Seanad Éireann - Volume 191 - 09 October, 2008

Grant Payments.

  Senator Nicky McFadden: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, to the House. I am glad to see him and I thank him for being here. I have raised this matter to call on the Government to top up the grants provided to Westmeath County Council for the essential repairs scheme for people with a disability. The local authority’s budget needs to be topped up so it can help people with a disability. Funding needs to be provided so that essential repairs can be carried out in the homes of disabled people. Simple adjustments can help such people to life lives that are as normal as possible.

The disabled persons grant scheme and the essential repairs grant scheme have come to a virtual standstill in County Westmeath because no money is available. I acknowledge that in previous years, funding has been made available at this time of the year. I ask that the €1 million that is usually provided be made available again this October. It is necessary if the grant schemes I have mentioned are to be administered. The schemes in question assist people [420]who have illnesses like arthritis and angina as well as those who, unfortunately, are terminally ill.

In June of this year, Westmeath County Council wrote to people with disabilities and terminal illnesses. Some of the people in question have been on the waiting lists for these schemes for more than two years. The letter said their applications had been provisionally approved — I emphasise the word “provisionally” — pending the provision of funds from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I tried to put myself in their position. If one has just a limited amount of time to live, one would prefer to be able to stay in the comfort of one’s own home with one’s loved ones. Certain facilities are needed if one is to be able to do that, however. One might need a downstairs toilet or a downstairs bedroom. It does not cost much to provide these facilities, which contribute greatly to the dignity of the lives of the people in question. If one is suffering from angina, one might be physically incapable of walking up the stairs. In such circumstances, the provision of a downstairs bathroom would add significantly to one’s quality of life.

I would like to mention a case I encountered recently. I refer to a lady in her early 50s who had to spend six weeks in an acute hospital after she suffered a stroke which paralysed her on one side. She was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire, where she received excellent care. Her condition improved significantly as a result of the rehabilitative treatment she was given. She was asked to choose between going home and moving to a nursing home, at 50 years of age. She chose to go home and her husband took on the job of caring for her. Her house, which is in a rural area, badly needs to be modified and adjusted in line with her needs. She received a letter last June informing her that her grant application had been provisionally sanctioned. There is no doubt the woman in question would benefit greatly from getting a grant. It would help her to manage and maintain her life.

I ask the Minister of State to consider the allocation of more funds to Westmeath County Council and the other local authorities in the same situation. We need to ensure we do not withdraw support from those who are most needy and vulnerable. It is much better for people to be able to live in their own homes. If we provide for them to be able to live with dignity at home, rather than having to stay in a hospital or nursing home, it will represent a saving to the Exchequer.

I have serious concerns about certain grant schemes which used to be administered by the HSE. Responsibility for the schemes in question has been transferred to the local authority sector. I hate to say it, but schemes seem to be less efficient and more prone to difficulty when they are administered by local authorities. Under the old system, when a patient was being discharged, HSE staff were in a position to go to his or her house to conduct on-the-spot repairs. Hand rails, toilets and ramps could be installed, for example. It seemed that great value for money was achieved in that manner. Most importantly, patients were able to live with dignity in their own homes. I am concerned about the huge waiting list for the disabled persons grant in County Westmeath. The local authorities are being asked to undertake the home improvements for which the HSE was responsible before now. I worry about whether such works will ever be carried out.

  Deputy Michael Finneran: I thank Senator McFadden for giving me an opportunity to speak about the operation of the housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability. The Government is aware of the critical role the adaptation grant schemes play in the context of an overall continuum of care for older people and people with a disability. [421] Following a comprehensive review undertaken by my Department, a revised framework of adaptation grant schemes to assist older people and people with a disability with their accommodation needs was implemented in November 2007. The aim of the framework is to facilitate continued independent living at home. The revised grant framework streamlines the administrative and operational procedures governing the schemes. It provides a more targeted and integrated response to the housing needs of the target groups. It ensures the most efficient and cost-effective outcomes from the funding available. It focuses available resources on those in most need. The administration of the schemes is a matter for individual local authorities within a regulatory framework which is designed to give an appropriate degree of flexibility at local level.

The housing adaptation grant schemes are funded by 80% recoupment from my Department together with a 20% contribution from the resources of local authorities. A combined capital allocation of €71.4 million was initially made available to local authorities for the operation of the schemes in private houses in 2008. That figure has increased from about €10 million since 2000. It is a matter for each local authority to decide on the specific level of funding to be directed towards each of the schemes from within the combined allocation notified to it, and to manage the operation of the schemes in its area from within this allocation.

Individual allocations were made to local authorities based on their estimated requirements, as notified to my Department, and expenditure trends in previous years. A combined capital allocation of €1.46 million was made to Westmeath County Council, in line with the allocation of €1.43 million in 2007. In response to the particularly high levels of activity under the revised schemes, which certain local authorities are currently experiencing, my Department recently made supplementary Exchequer allocations totalling €3.6 million towards the operation of these schemes by those authorities this year. As I explained to a deputation of elected representatives and officials from Westmeath when I met with them yesterday, while Westmeath County Council was not among those authorities, the issue of an additional allocation to the council will be considered in the event of further funding becoming available.

The scheme has been very successful nationally, because most of the local authorities had not put in their allocations which are needed locally to meet the scheme. Local authorities may have been caught by surprise at the level of interest in the scheme, and the Department may have been surprised as well. There was a tie-over from the old scheme to the new scheme this year. That had to be cleared up. Many of those schemes came back this year, as has been explained to me by housing officers around the country. I am conscious of the difficulties involved.

I am also conscious of the HSE issue, and that matter has not been fully resolved yet. There is a question of staff transfer and agreement needs to be reached between the local authorities and the HSE. Those discussions are ongoing and I hope they will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion soon.