Housing (Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

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.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I am co-sponsoring with my colleague, Deputy O'Dea. To capture some of the points made by my colleague, this Bill is being brought forward for the right reason, which is to alleviate congestion in a process that is unnecessarily backlogged. It will help the most vulnerable in society, that is, the elderly who need their houses adapted or people with a disability.

We do not want it to grab a headline. We just want it to help the people who are on the front line and need access to this service, and for these grants to be approved more efficiently and effectively, so they can improve their standard of life and keep living at home where they are happiest. That is key. I am completely opposed to the Government amendment proposing to delay the process for six months. It is unnecessary. What we are suggesting here is to help the process in line with the review that is being carried out at the moment. These provisions could be implemented tomorrow morning and they would not affect the review. All the Bill does is provide that the relevant information would be gathered and submitted at the same time as the application and a decision would be made within a month. That is not the case at the moment. There is no good reason not to accept this because it is a positive, practical, pragmatic piece of work that my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, and I have undertaken.

The proposed measure is mainly geared at people living in private homes who need adaptation work done as they get older or due to a disability. We know the same grant system for council tenants is administered through a completely different process, namely, the architects' departments in the local authorities. This will streamline the process and make it much more efficient. When we spoke to colleagues in different local authorities we found that decisions on applications can take six months or more. While some local authorities are exceptionally good, there is, unfortunately, inconsistency in the process. This inconsistency places the most vulnerable, the people who are suffering, at risk.

I am familiar with the position in hospitals and nursing homes through my work in my home county. People are waiting for grants to be approved and are going through a lengthy process, which is unnecessarily dragged out. People are medically fit to be discharged from a hospital or nursing home but cannot leave due to delays in grants being approved and in completing the modification work needed to make their homes suitable for them to operate independently. That is a serious problem. People who want to be independent want to be at home, not in hospitals or nursing homes, especially when they know they could live happily at home if some modifications were done to their house with the aid of this grant of up to a maximum of €30,000.

It is worth pointing out the detail of the Bill. It would not create an extra cost for the applicant. The current process and the one proposed are similar and parallel. The only difference is that our Bill provides for the information gathering to be done at the one time. The application still has to be completed by the applicant. He or she still must submit all income details and confirm that he or she has paid the property tax where applicable. The Bill provides that applicants would submit an occupational therapist's report. The occupational therapists in the community or in hospitals are working with the people who need these modifications. In most cases, they make a recommendation with the application in the first instance or may even contact the local authority to help these people get back to independent living. The irony is that we have suitably qualified occupational therapists in the community making practical, pragmatic recommendations that are completely ignored. That creates further delays and problems in the process. The Bill provides that the recommendations of occupational therapists operating on the ground, who are helping people with these applications, would be submitted with the application. In addition, two registered, tax compliant contractors would submit quotations for the works, as is currently the case, except that this is done at the moment over a protracted period. Under the provisions of the Bill, the quotations would be submitted with the applications. In most cases at the moment there is no need for an architect to do any design or drawing unless the works are substantial. Currently, if a drawing is required, it is up to the applicant to submit the drawing. Therefore, we are not changing anything. We are providing that such designs by a suitably qualified person will be submitted if needed. There is no change or additional cost to the applicant. There is no impediment. Applicants have to submit all of this information over a protracted period at present and the Bill provides for it to be submitted at the one time and for a decision to be made within four weeks of the application being submitted. That makes the whole process much more efficient and streamlined for the applicant.

Occupational therapists working in the community with those who are ageing or have a disability see the complications in the home that need to be addressed quickly. At the moment, when the application goes into the local authority and it sends out its own occupational therapist, he or she can take a view that is completely at variance with what is practical and pragmatic. He or she may have no understanding for the issues people are experiencing or the turmoil in their life caused by their condition. In one recent case, one of these occupational therapists recommended to put someone who was severely disabled into a room with no window. That is the level of silliness and inconsistency that is going on at the moment. When it was flagged in the community occupational therapist's report, who was working with the individual on a weekly basis, it was completely ignored.

