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Long wait for grants to adapt homes

VULNERABLE  elderly Clare people are still likely to be waiting up to two years for housing adaptation grants, despite a small increase in Clare County Council’s annual allocation from central government.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government adaptation grant allocation of €3.375m in 2011 was slashed by 56% to €1.454m in 2012 before a marginal increase to €1.545m last year. According to the department, an increase in the region of €54,00 is earmarked for 2014 but this is far from satisfactory for many interested parties, who say this will leave elderly people in difficulty navigating their own homes.

The average waiting time, which was as high as three years in 2012, has been condemned as “inordinate” by ALONE chief executive officer, Sean Moynihan and “unacceptable “by local county councillors.

Mr Moynihan, on behalf of the group that provides support for elderly people, called for the introduction of national assessment criteria to identify those most in need of grants aid.

He confirmed 41% of their calls relate to housing and living conditions and warned some of the most recent changes would adversely affect those on low incomes who required adaptation work on their dwelling.

Due to the increasing number of grant applications and the current backlog, Clare County Council was forced to stop taking new applications for housing grants at the start of last year until the backlog is substantially cleared.

Apart from medical emergencies, this situation will continue in 2014 and the Housing Department will continue to work with HSE.

The council has also revealed that it can take between six to 1.5 years to deal with priority one medical cases depending on when they are received in the funding cycle. The authority assisted almost 275 local applicants last year.

Elderly people had to endure these waiting times before the Department of Environment issued a new memo to local authorities including Clare County Council making significant changes to grants for the elderly and disabled in need of home improvement grants.

The changes refer to existing grant schemes under the headings “ Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability (HAG)”, “Housing Aid for Older People (HOP)” and “ Mobility Aids Grant (MAG)”. These grants are available to qualifying occupants of private households.

One third of Clare’s elderly population over the age of 65 are living on their own and another third are residing in a two-person household where both occupants are pensioners, according to an analysis of the 2006 Census figures completed by Clare County Council’s Michael Neylon.

It’s believed that these figures, which are higher than the national average, have increased in recent years.

While Mayor of Clare, Councillor Joe Arkins supported some of the latest reductions in the eligibility threshold from  €66,000 to €60,000 and the targeting of lower and middle income families, he said the average waiting time was too high in Clare.

“Clare people who are ill lack the capacity to deal with problems and shouldn’t be going on a waiting list. Anyone with a serious medical condition should have minor works carried out as quickly as possible without any long delays,” he said.

Housing strategic policy committee chairperson, Councillor Patricia McCarthy said the average waiting times were not acceptable for elderly people who needed some minor works to try and stay living independently in their own home.

Mrs McCarthy requested the Government to increase its allocation under these schemes to local authorities and called for greater cooperation between the Department of the Environment and Health to make sure elderly people obtained mobility much quicker.

In recent years, the Shannon councillor said the council was trying to get more work completed with less funding by prioritising conversion works such as changing an empty bedroom into a wetroom instead of costly house extensions.

The council received 114 HOP applications in 2012 and this halved to 54 last year. The number of HAG also fell from 83 to 48 over the same period, while the MAG applications increased slightly from 79 to 89, also over the same period.

The number of approvals for HOP almost doubled from 75 to 156, HAG decreased from 70 to 42, while the MAG increased from 54 to 77.

Following the latest changes, which came info effect on January 1, the maximum income threshold is reduced from €65,000 to €60,000 for HAG and HOPS applications. For the first time, officials will assess the incomes of all members of a household before determining the size of a grant.

This means that money earned by a recipient’s child or sibling will be considered during the assessment process, along with the income of a spouse.

The maximum grant available under the HOP scheme only is reduced from €10,500 to €8,000.

The age limit for eligibility for older persons’ grants will be increased from 60 years to 66 years. A major tightening of rules will see grants to the elderly paid out for “essential” home repairs only.

The department’s circular states, “ An occupational therapist should confirm that the works recommended are fit for purpose and represent the most economic means of meeting the needs of the applicant.”

 

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Austin Hobbs

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