Wednesday, 28 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Aylward: I have specifically referred to Kilkenny County Council but my remarks are directed at the schemes operated by the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Health and Children. I refer specifically to the disabled person's grant scheme, the essential repairs grant, the scheme for improvement works in lieu of local authority housing which is operated by the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the scheme for the elderly operated by the Department of Health and Children through the health boards. Each of these schemes has been developed in a piecemeal way over the years, leading to confusion, bureaucracy, overlapping and bad value for money. It is time we looked at the individual schemes and tried to focus on bringing them into one scheme that would look after the elderly and vulnerable.
The disabled person's grant scheme is operated by Kilkenny County Council in my area. Looking at the Book of Estimates presented to the council, the estimate provided for those grants is nothing short of disastrous. A report has to be referred by the council to an occupational therapist, who is employed by the health board. As a result, there is a delay, another cost and another level of bureaucracy. The matter goes back to the council, where there is an engineer's report and a foreman is involved. Then the work starts. The maximum grant allowable under the scheme is £16,000. Because of the limited amount of money, the time factor and the administrative waste, there is a shortage of funding not just for the year concerned, but on 1 January 2002, when the new funding comes in, Kilkenny County Council will have that entire budget spent almost immediately. That deals with those on the list already – there is no scope for additional applications during the year.
The essential repairs grant is a scheme that remains a mystery to me although I have been on the council since 1974. The scheme is complicated, there is very little money involved and it is practically impossible to qualify for it. Why we have all these schemes, I do not know.
 The scheme for works in lieu of local authority housing is different and is administered by the councils but each individual application has to go to the Department of the Environment and Local Government for approval. One can imagine the lengthy process involved for applicants and councils in getting approval from central Government. It is a waste of time and a sham.
The health boards operate the scheme for the elderly, which involves a maximum of £2,000 and generally allows small works on windows or doors. The funding for this scheme is usually exhausted by the beginning of each year.
Various Departments are involved, the Departments of Health and Children, the Environment and Local Government, Social, Community and Family Affairs and Finance, but is it high time we brought all these together and had one scheme which would serve our requirements? It should not be aspirational for people to want proper heating, windows and doors and a downstairs shower for those who cannot use stairs. It is time we put all this together as, although there is possibly enough money going into the scheme, too much of it is being wasted on administrative costs and on layers of bureaucracy.
I have argued for a long time that the fund for the free fuel scheme, administered by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, should be increased. I believe the scheme should be included in the overall review I seek. A single Department should have responsibility of looking after a proper scheme, in which all moneys would be pooled. There is much more I could say about this issue, but my primary purpose in raising this matter was to try to focus the minds of those in the various Departments. They should come together to provide a decent scheme which serves those in need and not those who administer it.
Mr. D. Wallace: I thank Deputy Aylward for raising this matter. The disabled person's and essential repairs grant schemes are administered by local authorities in accordance with a framework laid down in statutory regulations which is, as far as practicable, designed to give an appropriate degree of flexibility to local authorities administering the schemes.
Under the disabled person's grant scheme, grants are available from local authorities to adapt existing houses to meet the needs of disabled people. The scheme is designed to provide a substantial incentive to carry out necessary adaptations or improvements to dwellings to facilitate disabled persons. A grant of 90% of the approved cost of the work is available in the case of a privately owned house while the grant generally covers the entire cost of works in a local authority tenanted dwelling. The essential repairs grant scheme enables approved applicants for  local authority housing, living in accommodation which cannot be made suitable in all respects at a reasonable cost, to have basic repairs carried out to their houses so they can enjoy an acceptable standard of accommodation. The grant covers 100% of the cost of the work.
The Government has introduced significant improvements to the terms and conditions of both these schemes on three occasions since coming into office. The effective maximum grant available under the disabled person's grant scheme has doubled from £8,000 to £16,000 and the grant under the essential repairs grant scheme has increased from £1,800 to £7,500. The recoupment rate has also been increased, as in November 1998 local authorities were recouped 50% of grants paid, but now they are recouped two thirds of the amount, up to a maximum of £10,667 for the disabled person's grant and £5,000 for the essential repairs grant.
The amount payable in respect of disabled persons or essential repairs is a matter for local authorities, as the schemes are funded from authorities' own resources, within constraints imposed by the amount included for that purpose in the authorities' estimates of expenditure. Authorities have to determine the funding to be provided for the schemes in their areas from within overall allocations by the Department of the Environment and Local Government for house purchase and improvement loans, disabled person's grant and essential repairs grant. The allocations are based on estimates of demand for the schemes provided by the authorities.
Local authority capital receipts, surplus to the requirements of the local authority housing programme and the remedial works scheme, can be  used to meet the authority's portion of the grants paid under the disabled person's and essential repairs grants schemes, with the Minister's approval. The Department of the Environment and Local Government's involvement in the schemes relates primarily to the recoupment of a proportion of local authority expenditure on the payment of individual grants. The recoupment by the Department, as I have stated, to the local authority is two thirds of the grant paid. The significant improvements to the terms and conditions of both of these schemes, together with significant increases in funding from the Department, have resulted in a much higher level of activity under the schemes. In 1997, the Department recouped a total of about £5.28 million to local authorities, a figure which increased to £16.14 million in 2000. An allocation of £24,726,000 has been provided this year.
In line with significant increases in the Department's provision for these schemes, recoupment to Kilkenny County Council has increased substantially. This increase has resulted in increased activity under both schemes within the authority's area. In 1997, the county council paid 39 disabled person's grants, but so far this year there have been 67 payments under the scheme. Some 28 payments were made in 1997 to people in County Kilkenny under the essential repairs grants scheme, compared to 44 payments to date this year. The position regarding grant assistance under the disabled person's and essential repairs grant schemes will be kept under review. Deputy Aylward made some interesting points, which I will convey to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. We will take a close look at the situation.
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