Taoiseach defends changes to funding scheme for elderly

Kenny says funding for grant system was being increased

Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 16:58

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended cutbacks in funding to local authority housing grants to help older and disabled people living at home.

Asked about criticism of cuts to the grant in Dubai today, Mr Kenny said “the fact of the matter” was that the grant was being increased this year.

“Every local authority will have a higher allocation than before,” he said. “Minister Jan O’Sullivan is a very caring minister here and is bringing about changes that will ensure that the elderly people who need these grants as a priority will see that they get them.”

Mr Kenny said there would ultimately be a more efficient system of processing the applications.

“Every local authority gets an increase and it is designed to give more immediate effect in the interests of elderly people who need it.”

Details of the changes, which affect age and income eligibility levels as well as the amounts payable, are set out in a Department of the Environment circular which says the changes are to be implemented immediately.

Age Action, the charity supporting older people, has warned the latest cuts would make it increasingly difficult for some people to remain living at home.

Disability Federation of Ireland campaigner Martin Naughton urged Ms O’Sullivan to look at the changes again , “differently” and “from the ground up”.

Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan said the changes “will actually mean that more people will be able to stay in their own homes because they will be able to qualify for this grant”.

Ms O’Sullivan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the changes were made to “make sure the money goes to those who most need it”.

The increase in the age threshold for the older person’s grant from 60 to 66 was to “have it in line with all the other supports the State has for older people,” she said. She said the changes were only for new applicants and those aged under 66 can still apply for a mobility or disability grant from their local authority, she said.

Asked about changes to the upper income limits and the inclusion of all members of the household in means assessments , Ms O’Sullivan said there was a “hardship clause” that can be invoked “if the local authority feels there is a case that needs to be exceptional ”.

She said she believed the upper income limit of €60,000 is “fair enough”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today the cuts were an unacceptable targeting of older people.

“People are now beginning to feel the full brunt of decisions made in advance, and in the Budget, in terms of extra taxes and charges,” he said.

He asked for publication of the full report that informed the decision by Ms O’Sullivan and also claimed it was disingenuous of her to say the department had retained the funding.

The cuts affect three grants: the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability, housing aid for older people and the mobility aids grant. Spending on these grants has almost halved over the past three years.

However, Ms O’Sullivan said the funding allocated to the grants had increased “for the first time in years”, up from €35 million in 2012 to €38 million last year. The housing grant schemes are administered by local authorities and 80 per cent funded by the Department of the Environment. Expenditure on them has fallen from more than €80 million in 2011 to about €40 million last year.

The schemes have been in increasing demand in recent years, with the numbers availing of them rising from 2,642 in 2008 to 8,990 in 2009, 13,588 in 2010, 11,760 in 2011 and 10,002 in 2012. There were more than 12,000 applications last year, of which 7,011 were granted.

Mr Naughton said the pool of people availing of the housing adaptation grant for disabled people had been widened due to age changes to the older person’s grant , because older people under 66 would be among those applying for it.

The change, which means those receiving a €30,000 grants would need to provide an additional 5 per cent , was an “exclusion barrier” for people with “little or no money”, he said.

Mr Naughhton said these changes were on top of a “significant dip” on the disiability allowance in recent years.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Brian Hayes, said he did not accept that older people would have to move out of their homes as a result. That is “a bit over the top” he told Newstalk Radio. Mr Hayes said the total amount of funding this year is more than it had been.

“We will wait and see if there are teething difficulties with these new grants,” he said.

Grants of up to €30,000 are available under the housing adaptation scheme for structural changes. Amounts between €6,000 and €10,500 are available under the other schemes.

According to the circular, from now on the income of all household members over the age of 18 (or 23 if in full-time education) is to be included in means assessments for grants. Up to now, only the income of applicants and their spouses was assessed.

In the case of the housing aid grant for older people, which is to make necessary repairs and improvements such as rewiring or replacing windows, applicants must now be aged at least 66, up from 60, and the maximum grant is to be cut from €10,500 to €8,000.

Under the housing adaptation and housing aid schemes, the number of income bands is being reduced from nine to six and households in the lowest band, with an income of €30,000 or less, who previously were granted 100 per cent of the costs, will now get only 95 per cent.

The upper income limit to be eligible for both schemes has been reduced by €5,000 to €60,000, meaning households with incomes above €60,000 are now ineligible.

The circular also says applicants for the grants must prove they have paid their property tax.

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