We are trying to cut out all the delay and unnecessary red tape and to work with suitably qualified people on the ground. Our population is ageing, as the Minister of State knows, and more and more people will want to live independently at home. The Bill is a good way of making sure that happens sooner rather than later. I hope the Government embraces the Bill, the positives in it and the sentiments behind it. It is motivated only for the sake of one individual, the applicant, who needs to live independently in his or her own home with the help of a grant to overcome the issues caused by age or by having a disability.

The chronic lack of expediency in respect of housing grants is limiting the ability of people with disabilities to live independent lives. These grants are very popular and once applications are sanctioned, the transition goes quite smoothly most of the time. It is getting to this point that is the problem. The National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2020 makes provision for a review of housing grants in any event so why not expedite matters and ease the burden on persons with disabilities and their families? One of my offices in Cork South West is assisting a person who suffered a stroke at the end of last year. This person is set to be discharged from hospital. However, the family awaits a decision on an adaptation grant. The position as of today is that the family will have to rent a house, which they can ill afford, so that their loved one may be discharged. This person could, of course, linger on in hospital. However, as my colleague stated, beds are being underutilised because of circumstances such as these. I have stated previously that a disability should not mean that a person cannot live an independent life. The State needs to up its game. People with a disability and their families deserve a break and it is time to secure what is needed and necessary.

I commend Deputies O'Dea and O'Rourke on bringing forward this Bill. As politicians, many of us in this House have been involved in local authorities at one time or another. We are very much aware of the works that are needed to help and support elderly people in their homes. Those who apply for this type of grant have often suffered some medical event and are in hospital. They need to get out and, as colleagues know, everybody wants to live in their own home. That is where they want to be. This Bill will ensure that decisions on applications for a housing adaptation grant are made within a month of an application being submitted. As was said earlier, the works involved do not cost a fortune. The maximum grant is €30,000 but in most cases €4,000 or €5,000 would make all the difference to the applicant. It may allow people to come home or to have a level access shower or whatever they need in their homes. It is, therefore, very important to them.

Sligo County Council processed a significant number of grants last year. This year, the council made funds available in its budget for 2019 but unfortunately the allocation to the council was cut by €200,000. Many people will be left in hospital because a grant is not available. In April 2019, the HSE confirmed that 620 patients are in hospitals because of delayed discharges. These are people who are medically fit and would be ready to go home if their homes were suitable. The current approach is penny wise and pound foolish. It is crucial that these grants are made available quickly because waiting for the outcome for two or three months holds up a bed in a hospital or somewhere else.

Housing aid for the elderly is another issue involving Sligo County Council. For the past 18 months, except in the case of a category one application, which doctors are very reluctant to approve, no grant has been available. Some people in Sligo have not been able to avail of a grant for 18 months. These are important grants because they provide funds to fix a leaking roof, broken windows and other repairs needed to secure a house and make it suitable for people to live in comfortably. Will the Minister of State address this issue because it is very unfair?

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann, while acknowledging the spirit of the Housing (Adaptation Grant For People With A Disability) Bill 2018, resolves that the Bill be deemed to be read a second time this day six months, to allow for the Government to further explore the extent to which the underlying ambition of the Bill can be addressed in the context of a review of the operation of the relevant grant schemes, which is already underway, and to allow for further consideration of certain legal issues associated with the Bill.”

I apologise if my voice is a bit croaky for some reason. It may be the result of weeks spent on canvassing during the local elections. I am sorry the Deputy did not get a copy of the amendment. It is on the Order Paper, however. It is a straightforward amendment which proposes to move the second reading of the Bill six months into the future, if possible. I hope Deputy Scanlon and his colleagues will agree to it. I will explain the reasons for doing so as I go along.

