A council tenant who needs his home modified to help cope with his respiratory disease faces up to a six-year wait for the work to be carried out.
It comes following confirmation that Waterford City and County Council’s funds for modifying the homes of its tenants who are seriously ill or disabled will be cut by about a third – from €300,000 to €210,000.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has justified the reduced allocation by pointing to the council spending €190,000 out of its previous allocation of over €300,000.
However, the local authority says it requested funding of €495,000 following a review of its tenants’ homes and outstanding applications last year, and needs the funding to cope with demand for housing modifications under the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability.
Many council tenants are set to be affected by the budget dispute. The reduction has been criticised by one tenant, Michael Mulcahy, who applied to convert his shower to a walk-in model two years ago.
Mr Mulcahy (70) has emphysema and, due to his medication, his skin has been reduced to being as “thin as parchment”. He said his shower was too narrow, resulting in regular cuts and tears to his skin, with almost all his cuts coming from it.
“A normal person would probably be fine but I’m wondering every time I step into it how many cuts I’ll get this time,” he said.
As he is a council tenant, the works must be sourced from Waterford City and County Council through the disability adaptation grant.
An occupational therapist is often sent by the council to assess the home of the applicant and make a decision on how pressing the adaptation is.
Typically applicants who are ranked in the higher categories, where the person is terminally ill or if the adaptations would lessen the need for hospitalisation, are prioritised once they enter the list.
“I may have six years, I may have 16 years. But my life isn’t going to be the same every year. What I have limits me every year so my time is precious,” Mr Mulcahy said.
However, after finding little success with his application he told his local councillor about his situation. Cllr Adam Wyse discovered from the council that while tenants could still apply for the grant, they faced a wait for it to be processed.
He said the council’s housing office told him that while Mr Mulcahy had applied for the grant, “he won’t actually be assessed by an occupational therapist due to the fact that there is currently a six-year waiting list, and they won’t assess houses for the next two years due those budget constraints”. Waterford Council has not disputed this.
When contacted by The Irish Times, the Department of Housing said the council had sought a higher amount than was allocated to it previously despite failing to spend that allocation.
“One factor in the allocations is the amount that was drawn down the previous year,” said a spokesman.
“Not only is the 2019 allocation to Waterford under this scheme, at €210,000, higher than the amount they spent last year [€181,000], but in addition, in the way that the scheme is managed over the course of the year, any unspent funding is re-distributed to local authorities that have strong levels of demand/spend.
“This pragmatic approach is common to such housing grant schemes and, for example, Waterford’s underspend in 2018 was re-distributed to other local authorities. In turn, Waterford Council may benefit this year, from underspends elsewhere if they have strong levels of demand and activity.”
A spokesman for Waterford Council told The Irish Times that it applied for an increased budget allocation of €500,000 following a “comprehensive review of all applications on hand, some of which had been received over five years previously”.
The council added: “This request would have been informed by the review of applications undertaken in 2018. The actual allocation the council received of €210,000 amounts to just over 1 per cent of the funding available nationally – Waterford City and County Council has 3.5 per cent of the total stock of local authority houses in the country.”
Age Action has described the move by the department as “directly contradicting” policies set out by the Minister for Older People and the Minister for Housing earlier this year.
“There are several actions that are to be taken as part of improving housing options for older people which aren’t happening here,” said chief executive Patrick Connolly.
“These include increasing the funding for the grant scheme, streamlining the application process and working with local authorities to review the waiting lists. At the moment the scheme is a lottery.”