Thursday, 5 April 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
6. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the proposals he has to ensure that applicants under the housing aid for the disabled scheme do not have to wait for up to six months for a medical assessment to qualify for necessary alterations to their dwellings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6030/01]
Mr. Molloy: I assume the Deputy is referring to the disabled persons grant scheme which is administered by local authorities in accordance with the legal framework laid down in section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1979 and statutory regulations made under the Act. The framework laid down in the statutory regulations is, as far as practicable, designed to give an appropriate degree of flexibility to local authorities in administering the scheme.
The regulations governing the scheme do not stipulate that authorities obtain a medical report or an occupational therapist's report. However, authorities generally require such reports to ensure that the most appropriate works are carried out to meet the needs of the applicant and that the potential long-term needs of the appli cant are addressed having regard to his or her disability.
It is a matter for the local authority to determine the level of grants in individual cases, the circumstances in which a grant may be paid and to ensure there are no undue delays in the processing of applications for disabled persons grants.
I have improved the terms and conditions of the scheme on three occasions since 1997 with an effective maximum grant now of £16,000, double what it was in 1997. In the case of a private house, the grant may now cover 90% of the approved cost of the work while the full cost of the works are covered in the case of a local authority house. In December 1998 I also increased the rate of recoupment by my Department to local authorities under the scheme from 50% to 66% of the grant paid.
Ms O. Mitchell: I agree that for the most part local authorities are quite flexible. However, the scheme falls down where an occupational therapist's report is required. There are very few occupational therapists, and a report is required in every case, even when a medical assessment is not required. Normally the health board undertakes such reports, but because they do not have sufficient OTs, people are forced to go to the private sector. Total confusion results as nobody is quite sure—
Ms O. Mitchell: Will the Minister agree to direct local authorities to commission private OTs to carry out the work rather than having the client doing so as they are often in a vulnerable situation and may not be used of the bureaucracy? This would considerably speed up the process.
Mr. Molloy: I fully agree with the points made by the Deputy and am fully aware that undue delays have been caused by requirements at local authority level that there be a report from an occupational therapist. There is no statutory requirement for such a report. I am currently preparing a circular which will issue to local auth orities on how they operate the scheme. This will emphasise that local authorities must exercise discretion on whether they require reports from occupational therapists in individual cases. I am asking them to seriously consider this with a view to ensuring the scheme operates in a flexible and efficient manner with minimum delays. The inclusion of a condition requiring a report from an occupational therapist – occupational therapists are thin on the ground – can result in unnecessarily long delays before inspection takes place and work is commenced. We are fully conscious of the problem and are issuing a special circular on the matter.
Ms Clune: I am pleased to hear the Minister is issuing a circular. I have come across a number of cases where there have been such long delays that the initial tender becomes invalid and it is necessary to return to the drawing board. Will the Minister consider allowing the applicant to provide certification from his or her own occupational therapist?
Mr. Molloy: The scheme is very flexible and it is a matter of how it is being operated. The obligation on the local authority is merely to ensure the work proposed adequately meets the needs of the applicant, be it on the grounds of disability or some other grounds such as an elderly person being unable to climb a stairs. In many cases it is not necessary for local authorities to have highly qualified people telling them how to do that work.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I remind Deputies that a Private Notice Question to the Minister for Public Enterprise will be taken at 4.15 p.m. which curtails the time available for questions to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.
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