We recognise the spirit of the Bill and that it is not political legislation but a genuine effort to discuss how we can improve in this area. In that vein, while we are happy to agree with the Bill in as far as possible, we are seeking a time extension to deal with some aspects of it. We are not opposing the Bill, even if we might not agree with everything being put forward. This amendment seeks to secure agreement in the House. Deputies, councillors and others all agree that this is an area that needs change. We want to see this money spent much faster on the homes of those who need it. We started work on this issue some months ago. We want to continue with the review and the workshops that are taking place to enable us to implement the appropriate changes.

Clearly, everybody wants changes in this area but we have to get these changes right. Making some small changes now and then some other minor ones later is not the answer. We need full reform of this area, which is why we started the review. We also launched a document some months ago. It details a whole policy framework and a new approach from the Departments of Health and Housing, Planning and Local Government with all of the local authorities. It focuses on housing options for those who are ageing. The Fianna Fáil Party spokesperson on matters affecting older people, Deputy Butler, agreed with the plan and indicated it was a good process. The plan includes a commitment to review this whole area and the review started some months ago. We want to make changes and we recognise that has to happen. Everybody here has expressed that view as well. We are committed to making positive changes where that can be done. It is not the case that we are trying to hide or run away from this issue and this is not an attempt to apportion credit. People know me at this stage and that is not what I am into. This is about doing the right thing. Perhaps Fianna Fáil will come on board and agree to park this Bill for six months as we complete the work that is under way. That would allow us to bring in all of those changes as well.

I thank Deputies O'Dea, O'Rourke and Murphy O'Mahony for bringing forward the Bill. It is important that we have this discussion and debate. We probably do not discuss this issue enough in this House. I stated before that the whole issue of housing for the elderly and people with disabilities is one we have to focus on much more. At every meeting we have with local authorities we push the need to focus on the needs of those from different age groups and those with different abilities. We are also planning ahead for new housing for people who are ageing so that we will not always be trying to adapt. We recognised at the policy launch that while we are waiting for the supply of new houses to come on stream, we will have to adapt much of the housing stock in the private and public sectors. We are committed to doing that and to increasing funding in this area every year in the foreseeable future.

I may be incorrect but I thought I heard a previous speaker refer to funding of €1 million being available this year. The figure for this year is €71 million and it was €64 million last year. A second fund exists for the adaptation of social housing. Spending in the area we are discussing is €71 million this year. It is correct that it should be at that level and the amount allocated will increase every year. We need to do that because we recognise that there is major demand in this area. Last year, this funding helped with the adaptation of 11,000 houses and we hope to do the same again this year. Deputy Scanlon is right that in some cases the spending required is not substantial. In many cases, the amounts involved are between €8,000 and €10,000. A figure closer to €30,000 may be needed in some cases but in many cases an intervention of €10,000 makes a big difference and is life-changing for a family. We all recognise that and we want to work on that as well.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this. I am seeking to table a reasonable amendment to the Bill proposed by Fianna Fáil to defer the second reading for six months to explore further the extent to which the underlying ambition of the Bill can be addressed in the context of a review, which has been under way since April, of the operation of the relevant grant schemes and to allow for further consideration of certain legal issues associated with the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a requirement that local authorities adhere to a defined decision time when administering the housing adaption grant for people with a disability.

While not subscribing to every aspect of the Fianna Fáil Bill, the Government will not oppose it. In the time available, I will outline some of the issues that require consideration and some of the actions that are under way to improve the quality and management of the grant application process. We have workshops with all of the local authorities where we encourage best practice. Some counties excel in this area and make quick decisions, while others, which the Deputies will know well, are behind the curve in administering these grants. The money is allocated and the local authorities know it is coming, yet there are still major delays. These decisions are often administered locally. I want to stress that some local authorities do a great job and we must acknowledge that. We cannot paint everyone with the same brush.

