My speech in Dáil Éireann on my Bill which will make it quicker and easier to apply for the Housing Adaption grant for people with a Disability:
I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
I wish to share my time with Deputy O’Rourke, who is co-sponsor of this Bill, and with Deputy Murphy O’Mahony.
All parties and Members of this House, regardless of ideology, are wedded to the notion that the best place for an elderly family relative or a relative who is sick, infirm or unable to look after himself or herself is in the security and comfort of their family home.
Everybody espouses that notion, at least verbally. It is obvious that if one is keeping an elderly person at home, a person who is ill or unable to look after himself or herself, in most cases it will require alteration works to be done to the house – for example, a downstairs bathroom, grab rails and various other items which we all deal with every day in the course of our constituency clinics.
The sum of €71 million provided for the housing adaptation grants last year. It should be a greater amount as it is not sufficient to do the job but this Bill is not about that and that is for another day. This Bill is about the difficulties in the administration of housing adaptation grants.
Everybody with a passing knowledge of the electorate or of their constituents will know that the administration of housing adaptation grants is very slow, tedious, bureaucratic and varies from one local authority to another. That very fact was recognised in the Government’s National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, which gave a definitive commitment to review how the application process should be streamlined. If the application process was perfect and was working very smoothly, it would not have been recommended that a study should be done on how it should be streamlined.
What we are proposing here is to streamline the process. In essence, this Bill provides that certain information is needed together with the completed application form. The applicant should collect this information and submit it with the application form to prevent this toing and froing with the county council writing out after a couple of months looking for a another document or amending a certain document.
The applicant should collect all the relevant documentation, including the quotations, and submit them together with the completed application form which would enable the council to make a decision on the matter within four weeks. We recognise that it would not be practicable, for whatever reason, in unusual cases to make a decision within four weeks but the target for the local authority will be four weeks.
The language and wording of the Bill may not be perfect. Some Deputies may believe too much latitude is given to the county councils and if they want us to tighten up on the wording, I and my colleague will be more than happy to listen to any reasoned amendments in that regard.
This process, if adopted, will bring uniformity and efficiency. It will remove the present uncertainty and enforced waiting periods. When a family applies for a grant towards the provision of an extra, or a downstairs, bathroom to enable a disabled relative to stay in the house, they often have to ascertain from the local authority how much of a grant they will get in order to see if they have the resources to go ahead with the work.
If somebody needs a grant, the work cannot start until approval is given to go ahead. This has caused enormous delays and it has had a knock-on effect. In 2018, for example, 206,000 hospital bed days were lost due to delayed discharges.
This has created much anxiety, distress and worry for families who did not know if they would get the grant, how long it will take to get it and how much it would amount to in order for them to plan ahead. We propose, along the lines suggested by the national disability strategy document, to remove that uncertainty and to introduce uniformity and efficiency into the process.
Private Members’ time is usually used in an adversarial manner to criticise Government policy or to have a go at the Government but this is an exception to that. This is not an adversarial Bill, it is not political and there is no cost involved.
I said that I would like to see the amount for housing adaptation grants increased but this Bill is not about that. In fact, it will be of assistance to local authority officials as it will enable them to operate more efficiently if the documentation is provided to them and they just need to check it out. Most importantly, it will assist vulnerable families who are looking after vulnerable people.
There are 115,000 disabled people living in private accommodation. Last year only about 3,000 housing adaptation grants were approved. We are not looking for headlines or credit here. I do not care who gets the credit, quite frankly. I simply want the right thing to be done.
In politics, sometimes, but all too rarely, one gets the opportunity to do something that is going to make a tangible improvement in people’s lives, something that is visibly and demonstrably good. When that opportunity comes along, collectively, we should take it and do the right thing. I note the Government is proposing to introduce an amendment to delay the implementation of this Bill, which I have not seen.
Nobody has thought it worth his or her while to forward it to me. If that is the case, I would be extremely disappointed and would need a very good reason the Government believe that such a delay is necessary. Back in 2017, the Government’s disability strategy document recommended that the process should be streamlined. If the Government is prepared to allow the current clearly unsatisfactory situation to continue, which every Deputy, Senator and councillor has experienced, it had better have a very good reason for doing so.
This Bill is non-political, non-adversarial and will not command the headlines tomorrow. One could be sure that if this Bill was passed today, tomorrow’s front pages would be all about the Taoiseach having a word with some backbencher, some other twist in the Brexit crisis or some other development in the crime situation in north Dublin. This is not high-profile. This is simply an opportunity to do some good for people who deserve a lift. I urge the Government with all the resources at my command to accept this legislation. It can take all the credit it wishes for that.
We do not want any credit but want to do something good for people who deserve to have something good done for them.