ALONE’s review of Housing Adaptation Grants finds waiting lists, overspending and challenges in accessing funding for older people.
A review by ALONE into Housing Adaptation Grants across the country has highlighted overspending, significant waiting lists, and difficulty in accessing funding for older people and people with disabilities.
The three Housing Adaptation Grants (Housing Aid for Older People scheme; Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability; and the Mobility Aids Grant Scheme) are funded to support older people and people with disabilities to adapt or improve their home to meet their needs to the tune of €83m per annum in total. Funding in 2007 was €71.3m per annum.
This 16% increase in funding is modest in comparison to the 66% increase in the population aged 65+ and considering significant building inflation. With nearly €1bn in the Department of Housing going unspent last year, it seems a simple solution to fund the grants and enable older and disabled people age at home in comfort and security. The grants provide funding for areas including installing accessible bathroom facilities, stairlifts, and improving poor housing conditions. Bathroom adaptations are the highest need among the older people ALONE work with experiencing housing difficulties. In the month of August, ALONE staff assisted 57 people with applications for bathroom adaptations.
Information released to ALONE under the Freedom of Information Act by Local Authorities showed that several Local Authorities could not meet the needs of all their applicants, with significant waiting lists and budget overspends.
ALONE have highlighted the below statistics from their review. All figures requested from Local Authorities were as of 1 August 2023:
- There were more than 3,500 older people and people with disabilities on waiting lists for housing adaptation grants in the 26 local authority areas for which responses could be collated. However, this likely underestimates the extent of the waiting lists because some Local Authorities state they “do not keep waiting lists”.
- For example, Kildare County Council said they had no waiting list but provided figures for “unapproved applications on hand”, of which there are 253.
- Although some Local Authorities referred to not keeping a waiting list or did not release these figures, in practice this did not appear to reflect reality. For example, in Limerick 980 applications in total had been received year to date, of which 15 had been denied and 552 approved. This would indicate a de facto waiting list of 413 applications which had yet to be processed.
- Some local authorities had overspent or reached their annual budget for the grants by August. Monaghan County Council had overspent their annual budget by €522,715, while Meath County Council had overspent by €300,000. Fingal County Council had awarded 99% of its annual funding allocation by 1 August, with 194 applicants on their waiting list by this point, and a further five months of the year to go.
Challenges accessing the grants
- Louth County Council had 562 applications on the waiting list and closed the scheme to new applicants until January 2024 because of the level of demand, although work is reportedly ongoing to reopen the scheme before this.
- Galway County Council had awarded 202 grants in total year to date, but received 752 applications, indicating that there were significantly more applications waiting to be processed than they had actually granted. Similarly, Roscommon County Council had awarded 106 grants but received 233 applications received so far this year.
Seán Moynihan, CEO of ALONE said “These figures are on top of difficulties already reported throughout the year with Housing Adaptation Grants due to areas seeing higher demand than they could cope with. For example, Mayo County Council has implemented spending restrictions for the grants for the remainder of the year. We are calling for an additional €85.3m per annum to be made available. We have been waiting for the publication of a Department of Housing review of Housing Adaptation Grants, due to be published in 2022, for almost a year now. But these new figures highlight that the scheme is significantly underfunded compared to demand. Part of the housing crisis is in providing suitable housing for those that need it and adaptation grants provide this exactly where it is needed.”
He continued, “We have often come across cases where older people are essentially stranded in an upper floor of their home for months at a time for want of a stairlift, or must wait for weeks to be discharged from hospital until works can be completed. We have worked with older people living in homes with fire hazards, with extensive damp, sometimes without central heating or even indoor plumbing. We work with older people who still do not have indoor toilets. Our services staff have highlighted that some older people they work with have been waiting for more than a year for access to grants. This is funding that supports older people to live at home and is money well spent in preventing unnecessary nursing home admission and improving quality of life.”
ALONE made a submission to the open consultation process on Housing Adaptation Grants last year, which included recommendations to increase the funding limits to the grants; for the grants to cover 100% of the costs of the work for people in financial hardship; and for only the income of the older person and their spouse to be included when calculating household income and eligibility for the grants. In addition, ALONE have made a submission calling for decluttering and deep cleaning to be added as potential supports that can be funded through the Housing Aid for Older People scheme for people living in hoarding situations.
Moynihan concluded, “Most of all, we need our politicians to step up and advocate for the older people and people with disabilities in their constituencies so that funding for Housing Adaptation Grants and access to these is considerably improved. We know that for some of the older people we work with, even if these changes are implemented for Budget 2024, it will be too late for them. The underfunding of these grants and the challenges older people experience in accessing them is actively preventing older people from ageing comfortably and safely at home, contrary to Government policy. We must see the publication of the report by the Department of Housing, and we must significantly increase funding to housing adaptation grants for older people.”