The suite of housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability for private homeowners is 80% funded from the Exchequer, with a 20% funding contribution from the resources of each local authority. These grants are implemented locally by the local authorities. Three distinct grant types are available. The housing adaption grant for people with a disability provides a grant of up to €30,000 to assist people with a disability to have necessary adaptations, repairs or improvement works carried out on their homes. The housing aid for older people scheme provides grants of up to €8,000 to assist older people living in poor housing conditions to have necessary repairs or improvements carried out. The mobility aids grant scheme is available to fast-track grants of up to €6,000 to cover a basic suite of works to address the mobility problems of a member of a household. Demand for the grants has been consistently high since the schemes were introduced in 2007. Rebuilding Ireland includes a commitment to increase funding and make the grants more accessible. A similar commitment is made in A Programme for a Partnership Government and the policy document launched some months ago and sponsored by two Departments. Everybody is focused on this area. Deputy Scanlon acknowledged that he is trying to be helpful and is not being political.

The recently published policy document, Housing Options For Our Ageing Population, also strongly emphasised the Department's commitment to streamlining the application process and ensuring that grants are more accessible to applicants, specifically those who need them. This debate on Second Stage provides us with some time to consider the general principle of the Bill. I will outline some of the issues of concern to the Government on which we need to reflect in the months ahead. The key provision in the Bill is that decisions must be made by the local authority on grant applications within four weeks. The motivation behind the Bill, as I mentioned, may be to address the longer waiting times that exist in some but not all local authorities. The approach of legislating for a precise defined timeline on applications does not address the real underlying causes of longer waiting times in some local authorities. There are a number of issues involved, including the priorities of some local authorities and the demands they face in respect of local agendas. The submission of incomplete applications can also lead to delays. We have addressed this issue and we want to focus on whether the forms are too complicated and if there is too much red tape involved in the process. Deputy Scanlon referred to that point. Some local authorities require the submission of additional documentation. We also want to focus on that issue, try to reflect best practice and streamline the processes involved. A requirement for planning permission is also a factor in some applications. This is very often a grey area that needs to be clarified. The availability of occupational therapists and construction tradespeople to provide estimates of costs is another issue in certain areas.

From a practical perspective, the Bill, as presented, may have unintended consequences. The grants already have a legislative base under the Housing Acts and the regulations made under those Acts. It is in those regulations that operational arrangements are appropriately set out, not in separate primary legislation that may only serve to confuse the legislative landscape. It might be a case of having to change those regulations instead of the primary legislation. The full scheme title, as covered by the relevant regulations, is the "Housing Adaption Grant for Older People and People with a Disability". This Bill, however, is entitled the Housing (Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability) Bill 2018. It is unclear, therefore, whether the Bill intends to cover all three of the grants available under the scheme or just the housing adaption grant for people with a disability. I trust that probably is the intention but this matter must be identified and rectified.

If it is intended to cover the housing adaptation grant only for those with disabilities, it may lead to a two-tier system whereby applications under other schemes are processed differently. I doubt that is something the proposers want to achieve.

Enactment of the Bill would mean an applicant would have to submit a report from a construction professional such as an architect or building engineer with the completed application stating the dwelling is suitable for the proposed works, which is to say that it is suitable for a person with disability. Currently, this function is normally carried out by local authority inspectors following the receipt of an application. This legislation could require an applicant to source and pay for a report before an application is submitted. That is the danger of the way the legislation is drafted and it is something we want to address. I accept that is not what it is sought to achieve, I state simply that it arises as an issue. We have to ask whether it is the right approach and tease it out. The Government's view is that the provision is contrary to the objective of reducing the quantity of documentation required at application stage. We should give consideration to the issue before progressing the Bill.

We must also consider the practical implications of the legislation in respect of the requirement for an occupational therapist's report. The Bill requires that such a report be submitted with an application. According to Deputy Frank O'Rourke, the intention is that the community occupational therapists will provide the report, but in some cases people have to pay for that service. I acknowledge that the approach is consistent with the practice of a number of local authorities which require an applicant to pay for the occupational therapist's report up front and to claim up to €200 back from the local authority. However, the proposal would close out flexibility for other local authorities which cover the costs by engaging panels of local occupational therapists to evaluate applications when they are received. The latter approach is easier for the applicant as the local authority handles the provision and payment of the therapist who works on a panel. Further, there are cases in which an occupational therapy report is unnecessary.

