the first step to achieving it.