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Minister says 'elderly grant cut was open'

HOUSING Minister Jan O'Sullivan has claimed there was no attempt to quietly implement draconian cuts to grants that allowed the elderly to continue living in their homes.

Local authorities were sent a memo on December 31 signed off by Ms O'Sullivan which detailed the clampdown on funding to help people buy stairlifts and ramps or carry out renovations.

Neither the cuts, which came into effect on January 1, nor the review into them were publicised.

REJECTED

Ms O'Sullivan rejected claims that the Government tried to quietly implement the cuts over the holiday period, and said the process was "absolutely open".

"We had to look at the review, take note of the recommendations that were made and the intention that was behind them and that was normally done on January 1," she said.

"We are always quite open about any of these decisions made."

The three schemes under the axe are the Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability, the Housing Aid for Older People and the Mobility Aids Grant.

Age Action Ireland has said the changes could mean that people who would be able to stay at home if their houses were improved would now be at risk of illness which in turn could mean hospitalisation and pressure on the creaking health system.

"It stands to reason that if elderly people's homes are cold they are more likely to suffer illness, and sick people have to go somewhere," head of advocacy Eamon Timmins told the Herald.

"We need the Department of Environment and the Department of Health to work together. This doesn't make sense."

The new rules drawn up by the Department of the Environment will affect grants for carrying out home improvements such as installing insulation and heating systems, and make qualification for the grants more difficult.

An estimated 10,000 families receive funding from three state schemes each year.

The new rules include cuts of more than 40pc to certain payments, significant reductions in thresholds and changes to eligibility rules that will see some elderly people lose their grants entirely.

REPAY

For the first time, officials will also assess the incomes of all members of a household.

The changes also include the prospect of people being forced to repay grants if their home is sold.

The clampdown includes the slashing of grants by up to €2,500 a year for elderly and disabled people in need of home improvements; a reduction in the maximum qualifying income threshold from €65,000 to €60,000; and increasing the age limit for eligibility for older persons' grants from 60 to 66.

hnews@herald.ie


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