I raise also the concerns that arise in the proposal that two estimates of costs be submitted by an applicant along with proof of a contractor's tax clearance certificate. Local authorities already operate this policy, but they advise the Department that applicants are finding it increasingly difficult to get tradespeople to provide quotes. Local authorities do not require two costs estimates if there are genuine difficulties obtaining them but the Bill has the potential to remove this flexibility. I recognise that the majority of authorities have this requirement, but they are telling us they want to move away from that. It is something one might want to change in the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to address this very important matter and to set out the Sinn Féin position on it. I commend Fianna Fáil on introducing the Bill and hope sincerely that we can all work together to improve dramatically the entire process whereby citizens with disabilities access vital funding to carry out adaptation works to their homes. Improving the system through a speedy and simplified process would be a great relief to family members who find themselves utterly frustrated, annoyed and under severe stress as they try to navigate what can be an arduous bureaucratic nightmare. Their energies would be better channelled towards their suffering loved ones. I note from a reply to my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, last week the significant disparity in the drawing down of funding across local authorities up to 30 April 2019. This is consistent with the position in years gone by when funding drawdown appeared to have no consistency on a local authority by local authority basis. To the end of April 2019, not a single euro was drawn down in Cavan, Laois, Louth, Offaly or Wicklow by any local authority to fund housing adaptions. Kildare has drawn down just €19,228 whereas Wexford County Council drew down €637,136. This is absolute madness. While budgetary processes and timelines may offer some explanation, the differences recorded are beyond belief. In that regard, I must say "Well done, Wexford".

Housing adaptations must be streamlined in a single system and funding must be apportioned without delay on the basis of need. The time it takes for funding to be returned by a local authority which does not use its allocation to meet the demands of another leaves people waiting unnecessarily. Money must be made available as a matter of urgency for those in need. What we know for sure is that changes must be made because the system in place does not work in the manner it needs to. Of course, there is an onus on local authorities to ensure works proposals and related funding requirements for housing allocations are as accurate as possible. As such, there should be no extensive waiting lists for housing adaptation grants. Similarly, funding provision must be fluid with funds being made available as need arises across all local authority areas. Adapting houses on the basis of need is economically and socially prudent. It is widely recognised that the best care a person can receive is provided in the setting of their own homes and communities surrounded by family, friends and neighbours. We are all aware of the cost of full-time residential care in nursing home settings, whether public or private. We are aware also that there is an acute shortage of beds with long waiting lists to secure a nursing home place. It is imperative therefore that funding is made available to carry out adaptations to homes when needed.

I turn now to address a related housing and disability matter as the debate allows. I am sure all Deputies will know Ms Sinead Stack who has lobbied every Deputy, Senator and MEP in relation to her brother who is desperately seeking a residential place in County Kerry. Ger Stack is 40 years old and has a profound intellectual disability, physical disability and epilepsy and he is non-verbal. Ger and three peers are all now middle aged with complex care needs requiring high level, 24/7 support for all aspects of their lives. They are all living at home with aging carers, in most of cases their parents. Many of their parents are struggling with health issues of their own. What is required is a residential service to provide a forever home for these four adults. Engagement with the HSE and the St. John of God organisation took place two years ago and an application for emergency funding was submitted to the HSE. The HSE agrees that there is a residential service requirement to meet Ger Stack's long-term care needs, but no funding has been received for the development of a service in 2018 or 2019 for Cork and Kerry community healthcare. Mr. Stack's needs have now been placed with a residential placement committee which comprises representatives from all relevant organisation in the Cork and Kerry area. The committee reviews applications for residential places and assigns priority on the basis of need. Mr. Stack's data have also been placed with the management assessment process of the disabilities services. That allows a profile to be established and a residential place identified should a vacancy arise. I ask the Minister of State to note all of what I am saying in the absence of the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities who I expected would be here tonight. In December 2017, Ms Sinead Stack and family members and advocates met the Minister of State and did so again yesterday. I appeal in the strongest terms for the issue to be looked at as a matter of urgency and given the priority address it undoubtedly requires. Direct intervention is necessary and I urge the Minister of State, Deputy English, to speak to his colleague to ensure this matter is addressed at long last.

