A significant cut in Government funding combined with a refusal of county councillors to change policy has led to elderly people in Offaly dying while waiting to have their homes adapted to allow them live healthily and comfortably at home.
In February county councillors refused to budge when asked to change the grant system for work on privately owned homes. The grants cover everything from new heating, stairlifts, extensions and mobiltiy aids.
Offaly County Council’s management wanted to get more work done with less money. Councillors refused to suspend the schemes to allow the council clear a backlog.
They made the decision despite knowing that there was no hope of many applicants getting the grant for work on their home anytime soon.
Details have now emerged which show that hundreds of people are waiting years to have their grants applications approved. The tragedy is that some applicants have died without having the benefit of living safer and healthier and in more comfort.
This year the council’s budget has been cut dramatically from €2.2m in 2010 to €1.7m in 2012. It is expected to drop to €1m next year.
Under the system which councillors refused to change, just 60 people will benefit from the scheme this year. Official Offaly County Council figures given to the Offaly Express show that there are more than 300 people are on a waiting list. The councillors were asked to change the system so that 90 jobs could be carried out in 2012.
Dermot Mahon is Senior Executive Officer at the council’s housing section.
“Councillors weren’t in favour of that. Instead of getting 90 done we are only going to get 60 jobs done. There is a significant backlog at the moment,” he said.
Council figures show that 220 applicants are waiting for Housing Aid for older people. This scheme covers everything from insulation, new doors, heating etc.
But the council is not expecting many to get done this year and new applicants face a long wait.
“We are likely to get 40 of the 220 done this year which means there is around a five year waiting list,” said Mr Mahon.
A further 110 people are waiting up to two years for a Housing Adaption Grant. This covers stair lifts, accessible showers, wheelcair and extensions to houses where needed. Six people are waiting for mobility aids. The waiting time is up to a year.
Because many applicants are elderly, the delay in clearing grants means that they never get the benefit of the comforts the grants can provide. Mr Mahon said people have died waiting to live in comfort.
“Without being too crude about it. A lot of them are (dead). By the time we are in a position to fund them it is no longer required.
“This has only become a problem in the last couple of years because the funding has been cut. While the funding is going down by 25 % each year the volume of applications is increasing by 25% each year,” he said.
The council receives up to 30 applications a week or more than 1,000 a year but is writing advising people that there is a waiting list. An applicant applying for a Housing Aid grant this week may not get a grant until 2017.
Mr Mahon said he approved two grants last week but the application was provisionally approved up to 18 months previously. “Its a long drawn out process,” he said.
During the boom the Offaly policy differed from Laois and other county councils. This system was retained by councillors in January. The approach taken by the council during the boom was too spend more money on less grants but carry out a comprehensive range of work.
However, with big cuts to the scheme, council officials were forced to go to the councillors in February. It wanted to lower the size of the grants available and change its policy so that only work applied for would be carried out.
It was also hoped that this new approach could mean waiting lists could be cut because applications could be dealt with more quickly. It was also hoped that more people could benefit albeit getting less work done no their homes.
“We brought a recommendation to the council that we would reduce the grant on the basis that we would get more done but allocate less per individual grant. Now the councillors weren’t in favour of that. They felt we should be doing all the works that are required on a property,” said Mr Mahon.
Cllr Molly Buckley chairs the Strategic Committee which made the recommendation rejected by other councillors. “There are a lot of people who are priority one but this way they would get the essential work done,” she said.
Cllr Buckley said it was the case the people are dying while waiting.
“People that need an adaption to their house they need it now. When somebody is in a wheelchair and can’t get into their bathroom approval is no good to them in five years time and unfortunately some of them will have passed away,” she added.
Cllr Buckley said the situation is now urgent and will be brought back to the council.