Sinead Ryan answers your property finance questions
My mother is quite infirm and frail but of sound mind and stubborn! She absolutely will not hear of a nursing home, or even a carer, despite her GP recommending it. If she is to remain at home, is there any grant to help with making it safer for her?
She is on the old age pension with a small additional pension from my late father, but we have a little money to assist if necessary. We are worried about her falling especially at night, which could land her in hospital. What kind of modifications are best?
Answer: Your mum sounds like a feisty lady and it’s wonderful that she wants to remain in her own home as long as she can.
There are state grants available for upgrade works, but these are both difficult to qualify for, and dependent on local authority budgets. They are also means tested, so I can’t say whether she will qualify, given her financial situation.
You absolutely should apply in any case, and essentially there are three main grants available: The ‘Housing Aid’ grant pays towards essential repairs to improve the condition of a home so an older person can continue to live there safely. This includes big ticket items like repairing a roof or putting in central heating.
The second is the ‘Housing Adaptation Grant’ which helps with costs to make permanent changes to the home such as wheelchair accessibility, or a downstairs bathroom but priority is given to people with a disability, while the ‘Mobility Aids Grant Scheme’ might hit the mark for your mum.
This provides for things like grab-rails, level access shower or a stair lift, and it sounds to me like this is the one you could be successful with. The grants provide only some of the costs, so you can top it up with your savings.
To apply, your mum’s household income must be less than €30,000 a year, and once the local authority gets the application, it can request an assessment from an occupational therapist to inform its decision. This is good, because they are trained to spot where your mum might benefit most from adaptations. You can get one yourself, or the council will advise on one, and they’ll pay €200 toward the assessment.
Another suggestion, if your mother is open to hearing it, is for companion care. There are a number of companies in this space, but essentially they link older people who live alone with individuals in need of accommodation and, in some cases, learning English. They are not qualified carers, although they do commit to carrying out light duties and providing an overnight presence. If you feel your mum might be interested, organisations like Elder Home Share or The Home Share can help.
There’s usually a monthly fee payable by both sides, but it’s in the range of €250, so not the same price league as a paid full-time carer, and she won’t feel like she’s being "minded’’.
Question: I’m dreading my winter bills. I live in a three- bed house with two flatmates and while we share the utilities I really am worried about what’s ahead. If you have any help on how to keep costs low, or where we can save or get help I’d appreciate it. We are all in our twenties, and don’t have a lot of money. We are with Energia for electricity and gas with Bord Gáis. Is this the best?
Answer: First things first. You are not alone, not by a long mile. The recent budget made a provision to all households of an energy credit of €600. This will be paid in three equal instalments, directly off your bill, with the first one starting before Christmas. If you, rather than your landlord, pays the utilities, then you will get this.
I can’t say whether the two providers are best for you, but you can certainly find out. Get your last two bills, call up and ask for your actual (rather than estimated) usage in kilowatt hours (kWh) for the previous 12 months, what tariff you’re on and what kind of meter you have (night, smart or 24 hour).
Use Bonkers.ie or Switcher.ie, both of which offer direct comparison using these measures to see if they’re cheapest for you. If not, and you’re not locked into a contract (or even if you are but don’t mind being charged €50 to break it), switch to another provider. It takes minutes.
If your house has already been fitted with a smart meter, make sure the provider knows that and you use a ‘smart tariff’.
This gives you and them real-time information and use, by appliance, so you can see where the culprits are. After that, hop onto the SEAI website (seai.ie) which has great energy saving tips in all rooms to help cut back costs. If any of you are working from home, claim the WFH utility tax credit from Revenue, allowing tax relief on 30pc of your bills.
Apart from that, and I don’t want to be glib, but plug out anything you’re not using, invest in draught excluders for the interior doors (old tights stuffed in a pair of tights will do), and set up a household account to use for bills: ask everyone to put in extra just until winter is through, and pay your bill from it.