Senator claims state grant for elderly to improve homes is 'abused to raise value of property'
A state grant to help the elderly make changes to their homes is being abused, with people "on the verge of passing away or going into a nursing home" receiving it, a senator has claimed.
Senator Martin Conway said the taxpayer was pumping tens of thousands of euro into properties that are then sold or rented when their elderly owner either died or moved into a nursing home.
He said the result was that the family of the homeowner were benefiting and he called for the introduction of a claw-back scheme so a portion of the Housing Adaptation Grant (HAG) has to be re-paid.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Housing Committee, the Fine Gael senator said: "There are members of the public abusing the scheme. I have a number of examples of where, no disrespect to the elderly people, but they are on the verge of passing away or going into a nursing home.
"Their families are drawing down money, they're upgrading the property - thus increasing the value of the property.
"Next thing the person goes into a nursing home and we discover the property is being rented, or sadly the person passes away. And the taxpayer has pumped 20 or 30 grand into a property, upped the value of it."
He has proposed introducing a clawback so that if within the first year of receiving the grant the property is sold or rented, then 50pc of the value must be repaid to the State.
This would fall to 40pc in the second year and so on until after five years there was no liability.
Mr Conway said he gave the Housing Minister a position paper on the issue 12 months ago, but had heard nothing back.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Conway said that while the "vast majority" of people who got the grant were entitled to it, nonetheless the scheme is being abused.
He said: "There are situations where people have died and the property has been sold and probated within 12 months. The works could have been completed in January, the person died a few months later and the value of the property has been enhanced significantly."
Mr Conway said that if the property was inherited by a son or daughter living in the house, they should not have to repay the grant.
He estimated that if 5pc of recipients of the annual €62.5m grants were to die within the first year, around €1m could be clawed-back and used to benefit others.
Responding to a question from Mr Conway at the committee, Mary Hurley, assistant secretary at the Department of Housing, said the last time the scheme had been reviewed was in 2013 when the age criteria to qualify was raised from 60 to 65.
Mr Conway told the Irish Independent: "Five years since any significant change to that scheme is not acceptable. There needs to be a review."
Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd told Ms Hurley such was the difficulty in getting the grant you had to be in category one - terminally ill or fully or mainly dependent on their family or carer - to get it. "You have to be practically dead to get it," he said.