Friday 28 November 2014

Threat to cut grants for disabled and elderly if they have savings

Published 10/01/2014 | 02:30

Mattie Sheridan with his wife Bridie in her care home in Waterford. They have been married for 45 years. Photo: Mary Browne
Mattie Sheridan with his wife Bridie in her care home in Waterford. They have been married for 45 years. Photo: Mary Browne

THE inclusion of elderly and disabled people's savings in means-testing for housing grants will be examined in the future, the Irish Independent has learned.

A review of the housing grants for OAPs and people with disabilities ruled out taking savings into account at this time, due to fears of money being stashed at home rather than in the bank.

But the proposal to look at savings will be examined by a group of civil servants again in the future, who may then recommend it for adoption.

The Government has come under fire after a raft of cuts and curtailments were revealed as part of a secret clampdown on grants paid to the country's most vulnerable people.

There was widespread shock after it emerged that families who receive State funding for essential work on their homes will be hit by new measures.

There was particular criticism of the Labour Party, whose TDs were accused of "turning their back" on the elderly and disabled by former junior minister for health Roisin Shortall.

The cuts will involve slashing grants by up to €2,500 per year and the exclusion of 60-65 year olds from the Housing Aid for Older People scheme.

The series of measures were implemented by Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan on January 1 -- however no public announcement was made.

The Labour Party claimed yesterday there were no cutbacks to the scheme, and insisted that the Government was in fact increasing the overall allocation this year by €3m.

However, several advocacy organisations -- including Age Action, Alone, The Carers Association and The Disability Federation of Ireland -- warned that the cuts will hit the most vulnerable and their loved ones.

The range of cuts, curtailments and changes to eligibility rules were defended by both the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste yesterday.

Speaking during a trade mission to the Gulf, Enda Kenny stated that each local authority will be given a larger allocation." The fact of the matter is that the overall grant here is increased this year," he said.

Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore said that the measures adopted are "beneficial".

"What minister Jan O'Sullivan has done, and I know she has been talking about this publicly, is targeting this funding at those who need it most."

Just one Labour party member, Roscommon Senator John Kelly, publicly said he believed the measures need to be revisited. "The minister needs to revisit a number of the measures and I will requesting that she does so," he told the Irish Independent.

FORCED

Mr Kelly said he was very concerned about the measure which will allow officials to assess the incomes of all members of a household before determining the size of a grant.

There was particular concern about the impact the measures will have on low-income applicants. For the first time, those with household incomes below €30,000 will be forced to cover 5pc of the cost of the works themselves.

"What the Government has clearly forgotten is that people on these incomes don't have this money to spend. It is simply extraordinary that they are standing over this," said Ms Shortall.

"It particularly shows how the Labour Party is now completely out of touch. They have turned their backs on the most vulnerable of people, the disabled and the elderly," she said.

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

Irish Independent

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