Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to address what I feel is an important matter for many people in this country, especially those in my county, Kildare. I am sure that, like me, the Minister of State has assisted many people and families with what has always been a worthwhile grant. The grant has made such a difference to the day-to-day lives of so many older people and families with medical issues who needed assistance with the quality of life of their loved ones. Over the past year, many families have found themselves unable to afford the work which is recommended in the context of these grants and which can make people's lives so much better. Rising building costs have practically stopped many people from being able to access these grants. An urgent review of the grants must be carried out. In recent months, my office has received an increasing number of calls from people. Many are at their wits' end and are asking for help for their loved ones who, in some cases are still in hospital waiting for the promised work that can bring them back home, where they and their families want to be.
As I said recently in the House, in one case, the cheapest quote that the person dealing with my office received was more than 200% above the maximum grant payable, which is €30,000. The quote that person sought was for the works recommended by the local authority's occupational therapist. The person had engaged with five different contractors to try to get a cheaper quote but could not achieve that. There are many similar cases. Another issue is that more and more builders are demanding that the cost of the grant be paid up front because they cannot afford to wait on the council payment system. With so few builders now completing council work, families have no option but to borrow from where they can in order to secure these building services and get the work done. This puts added stress on families who need our help rather than finding themselves under more pressure.
Another issue relates to the means test for older people, where the private pensions that they worked hard for all their lives are reducing the amounts they are offered via the grant. They are turning to family members or credit unions to try to fund the difference. The type of works involved will allow members of our older population to remain in their homes where they want to be. Too many of our older population find themselves unable to access a grant which, at their time of life, is essential to their well-being and which, as I have said on countless occasions, is needed for all their work and contributions to the State over many years.
These issues are having a knock-on effect. In some cases that I am dealing with, the applicants have to remain in hospital because the family cannot afford the cost of the works to bring them home. In an ever-increasing number of cases, people can no longer continue to live in their own homes and this is causing an additional cost to the State through the nursing homes scheme. In many cases, I turn to another arm of the State and try to engage the community welfare officer service to see if it can come up with the difference to secure these payments and ensure that grants are paid. These issues are causing much stress, as the Minister of State can imagine.
I know that staff dealing with these grants are inundated with queries from worried applicants, fearing that they will not get work done on their homes. We need to provide additional resources to local authorities to cover the administration of these grants. The ever-increasing waiting times for some of these grants are a worry, both at the beginning of the process and when payment is due. I have raised the need to create permanent posts in our local authorities rather than the contracted positions that seem to be on offer at present. We need to offer staff security in these positions, which will have a knock-on benefit in the context of these grants.
Time is not the friend of many of these families. There is an urgent need for a revised grant. I know from previous discussions and replies to parliamentary questions from my Labour Party colleagues that a review will be carried out by the end of the year. I ask the Minister of State to speed up this review to change these life-changing grants now and allow those who need these grants the most the benefit of works that will change their lives for the better.