Thursday, 12 February 2015
Housing Adaptation Grant Funding
The RTE investigations unit this week raised the issue of disabled person’s grants and housing adaptation grants. For the past few years these have been in very short supply in County Meath. There have been long delays. I have seen people lying in beds who cannot leave their homes because essential work cannot be done to their houses. According to the RTE investigations unit, Meath receives the lowest amount of disabled person grants per head of population. It receives €3.11 per head compared with Mayo which receives €17.5 per head and Limerick, the home of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing, of the time, €16.79 per head, and Kildare, which has a lower age profile, receives €8.65 per head, that is almost treble what Meath receives.
People are housebound or may not be able to go upstairs, use a bathroom properly or shower themselves because they cannot step into a bath. Those are the practical difficulties people in Meath face because it is starved of funding. Why does Meath get such little funding? Is it the Government’s fault? Does the local authority have a role? Should it give more matching funding? I would like to know this so that I can make the case to it.
As we speak, elderly and disabled people are prevented from being fully mobile in their homes or living properly because there is a severe shortage of these grants. In one house a man has lain in bed for some time due to his illness. Adaptation works were due to be done to make it possible for his family to take him out of the house with relative ease. That has been going on for at least year and work started recently. In another case a person had both legs amputated and the work took a long time although the council did regard that as a very serious case. That is the level of seriousness that qualifies one for an adaptation grant. I and the people of Meath would like answers from the Minister of State. If he is going to blame the local authority I will tell the local authority it needs to put in more matching funding.
I thank Senator Byrne for raising this matter and I am happy to clarify it for him. Exchequer funding of over €37 million was provided in 2014 for the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability. This was combined with a contribution of an additional 20% by individual local authorities, to give an overall spend of €46.3 million.
I am pleased to confirm that at national level, the 2015 amount will increase by some 10% to give a combined spend of €50.5 million. Individual allocations to local authorities will be made shortly. Allocations in 2014 were made on the basis of the level of grant activity by local authorities in 2013, and taking account of population statistics with a weighting applied in respect of the numbers of persons aged over 65 years. Also in making 2014 allocations, the Department ensured that no local authority received less funding than its 2013 allocation.
Historically, allocations have been based on the level of contractual commitments notified to my Department by each local authority. Local authorities were encouraged to maintain continuity in approving and paying grants and therefore commitments carried forward into the new financial year always had first call on the available funding.
This system rewarded those local authorities which kept the schemes open and continued to approve eligible applications. In other cases, local authorities adopted a more cautious approach and closed schemes when applications reached a certain level. The Department therefore sought to ensure that those applicants who had been approved for grant aid would receive it. In the past two years we have moved further towards a method of allocations which takes more account of population of each county, with a weighting towards those aged over 65, as the majority of applicants are in this category. My intention is that the 2015 capital allocations for the grants will be made in a way that continues to take account of the population figures in each local authority.
At local level, the detailed administration of these schemes, including the assessment, approval and payment of individual grants to applicants, is the responsibility of the relevant local authority. However, between the Exchequer contribution and its own funding, the amount available to Meath County Council in 2014 under this scheme was 73% higher than in 2013, and I anticipate a further increase in the full amount of funding for 2015.
The Minister of State makes the case that the age profile is relevant and while it is important, the one constant in the figure RTE has released is that if there is a Minister in the area, no matter what the age profile or level of disability in the area, it will do well out of this scheme. The home of the Taoiseach receives the most, the home of the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing comes second, Cork city is number four. There is no surprise that Kilkenny, the home of the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, is number five. Carlow follows close behind, although it has a relatively young age profile. Meath is bottom of the list and Sligo, which has a very high age profile but no political influence, is also near the bottom of the list.
The Minister of State seems to be saying that the counties that adopted a more cautious approach and closed schemes when applications reached a certain level seemed to do badly out of the funding. That certainly happened in Meath. For a long time there were opening and closing dates for applications. Has Meath lost out because of the way that process operated in the past? What can be done now that Meath has changed that approach? What can be done to bring it up?
Is it the Department's or the council's responsibility? How will we change this arrangement because disabled people and the elderly badly need this funding for adaptations to their houses?
I have outlined in detail to the Senator the manner in which the grant allocations have been made. We need to acknowledge those local authorities that have been more proactive and kept these schemes open, for which they have been rewarded. Others, however, closed them. A local authority, essentially as the housing authority, is ultimately the responsible authority for how the scheme is administered.
The Department is conscious of the need to prioritise the grants in areas in which the age demographic is higher. In areas in which there is a higher percentage of over 65s and the populations are larger such as in County Meath there should be an adequate weighting in the grant allocations to meet that demand. Commitments had already been made to people under the grants scheme, including in County Meath and other local authorities, that we had to see through once approvals were made. Allocations were made on this basis. The amount available to Meath County Council in 2014 under the scheme was 73% higher than in 2013. I anticipate a further increase in the full amount of funding for 2015. I accept that the grant is essential and important to those who need it most. That is why the Government continues to support the scheme and wants to increase allocations in 2015.