The Bill states that its aim is to provide for ease of access to housing adaptation grants for people with disabilities where applicants qualify for same and to provide for related matters. The Bill states further that local authorities administering housing adaptation grants for people with disabilities shall from establishment day process in so far as practicable an application for such a grant within a period of not more than four weeks from the date of receipt of said application. Sinn Féin supports these aims. I join Fianna Fáil colleagues in urging the Government to support the Bill on Second Stage to allow the proposals contained therein to be addressed in greater detail on remaining Stages. As disabilities spokesperson for Sinn Féin, I commit our support for the Bill on all Stages. I commend those who moved the legislation.

The Bill calls for standardisation, ease of access and time limits in respect of applications for housing adaptation grants and I support that call. However, if the matter of insufficient funding for the volume of applications in the system is not addressed, speeding up grants will be illusory. I refer to my experience with Louth County Council where there are 460 outstanding grant applications.

This includes 138 roll-overs from last year that could not be processed, as we were told, due to the lack of funding. Some 76 of those were deemed to be priority 1 and this year's allocation is inadequate to process all of those, including the roll-overs from last year.

I will provide a couple of examples. An elderly couple contacted my office about their application. The husband has a malignant tumour affecting his bowel and bladder. He also has epilepsy and breathing problems. His wife has steadily worsening mobility issues and other chronic illnesses. They have to use an upstairs bathroom. They submitted an application for a downstairs bedroom and bathroom in January 2018 and they were deemed by the council to be priority 1 in April 2018. The following month, they were told that the budget had been fully allocated for 2018 already. They were told that if the council did not receive additional funding then their application could not be processed until this year. I wrote to the council many times about their application and stressed that they are both seriously ill. Finally, this month they have been informed that the works will go ahead - 18 months after they first applied and both being deemed priority 1.

Another constituent had two hip operations and is unable to access his bath. He applied for a grant for an accessible shower and a stairlift. He was informed that the grant was approved in February 2018. In February of this year, 12 months later, I had to write to the council to query the delay. It responded to the effect that he is on a housing list, that the application for adaptation works had been added to the relevant waiting list and that it could not confirm a timeline for the commencement of those works.

Given that there are carryovers every year, funding is in no way sufficient to deal with the sheer volume of applications. People are struggling to perform basic daily tasks such as using the bathroom or even having a shower because they cannot access a bath. They are waiting years for downstairs bathrooms and showers to be fitted because of delays and insufficient funding. Priority 1 emergency cases are having to wait much longer. I have provided two examples but I could outline many others for the Minister of State. Some of the cases are really serious and it is shameful that people have been made to wait so long.

Not only must it to address matters relating to ease of access, time limits and standardisation, the Government must also address the fact that the funding available is insufficient. Tinkering around the edges is pointless if the funding is insufficient. That is one of the major issues in this regard.

I commend Deputies O'Dea and O'Rourke on tabling the Bill. I support the Bill's general principles, although the issues are far wider than the specifics of the Bill. This is an opportunity for us to raise those issues. Deputy Munster has outlined in fair detail the kind of cases that we are all dealing with in terms of delays and inadequate money.

The Minister of State, Deputy English, stated that €71 million has been allocated this year. I presume that is just for the private grants - those for older people and the disability and mobility grants - all of which make a huge difference to people's lives and allow them to remain at home or be discharged from hospital or from long-term care in a way that is beneficial to individuals and their families but also to the public purse, out of which hospital charges, long-term care costs, etc are paid. It is one of those schemes that generally gives rise to a far greater benefit than the actual cost involved. Unfortunately, the different Departments operate in silos and they all have their own spending budgets.

