Wednesday, 9 November 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State to the House this morning. We are here to discuss housing aid and housing adaptation grants. I hope there will be some good news on a review. I am dealing with these issues on a daily basis in Kildare and, unfortunately, the grants continue to cause a lot of problems. It has been 13 months since I last brought up this matter and at that stage I was promised a review. The Minister of State's colleague, the Minister of State, was in that day and he mentioned the fact that he was having a lot of issues with these grants in his constituency office. He said that he was going to bring it back to the Department and to all Ministers to discuss the issue.
Today, I am hoping to get an update. As the Minister of State is well aware, the grants make a significant difference to the quality of life for so many older people and those with medical issues who need assistance. We continue to see rising building costs. These rising costs rule many families out of availing of these grants, as the maximum payment continues at €30,000 for the housing adaptation grant.
Over the last week alone, I have come across families with the cheapest quote of €50,000 for a toilet extension and another for €65,000 for a bedroom extension. These families simply cannot afford the balance. The work will not be completed and their loved ones will remain, in these two cases at least, without what could be life-changing extensions that would hugely improve their quality of life.
Of course these are only two examples. There are many others I could give. I have contacted the community welfare officer service, which has helped in some cases. Unfortunately, in a growing number of cases, the response has been that the county council is tasked with providing help with the costs associated with the adaptation of houses on medical grounds and as such it is its responsibility to provide the cost of this and that it would not be in a position to help with the cost of the project as the county council holds the responsibility in this matter. This continues to be the response that I get in trying to bridge that gap for so many families. Many of the families that I am dealing with just cannot afford the room that could make a difference.
The limit for the housing aid grant is €8,000. More and more applicants are applying for window replacements, roofs and heating and they are finding that figure is nowhere near enough to cover the cost of the quotes they receive. In a recent case I had, the quote was almost one year old because that was the length of time the local authority had taken to get around to processing the grant. As a result, the applicants were asked to supply a fresh quote. The price had risen by €3,500 during the year and again, in this case, the applicant simply could not afford that rise and the grant, as the Minister of State knows, is limited to €8,000.
The problems have multiplied since last year. Applicants, many of them older people, are turning to family members and credit unions to try to bridge the gap. Due to their age, many people are not securing these loans. The works allowed under these grants will allow an older population to continue living in their homes, where they want to be. Unfortunately, the grant is means tested on its limits. It is simply not fit for purpose anymore for many of these people. Too many of our older people find themselves unable to access a grant which, at their time of life, is essential to their well-being. I have said on countless occasions this grant is needed for all their work and their contributions to the State over so many years.
The issues are having a knock-on effect. In some of the cases I am dealing with, the applicants must remain in hospital because the family cannot afford the cost of the works to be done to their home.Excellent local authority staff dealing with these grants are inundated with queries from worried applicants, fearing that they will not get the work done on their homes. We need to provide additional resources to local authorities to cover the administration of these grants. Most importantly, we need to change the criteria so these works can be provided. 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. In replies to parliamentary questions tabled by Labour Party colleagues, we were told that a review would be carried out at the end of last year. I hope the Minister of State has come today with an update on that review.
I thank Senator Wall for raising this very important issue and allowing me the opportunity to provide an update on the matter. My 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 make their accommodation more suitable for their needs. This also facilitates early returns from hospital stays. The grants include the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability, the mobility aids grant and the housing aid for older people grant, which are 80% funded by my Department, together with a 20% matching contribution from local authority resources. The detailed administration of these schemes, including assessment, approval, prioritisation and apportionment between the three schemes is the responsibility of local authorities.
Funding of €81.25 million is available nationally in 2022 for the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability scheme. A further €83.75 million has been allocated for 2023 continuing the overall year-on-year increases in the grant since 2014.
The housing options for our ageing populations policy statement emphasised the Department's commitment to streamlining the application process, and ensuring that grants were more accessible to applicants. Following stakeholder engagement, a revised single application form to cover these three grants, which was tested for plain English, was issued to all local authorities for implementation in early 2020, together with revised guidelines. The Department continues to ensure full implementation of this new process by local authorities to deliver a more accessible grant application process as well as standardising the approach across all local authorities.
In addition to this improved streamlining of the grants scheme, Housing for All commits to undertaking a review of the range of housing grants available to assist with meeting specific housing needs both for our ageing population and people with a disability. The review is continuing within my Department informed by a focused stakeholder consultation process, which resulted in more than 40 submissions received from a range of stakeholders. These included local authorities, the Department of Health, the HSE, Age Friendly Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland, the Irish Wheelchair Association, Jack and Jill Foundation, Independent Living Movement Ireland, AslAm, Family Carers Ireland, and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. Among things being considered under the review are income thresholds, grant limits, the application and decision making processes, and including supplementary documentation required. The review will also consider the Cost of Disability in Ireland research report, which was published by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, in December 2021. The review remains on target to be completed by the end of this year. I acknowledge the Senator's significant interest in this and his raising it on a number of occasions.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. I wish to put on the record again my thanks to the State for providing this funding. It makes such a difference to so many people, and I am sure the Minister of State is aware of that through his own office. The problem at the moment is that we now have people waiting such a long time, and cannot wait any more. We were told by the Minister of State today that the review will be carried out by the end of this year. Will he bring this back to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and ask that this be carried out as quickly a possible? People just cannot wait. I have given three or four examples today of what is coming through my office. I have no doubt Members across both Houses could give multiple examples. People are in hospital, and they cannot wait. The review needs to happen as quickly as possible. More importantly, we need to change the criteria. I hope that will happen, but I thank the Minister of State for his reply.
I again thank Senator Wall for raising this, as he has done on previous occasions. I will raise the review with the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. It is important that is completed this year As the Senator said, these are a very valuable resource to make people's lives better and allow them to live independently. As a State, that is the space we need to be in. As I said, we have increased the funding year-on-year since 2014, which will allow a greater number of grants to be provided to carry out works. It is important that the works are carried out and people have access to the services. I will raise it with the Minister and look forward to working with the Senator in the future. I will provide an update.