Wednesday, 30 November 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Finneran: Following consultation with local groups and Muintir na Tíre in the Longford-Roscommon constituency, I tabled this adjournment matter. Muintir na Tíre is the national body at the forefront in supporting elderly people who wish to live in their own homes, with back-up supports and appropriate alarm systems in the event of any difficulties that might arise. The proposals revolve around the introduction of a subvention towards the costs of the annual monitoring fee for socially-monitored alarms, grant-aided by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs under the community supports for older people scheme. We are asking for a subvention towards the monitoring fee.
Approximately 60,000 persons are supplied with socially-monitored alarm systems funded by the Department. Based on a monitoring fee of €75, the annual cost to the Exchequer would be approximately €4.5 million. Monitoring fees range between €45 and €90 per annum. A monitoring subvention of €50 would be a major help to people, particularly those on fixed incomes, people with disabilities or old age pensioners. The benefits to the people involved and the Exchequer would be that older people could remain living in their own homes. Older people would feel more secure in their environment and would have a much improved quality of life. For the State, the reduction in costs for nursing home and medical care would become apparent quickly.
The proposal revolves around the introduction of allowances along the lines of the free fuel and telephone line rental allowances. Muintir na Tíre proposes that a voucher type system is introduced where community alert groups, approximately 1,300 nationwide, would be issued with a voucher to submit annually to monitoring companies on behalf of people supplied with socially-monitored alarms. In turn, the companies would receive subventions from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I do not have to inform the House of Muintir na Tíre’s contribution to communities over the years. Its submission to the Department must be considered either in the forthcoming budget or in new proposals from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
Mr. Ellis: I support Muintir na Tíre’s proposal. All Members will be aware of the tremendous work it has done. Members will also be aware of the work done by social groups with regard to providing alarms for the elderly. This is one way of assisting people who feel threatened in their own homes. Members will know of some of the recent cases where the elderly have been attacked in their homes. If a properly monitored system was available to the elderly, they would participate in it.
A subvention of €50 per annum is not out of line, particularly when considered in the context of the telephone rental and other allowances available to the elderly. This proposal must be looked at favourably by the Minister. I hope he will take this into consideration with the Estimates. It is imperative that those who wish to remain in their own homes enjoy maximum independence, security and assistance. A monitored alarm is a back-up, allowing access to help, if needed, as if there was another person living in the home.
Mr. Killeen: I acknowledge the commitment of Deputies Ellis and Finneran to this issue. I am answering on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, who has another engagement.
Responsibility for the scheme of community supports for older people was transferred to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs from the Department of Social and Family Affairs in June 2002. The scheme was established in the mid-1990s in response to a spate of burglaries on the homes of older people. It is based on the concept of contact with people at local level. For this reason, the funding was provided to voluntary and community organisations rather than grant-aiding individuals to assist and stimulate broader community support for older people.
The scheme is, therefore, administered by local community and voluntary groups with the support of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Since its inception, funding in excess of €30 million has been awarded by the State to community and voluntary organisations to provide socially-monitored alarms and other security items for those members of the community in need of such equipment. Funding can be provided under the scheme for the once-off cost of installing socially monitored alarm systems, window locks, door locks and door chains designed to strengthen points of entry to the dwelling and security lighting. In 2004, a grant for smoke alarms was introduced.
The maximum grants available to individuals are €300 for socially monitored alarms, €150 for physical security equipment, €150 for security lighting and €50 for smoke alarms. Funding was provided at 90% of the cost of equipment between 1997 and 2003. In 2004, following a review of the scheme, the 90% limit on funding was abolished and replaced with individual maximum grants, as outlined. Community groups were being given quotes from suppliers ranging from €250 to as much as €500. Given that these products vary little, it seemed reasonable to limit the grant to €300 per individual. The aim of this measure is to encourage competition between suppliers in the interest of ensuring value for money for taxpayers and individual applicants. I am aware that a number of suppliers quoted under €300 for the installation of socially monitored alarms. Anyone availing of these quotes is, therefore, 100% grant aided under the scheme, effectively leaving the individual applicant with nothing to pay for his or her socially monitored alarm.
The changes introduced in 2004 have no implications for the overall funding available for the scheme and €2.8 million has been allocated to the scheme of community supports for older people in 2005. This constitutes a 17% increase on the 2004 scheme which received an allocation of €2.4 million. The scheme is advertised on an annual basis with a specified closing date. Given the nature of the scheme, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs exercises a degree of flexibility regarding the closing date. After the closing date and in circumstances where an individual requires equipment urgently, the Department will accept additional applicants to the group’s application during the period of processing.
The Department has also received a number of proposals, including one from Muintir na Tíre, regarding the facilitation of emergency cases. These will be considered when the guidelines come up for review for the 2006 scheme. While I accept there is occasionally a need for such facilitation, most groups appear to get by without major problems. Although the guidelines for the scheme call for a closing date, the Department is flexible. Many late applications have been accepted and in most cases groups have been facilitated. When such applications arise, the Department considers the circumstances case by case within the resources available and makes every effort, in co-operation with the voluntary groups, to facilitate such cases. To date, more than 200 applications have been approved and many groups have received their grants and are in a position to begin installing security equipment.
Deputies Finneran and Ellis will appreciate that the scheme has been running for the greater part of a decade and has supplied security equipment to many older people. Since 1997 more than €30 million has been provided to assist older people under the scheme. Personal security depends on a range of factors and this scheme makes a valuable contribution to the security requirements of eligible older people.
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