We all need to make the case for more money for these grants because, as has been stated, there is a shortage of money. In addition, waiting times are far too long, particularly for people who desperately need access to certain facilities. I deal a lot with individuals who cannot get into their baths and they are looking for level access showers. Some really good wet rooms and showers have been installed in people's homes. These have made an enormous difference to the lives of those involved because they have been able to remain in their homes. Similarly, there are others who have been waiting for far too long. In many cases, such individuals have physical disabilities which mean that they simply cannot manage in houses that do not have level access showers.

There is something of a postcode lottery at play here. The system is far more efficient in some local authority areas than in others. There needs to be a level of consistency imposed by the Department. I am aware that local authorities are singular entities and that they are autonomous in many ways. However, surely there can be some national monitoring strategy or policy which ensures that there is that level of consistency throughout the country. Calling local authorities in and telling them what they should be doing does not seem to be effective with some of them.

As I understand it, the Bill relates to private grants. However, I am concerned about council tenants. I was shocked in the past week when I received an email in respect of a particular applicant who is a council tenant and who needs a bathroom conversion. The reply stated, "At the moment we are not accepting applications as we have over 2 yrs of backlog and are still awaiting funding to be released from the department so we cannot accept new applications at present." That is two years of a backlog in the local authority area in which Deputy O'Dea and I both live. I am sure it is not the only local authority that has such a backlog. These grants are good whether one is a private house or a council house but people in council houses should not have to wait that length of time. If a person lives in a private house, he or she might have some chance of managing to do some of the work himself or herself. However, people who live in council houses cannot do such work. They have no choice about the matter and, as is obvious, they are in a lower income bracket.

There should be a greater focus on funding for those who live in council houses. I know of many people who live in these houses and who have not been able to these adaptations done within any kind of decent timescale. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that a greater focus is placed on council tenants. I am not saying that money should be taken from Peter in order to pay Paul. However, this area has been neglected and more funding is required in respect of it. When the Minister of State is allocating funding again, I hope he will look at that aspect. The European Committee of Social Rights issued a report yesterday which basically states that the condition of council homes in Ireland is very bad. I accept that this is a more general form of criticism but if there was more funding available in respect of these grants, people would probably enjoy better living conditions. That is the main point I wanted to make, although there is a general point on which I agree with previous speakers.

On the Bill, I am not quite sure why there is so much detail in the requirements which the Minister of State has said may need to be changed in terms of occupational therapy reports, the need for two estimates, etc. It was probably not necessary to include that level of detail but perhaps it is there for a reason. The Bill should proceed to the next Stage. If necessary, it can be amended to make it consistent with the existing legislation, which covers the three grants, namely, housing aid for older people and the disability and mobility grants.

In general, I support the Bill. As stated, however, I would like to see a focus on council tenants who are waiting a long time for adaptations in their homes. Their homes are as much theirs as are those of people who own private dwellings and who make applications. We need to ensure that we do whatever can be done in order to allow people to live in their own homes. Everyone agrees that the latter is best for people, particularly if it can be facilitated. I will support the Minister of State if he needs to get more money from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in order to ensure that we can do what is necessary. It makes sense, from a cross-departmental perspective, to spend this money because it will lead to money eventually being saved by the Department of Health and result in the best outcome for the people involved. I support the Bill.

I welcome the debate on the adaptation grant because it affects everybody who needs provision for housing adaptation. I am sure everyone will agree the current process in most local authorities is highly cumbersome. It needs to be streamlined, while the guidelines for the adaptation grant should be clarified because they are quite bureaucratic. Anecdotally, there have been cases where people who needed modifications have died while waiting for the grants to be processed. That has happened in the area covered by South Dublin County Council to individuals who waited for more than two or three years for essential work on their house but who died in hospital while waiting for their application to be processed. That is not good.

