Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Commencement Matters

Housing Adaptation Grant

10:30 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. The issue I am raising relates to the allocation of funding to local authorities for house adaptation work. One local authority with which I am dealing was allocated something in the region of €1.9 million last year and that money was allocated to people who owned their own houses to do adaptation work on them. The same local authority received only €560,000 for carrying out adaptation work on local authority houses. I am raising this issue because there is a huge backlog in respect of adaptation work required in respect of local authority houses.

One case with which I am dealing involves a family where the child has serious intellectual and physical disabilities. In July 2008, the family was advised that the house needed to be adapted because the child has to be lifted out of bed every morning, washed, and tube fed. There is a great deal of work involved in that. The house in which the family lives is not adequate for their needs. In fairness, after seven and a half years and as a result of pressure from me - which the media highlighted - the local authority has responded and the work is now being done. However, seven and a half years is a significant period to wait for work to be done. There is a now a waiting list with Cork City Council of between seven and eight years for adaptation work in respect of local authority houses. I am asking that for this year - I am not asking for every year, just this year - local authorities would be entitled to use the money allocated to them in whatever way they can in order to reduce the waiting time to get adaptation work done on local authority houses. It is in that context that I am raising this matter. Local authorities need to deal with the backlog. The only way this can be done is by giving priority to local authority housing for one year.

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I know it is an extremely important issue, particularly for the people on those lists who are waiting for work to be done to their homes in order that they can alleviate the impact of some of the situations to which the Senator referred.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government provides funding to local authorities under housing adaptation grants for older people and people with disabilities in respect of private homes and, separately, funds adaptations and extensions to social housing stock in order to address serious overcrowding and, in certain cases, to meet the needs of tenants with a disability. The suite of grants available to private homeowners is 80% funded by the Department, with a 20% contribution from the resources of each local authority. Three distinct grant types are available. The housing adaptation grant for people with disabilities assists those with a disability to have necessary adaptations, repairs or improvement works carried out in order to make their accommodation more suitable for their needs. The mobility aids grant is available to fast-track funding to cover a basic suite of works to address the mobility problems of a member of a household. Qualifying works include the provision of stair lifts, level access showers, access ramps, grab rails and other minor adaptation works. Finally, the housing aid for older people provides grants to assist older people living in poor housing conditions to have necessary repairs or improvements carried out. Grant-eligible works include structural repairs or improvements, rewiring, repairs to or replacement of windows and doors, provision of water supply and sanitary facilities, provision of heating, cleaning, painting, etc. Over 7,600 households benefited under these schemes in 2015. It is expected that approximately 8,500 grants will be provided in 2016, which will assist with adaptation works to enable older people and those with disabilities to remain living independently in their own homes for longer. In 2015, €40.4 million in Exchequer support was made available countrywide for these supports and this has been increased by 10% for 2016. 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.

Separately, my Department provides a range of supports to local authorities to upgrade, maintain and adapt social housing to meet tenants’ needs. This includes works to improve energy efficiency, provide extensions to deal with overcrowding and facilitate adaptations for people with disabilities. As funding to local authorities for adaptations to social housing is part of a broader range of improvement funding for the authorities' own stock, it is budgeted for separately from the funding provided for private houses. Adaptations to council houses are funded to the value of 90% by the Department, with local authorities providing the remaining 10%. The implementation of works under these supports for local authority tenants is a matter for the authorities themselves. It is for them to determine, in the first instance, if the works are needed in order to make the accommodation more suitable for the tenant and to prioritise the use of available resources. In recent years, a concerted effort has been made to protect expenditure in respect of extensions and adaptations to local authority homes. In 2015, funding nationally for this area was approximately €11 million and it is expected that the funding for 2016 will at least be maintained at this level.

While local authorities do not have the discretion to reassign funding intended for private house grants to grants for the improvement of local authority stock or vice versa, my Department is responsive to the needs of individual local authorities in respect of the two separate schemes. Local authorities are asked to submit details of the works proposed under both schemes, including identifying priority cases. Where, for example, a local authority has less need for one stream of funding over another, a rebalancing of the budgets will be provided in line with the overall national availability of funding. My Department is very much aware of the social benefit accruing from these schemes in terms of facilitating the continued independent occupancy of their own homes by older people and those with disabilities and also in the facilitation of early return from hospital stays. The Department will, therefore, continue to work constructively with local authorities to meet priority needs for adaptations, whether to private houses or to the local authority housing stock.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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The answer is what I expected but the problem is that both Cork city and county councils have waiting lists of seven years duration in respect of adaptation works. The reply I have received is not going to do anything about that.For instance, in two cases the family has gone to the Ombudsman for Children. I have one family which has been waiting more than six years. The child has Canavan disease, which is related to cystic fibrosis. The parent has to lift the child up and down the stairs every day to go to the bathroom because there is no downstairs bathroom. The child is now seven. It is more difficult every day to lift the child because the child is getting bigger. I have a number of other cases like this. That case has gone to the ombudsman's office, which is dealing with the local authority directly.

There is another problem with house adaption work in that no rating is given to the seriousness of the disability. Once someone is deemed to require adaption work, he or she is just a number on a list and there is no priority list whereby, for example, the most serious case is five and the least serious is one. That is another issue local authorities must deal with.

I have people waiting seven years on Cork City Council and the response I have received has done nothing to help me to resolve their problems. The solution I have come up with is to deal with this backlog over one year to make serious inroads, and this should be taken on board.

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I understand there are complexities and I acknowledge the level of priority the Senator is talking about. If he will forward the list of the most urgent cases he is dealing with, I will undertake to bring them to the Minister's attention to see if we can examine them in that way. Now that the Department is aware of the position in Cork, I will undertake to look into this to see if we can move on that list and see what needs to be done.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that and I thank the Minister of State.