Dáil Éireann - Volume 589 - 05 October, 2004

Adjournment Debate. - Housing Aid for the Elderly.

[1002]   Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin: I welcome the opportunity to raise this important issue and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, for attending.

Housing aid for the elderly is a scheme funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and administered through the health boards to allow elderly people carry out essential structural work to their homes. In the main, it is confined to those over 65 years to help them meet the cost of replacing doors and windows, install dry lining, heating and other small-scale but essential work in their homes.

It is unfortunate this valuable scheme is chronically under-funded. Waiting lists are lengthy. In County Kerry the funding shortfall for housing aid for the elderly is so acute that waiting lists for applicants are extremely lengthy. The sole person dealing with applicants in Kerry is now only getting around to dealing with applications submitted in April of this year. This is due to the chronic lack of funding for the scheme from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

9 o’clock

What is the point of assessing people’s applications when there is no money to allocate to successful applicants? The budget allocated to the Southern Health Board for housing aid for the elderly in Kerry has run out for this year. Only a paltry €1 million was allocated to the Southern Health Board in 2004, an area comprising the counties of Cork and Kerry. Only 27%, or €270,000, of the total sum was allocated to County Kerry. Elderly people in County Kerry, many of them living alone and in poor health, must wait months before they are even assessed.

I am currently dealing with an applicant in the west Kerry Gaeltacht who applied for housing aid for essential work on his rotten windows and doors in July 2004. However, I am advised by the health board that it will be 2005 before his situation is assessed, because the 2004 funding has been expended. This is not the fault of the individual dealing with assessments. The health board is only dealing with the first four months of this year, and if that continues, it could be 2005 before those who are applying this month for housing aid for the elderly are assessed. This is totally unacceptable.

It is appalling that elderly people who cannot afford basic repair work on their homes are being treated in this way, particularly when we hear every day about all the money that is flowing into the Exchequer. The majority of these people have only one source of income, the old age pension, which is totally inadequate as a means for carrying out repairs in the home.

The Government parties have spoken frequently about the need to allow elderly people to live at home with dignity in their later years. This was raised in the previous debate on carers. However, many of our elderly are living in old houses that are poorly heated, badly insulated and run down and for want of a few thousand euro cannot carry out essential repair work. [1003] There is also a security issue as often, doors and windows in these homes are inadequate and many people in rural Ireland are living in fear of attack.

I have spoken previously in this House about the low level of funding for other schemes, in particular the essential repairs grant and the disabled persons’ grant, both of which are administered by the local authorities and often work hand in hand with housing aid for the elderly in the Southern Health Board area. In County Kerry there is a major shortfall in funding for these schemes and in respect of the housing aid budget. This is making the lives of many elderly people a misery.

I appeal to the new Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to immediately contact the Southern Health Board to ensure there is sufficient funding. They should put the appropriate resources into these schemes to allow the elderly people who have applied for a few thousand euro to make their houses comfortable and safe. I presume the Minister of State would agree with his party’s guest speaker in Inchydoney about the need to care for the vulnerable in society. The Government now has an opportunity to do so.

  Mr. N. Ahern: I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. It was also dealt with today under Question No. 443 in the name of her party colleague, Deputy Wall. I am pleased to have the opportunity to give her an update on the scheme. As the Deputy knows, the scheme was started in 1982 and is funded under the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government to undertake an emergency programme to improve the housing conditions of elderly persons living alone in unfit or unsanitary accommodation. In 2000 the scheme was extended to include the provision of suitable heating systems where found necessary to meet the needs of elderly persons. Since then the direction of the scheme has shifted very much from emergency work and much of its resources are now concentrated on larger projects.

The community care departments of the health boards operate the scheme using various mechanisms to carry out the work, including contractors, FÁS and a grant-based approach whereby the applicant employs the contractor. The scheme has dealt with more than 56,000 cases since it started. Just under 2,000 jobs have been completed in the first six months of this year. There has been an unprecedented level of demand for the provision of heating systems since it was introduced in February 2000, with 3,954 applicants provided with such facilities to the end of 2003.

The allocations to the boards are determined by a task force from the funding available and are based, not on the geographical spread of the [1004] population, but on the statistical returns received from the health boards showing the level of activity within the area. It is not based on population and, accordingly, some health boards do better than others. It is based on returns showing the numbers on the waiting lists, the number of applications on hands and the estimated cost of these applications. Boards, in turn, allocate the funding available to the county divisions within their areas. First round allocations were notified to the boards on 21 January 2004 and a second round allocation for 2004 will shortly be determined and notified to them by the task force, bringing the total to €11.6 million for the year. The original allocation was approximately €11 million, so the second is only €600,000, nationally.

  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin: Did the Minister of State say that was €600,000 nationally?

  Mr. N. Ahern: Yes, nationally. The sum of €11.6 million is the overall figure. We paid out €11 million, so €600,000 is left and the source of funding is the national lottery. Funding levels for 2005 are being considered at present in the context of the Estimates. However, health boards are being requested, on the basis of funding being available next year, to arrange further jobs which will not arise for payment until January or later. They have the flexibility to carry out some work so long as the bills are not submitted until after Christmas.

I thank the various groups involved — the task force, the health boards, FÁS and the voluntary bodies associated with the scheme — who have done much good over the years. As the Deputy mentioned the scheme now works hand in hand with the essential repairs grant and the disabled persons’ grant. I do not have figures with me for County Kerry, but in the last three or four weeks the Department——

  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin: They just want to put in windows and doors.

  Mr. N. Ahern: That is up to the individual council. However, in recent weeks while there is a problem in giving extra funding for this scheme because of the sources of funds, approximately an extra €7 million has been offered to county councils under the disabled person’s grant and the essential repairs grant schemes. It is up to the individual local authorities to determine the issues on which the money is spent.

There is no Department rule which says doors or windows are excluded. That is a matter for the individual council to decide and prioritise. I am not sure whether County Kerry took up the extra money offered to it in recent times. However, extra money under the essential repairs grant and disabled person’s grant schemes has been offered to the Deputy’s local authority over the last four or five weeks. How it spends that and the flexibility it has will determine whether that money is spent on doors or windows, as it wishes.

  The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 October 2004.