Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank Senator Wall for raising this issue and providing me with an opportunity to give an update on the matter on behalf of the Department. The Department provides funding to local authorities under the suite of housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability to assist people in private houses to make their accommodation more suitable for their needs and also to facilitate an early return from hospital stays. The grants include the housing adaptation grant for people with disability, the mobility aids grant and housing aid for older people, which are 80% funded by the Department with a 20% contribution from the resources of the local authority. The detailed administration of these schemes, including assessment, approval, prioritisation and appointment between the three schemes, is the responsibility of the local authorities.
Funding of €75 million is available nationally in 2021 from the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability scheme. This funding has increased year on year since 2014. As part of the budgetary process, consideration will be given to increasing this funding in future years in line with the programme for Government commitments and the policy statement on housing options for our ageing population. The housing options for our ageing population policies statement emphasised the Department's commitment to streamlining the application process and ensuring the grounds were more accessible to applicants. In this regard, the Department met all 31 local authorities in 2019 to review the detailed administration of the grants in a series of workshops countrywide. The Department also met key stakeholders, including the National Disability Authority, Alone and Age Friendly Ireland, which helped to bring clarity and guidance to the issues raised at the workshop.
A revised single application form to cover the three grants, which was tested for plain English, was issued to all local authorities in December 2019 together with revised guidelines for implementation by the end of January 2020. The Department is working to ensure full implementation of the new process, which will make the grant application process more user-friendly and accessible as well as standardising the individual local authority approach to administering the scheme.
The receipt and processing of housing grant applications has continued throughout the pandemic. Carrying out of such works was specifically exempted from the construction restrictions under the public health regulations which were in place. It is accepted, however, that the pace has been affected by the effects of wider restrictions and revised work methodologies necessary in response to the pandemic. Inevitably, this has led to a backlog of applications in some local authorities. Officials in the Department are engaging with local authorities and emphasising the importance of urgently reducing any existing backlog through the provision of additional resources and ensuring that all applications are dealt with in accordance with departmental guidelines.
As detailed in Housing for All, housing policy objectives Nos. 6 and 7 give a commitment to undertaking a review of the range of housing grants, which I understand is what the Senator is seeking, and specifically meeting housing needs for the ageing population and people with a disability. On the specific issues raised by the Senator, I also dealt with many of these schemes in my time as a local authority member. They are fantastic schemes but the issue of cost is now proving prohibitive to many people. The other issues the Senator raised, such as builders demanding that they be paid up-front and the additional resource burden on local authorities, suggest to me that we need to carry out a review of the current set of challenges with this scheme.