Thursday, 29 May 2014
Housing for People with Disabilities
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House. Before I call Senator Moran, I would like to remind her that persons outside the House should not be referred to by name or in such a way as to make them identifiable.
I thank the Minister of State for dealing with this Adjournment matter. The case I wish to refer to concerns an individual who had an accident several years ago and who had to have a battery pack inserted into her back to stimulate her nerve endings. She suffers from severe and chronic pain and her condition is consistently deteriorating. She has now reached the stage where she cannot get up the stairs. She is a single mother of two. She cannot climb the stairs and is a prisoner in her own home. I fully support her application for a housing transfer, as do her medical team. I believe it is imperative that something is done for her.
I have been making representations to the county council on her behalf for over seven months. The council has replied to the effect that it will look into the matter but that no funding is available. An occupational therapist has visited the woman and has agreed that she needs to go on the medical transfer list. The council has accepted this but has said that it does not have money or a suitable house to move her into. I have seen this lady's condition deteriorate rapidly over the last couple of months and she is now in hospital in Dublin. The battery pack is no longer working and she will undergo a six-to-seven hour surgical procedure to have it removed. When it is removed, she will not be able to move. She no longer has the power in her legs to move. When she goes back home, she will be even more debilitated. It is absolutely dreadful. She has two young sons - one in national school and the other half way through secondary school - who she relies on, along with other family members, to lift her to get to the bathroom. She spends an awful lot of her day lying on a couch. This is an urgent case.
This individual is suffering every single day because her current accommodation is wholly unsuited to her needs but there is a lack of suitable accommodation into which she can be transferred. She has said that she will go anywhere if she can have a home in which she can be as independent as possible. In a recent letter to Louth County Council a consultant wrote that she needs to be accommodated in a bungalow, that is, in single-storey accommodation, because she has "significant distress" from climbing stairs, mobilising or walking on anything other than the flat. He pointed out that she suffers severe, chronic pain on a daily basis and that without a change in her accommodation, she is likely to become more severely disabled. This is a recommendation from a consultant anaesthetist and pain specialist in a hospital in Dublin.
Not providing this individual with appropriate accommodation and not making her a priority case means that her physical condition will continue to deteriorate rapidly. Every week I receive phone calls from her during which she cries in pain. I feel so helpless and am at my wit's end telling her every week that I will phone the council again. I have phoned the council repeatedly and am sure that the staff are doing what they can but I cannot tell this lady to hold on any longer because I have been telling her that for the last eight months. This situation is taking a significant emotional toll on her family. Imagine being a prisoner in one's own home and dreading having to go near the stairs. This is an unhealthy situation, not only for the woman herself but for her two young children. These boys are under unnecessary strain.
Over the past seven months I have been witness to the unnecessary stress and hardship that has been caused to this lady and her family. I feel that I must raise this case at national level because I have exhausted all of the normal channels at a local level in seeking resolution to this matter. This person cannot wait any longer for a transfer and swift action is needed. I look forward to the Minister of State's response. I appreciate the work the Minister of State is doing in this area and welcome her recent announcements about bringing boarded-up houses back into use and so forth. In this particular case, it seems that there is no single-storey house available. There are many other cases of housing need I could bring to the attention of the Minister of State but this one is at crisis point. I would appreciate the advice of the Minister of State on the matter.
I thank Senator Moran for raising a very difficult situation for a lady who is in great pain and difficulty. Unfortunately, as Minister of State, I am precluded under housing legislation from intervening in individual housing cases and therefore the issue must be dealt with by the local authority in according with its allocation scheme. While I take the point that there is a national responsibility in terms of my allocating funding generally, an individual allocation must be done by the local authority. Under section 63 of the Local Government Act 1991, a local authority is, subject to law, independent in the performance of its functions. The law on the allocation of local authority housing is section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated regulations, for which I, as Minister, have responsibility.
In accordance with the legislation, the elected council members set down council policy on the allocation of local authority housing in its allocation scheme. This policy-making power extends to determining the order of priority in accordance with which dwellings are allocated by the authority and reserving a proportion of dwellings for allocation, among other things, to different classes of household. It is the job of the manager of the local authority to make allocations, including decisions on transfers for existing local authority tenants, in accordance with the scheme. In this connection, the allocation scheme adopted by Dundalk Town Council provides that transfer applications will be considered in situations where a transfer would relieve a serious medical condition, such as in this case, including physical or mental disability.
Section 22 of the 2009 Act provides that the manager of a local authority may disregard the order of priority given to a household under an allocation scheme where the household is being provided with social housing support arising from specified exceptional circumstances, including exceptional medical or compassionate grounds. Section 22 of the 2009 Act empowers the Minister to direct a housing authority to change an allocation scheme and to issue directions to a housing authority regarding the operation of its allocation scheme. However, the enactment specifically provides that the latter power shall not be construed or operate to enable the Minister to direct the allocation of a dwelling to a specific household.
In view of the legal position I have outlined, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the facts of any particular request for a transfer to another local authority dwelling in order to avoid any suggestion that the Minister is intervening in the case. The Senator has described a very difficult situation. She is probably aware that I allocated funding last week and one of the categories for it was people with a disability. Although the power to allocate is, unfortunately, with the local authority, I hope this issue will be resolved.
I was fully aware that the Minister of State cannot comment on individual cases. Given that I have been told the local authority does not have bungalow accommodation, can funding be made available to buy some? I have tried to get figures on the number of houses that are out. The money allocated last week for housing for people with disabilities was also for people with intellectual disabilities, comprising eight units. This lady is not the only one. I talk to the county council on a weekly basis and receive the same answer. In the long run it will cost more money because this lady's mental and physical health, as well as that of her family, will be affected. I have come to a dead end and I do not know where to take it from here.
In all cases, whatever the heading is for the funding the local authorities send me their priorities and we allocate wherever we can, particularly where there are large demands. As soon as I have funding again I will allocate it in accordance with the requests that come from the various local authorities. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the particular case.