Thursday, 25 May 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I am very glad to have an opportunity to speak about a desperate situation in County Louth whereby Louth County Council has closed applications under the housing adaptation grants for older people and persons with disabilities.
We are all aware of the importance of these grants. We know they make a significant difference in the lives of older people and people with disabilities. These grants help fund house renovations to make homes more accessible and create spaces that are required for people's unique needs. They can make a difference between an individual being able to live at home and enjoy his or her home with comfort and dignity. Many older people and people with disabilities experience many challenges such as navigating stairs, bathrooms, bedrooms and other vital areas of the home. This can significantly affect their quality of life. With funding for housing adaptation grants and accessibility adaptations such as the installation of ramps, stair lifts and grab bars, they can make their home easier and safer to manoeuvre around. Supporting people to continue to live in their own homes can result in significant cost savings for the State. This is because the expense of maintaining nursing homes and other assisted living facilities are much higher than providing in-home care. Additionally, individuals who receive in-home care have been shown to have better health outcomes and higher levels of overall satisfaction compared with those in institutional settings. It makes sense for the State to invest in these adaptation grants and programmes and services to support people living in their own homes.
Louth County Council has approximately 600 applications on file waiting to be processed and funded. This year's funding will only cover approximately 200 applications. It is wholly unacceptable to close the scheme to new applications but I can fully understand why Louth County Council did so. It cannot in good faith take any more applications and put people through that process without being able to move forward on applications. I acknowledge that there has been an increase in funding for housing adaptation grants. However, we must clear the backlog of 400 applications. Many people contacted me this week in fear because their fathers, mothers and family members are stuck in limbo unable to live in their own homes because they are waiting for this adaptation grant, with no hope of being able to apply for it at the minute.
I ask the Government to make a special gesture of goodwill for people in County Louth to be able to live independently by clearing this backlog to ensure Louth County Council can move forward on a normal platform from now on. We know the importance of these housing adaptation grants. Our constituency offices try to support many families to live at home every year. I look forward to the Minister of State's response and hope it is favourable.
I thank Senator McGreehan for raising this very important issue. I can imagine how emotive this is in County Louth. She has clearly articulated the concerns and has been very fair in her approach to this matter. I have been provided with this response on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage who sends his apologies.
Funding to local authorities under the 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 comes from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.The detailed administration of the scheme, including assessment, approval, prioritisation and apportionment, is the responsibility of local authorities. In 2022, almost €86 million in funding was made available to facilitate the payment of more than 12,000 grants. Local authorities were recently informed of their 2023 allocations with each local authority receiving an increase on the 2022 allocation, continuing the year on year increases since 2014.
In 2022, Louth County Council received an allocation of almost €2.25 million and spent over €1.35 million. In 2023, Louth County Council received an allocation of over €2.3 million composed of more than €1.86 million in Exchequer funding and over €460,000 to be funded from the local authority's own resources. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage works closely with local authorities to monitor spend and to achieve a full drawdown of available funding. This means that any underspend that arises on the part of any local authority can be redistributed to other authorities which have high levels of grant activity. The Department makes every effort to redistribute such funding throughout the year. The Department encourages all local authorities to ensure all applications on hand are processed to the degree possible for final payment to ensure optimal spend on their annual allocation. Louth County Council recently applied for a further Exchequer allocation of over €570,000 and the Department is currently giving consideration to the request.
Housing for All commits to undertaking a review of the range of housing grants available and among the areas the review considered are the income thresholds and grant limits. A report on the review of the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability has been prepared by the Department. On foot of careful consideration of the report, the Minister has asked Department officials to engage with the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform on the review report.
I thank the Minister of State and accept everything in his response. As I have said, Louth County Council, like many other county councils across the country, has received increased funding for housing adaptation grants. I will, however, continue to advocate for the families in County Louth who are not able to apply for funding and for the 400 families who have applied but have no hope of getting an adaptation grant this year. I urge the Minister of State to support all of us and bring back to the Department the importance of this issue. I know it is a lot of money but we are talking about the lives of families and they are worth this money. They deserve every cent they can get to allow them to live at home. On a cost-benefit analysis, it makes sense to keep people in their own homes and not to put them into nursing homes. We know the stress that nursing homes and families are under. I will be taking the matter up with my party colleague, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and will keep advocating for the families in County Louth because they deserve that funding.
I again thank the Senator for raising this matter. I am here in my capacity as a Minister of State in the Government but I am also a Deputy who does constituency work. I know the value of housing adaptation grants to older people in Kildare South as much as the Senator knows their value in Louth. The Senator is dead right that it is a common sense approach as well as the right thing to do. When we get older, we all want assistance to be able to stay in our own homes. That is where our family members can spend the most time with us. It is where we can have the best quality of life. It is also keeping pressure off our acute system and nursing homes. It is the right thing to do. I will bring back to the Department the points the Senator has raised about her constituents in the Louth area. She has clearly articulated her points.
The funding available for grants in 2023 has increased by almost €2 million above the original 2022 provision to a total of over €83 million. Given the real benefits of these schemes, our objective is to continue to provide further increases in overall funding every year as part of the Estimates process. As I outlined previously, we also have the review report. We will keep a close eye on this matter and I will bring back to the Department the points the Senator has raised.