The funding for the adaptation grant was reduced from €95 million to €71 million this year, which has a knock-on effect for local authorities and, more important, people who avail of the grant. In South Dublin County Council, €2.5 million is provided for private tenants, which is oversubscribed, as it is for council tenants. The waiting time is two years for a stairlift or walk-in shower, which are essential forms of adaptation. Without them, people cannot leave hospital, while if they live at home, they must sleep downstairs because they cannot go upstairs.

I turn to the criteria for the grant. The maximum grant is currently €30,000, although I am sure the Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong. I have done some calculations with that figure. If two parents earn the average industrial wage, it will put them over the threshold in South Dublin County Council. While the average industrial wage is no great shakes, if both parents earn it, or above €60,000, they cannot avail of anything - not a penny. Despite potentially having a child with special needs, they will not receive any money through the grant, which is deeply unfair. The thresholds and income disregard should be much higher than they are, which goes to the crux of the issue. Some people are disadvantaged because they work, while others do not work but are nonetheless at a disadvantage because they cannot have the necessary works done. It is important to reconsider the means test, the threshold and the income disregard because as time passes, people wish to remain at home rather than move to institutions or hospitals. That is how community care has developed and will continue to develop.

I am glad we are having the debate and hope something can come out of it. I have been a Deputy for three years and know that while issues such as this are often discussed, sometimes nothing ever happens. I hope that through the Bill, along with the Minister of State's amendment, circumstances can be streamlined and improved for everybody to whom they apply.

The housing adaptation grant scheme allocates housing aid for older people and for people with disability and mobility aid grants. The grants are available when changes need to be made to a home to make it suitable for a person with a physical, sensory or intellectual disability or a mental health difficulty to live there. The grant can help people make changes and adaptations to their home by, for example, making it wheelchair accessible, extending it to create more space or adding a ground-floor bathroom or stairlift.

The Government recently announced funding for 2019 of €71.25 million nationally for the housing adaptation grant for older people and people with a disability living in private houses. This included an allocation of €1.4 million to Donegal County Council for 2019. The funding was for two separate grants, however, which was not made clear in a reply to my recent parliamentary question on the issue. The problem since cuts to funding were made since 2010 during the peak of the recession is that local authorities were running into deficits because the Government never matched the funding required for the grants. Donegal County Council spent faster than the money was coming in from the Government, which put the council in a crisis where grants were severely restricted and as a result the criteria were changed to restrict the number of people who could qualify. Furthermore, it meant that a hierarchy of illnesses emerged for applicants, where only those with the most severe of disabilities were eligible while others had to be adjudicated on.

This was all done as a way to manage local government funding rather than effectively manage the needs of people with a disability. Money was available to be spent accordingly, such as on social housing rents, but this was not done. Over the years, the local authority reduced funding for other grants such as for non-essential repairs. A domino effect resulted in the continual curtailing of funding and other services to maximise the use of the limited money available for the housing adaptation grant. The council tried to facilitate the same number of people but each person ended up receiving much less. It was also a way of satisfying councillors and their demands to ensure that the grants would be made available to people who needed them.

I was initially supportive of the Bill until I examined it and realised that it will change the process by placing an additional onus on the applicant and moving the burden of proof away from the local authorities and towards the individual. Currently, the council sends someone to check the layout of the work in the applicant's home and send an application to the occupational therapist, who then decides whether works are required to adapt the home adequately for the applicant. An added complication is there are not enough occupational therapists within the HSE, which adds to delays in application waiting times. I wonder whether the Bill is an attempt to free up the HSE of increased demand by restricting the number of successful applicants through placing the burden on the individual with a disability. It is unclear whether the Bill fails to address the existing burden of proof imbalance or whether it might be a way of trying to manipulate the system, but at least Fianna Fáil recognises that the system is broken.

I will not, at this time, support the Bill because it will bring greater hardship to individuals with a disability seeking a housing adaptation grant. We need increased funding and a move towards transferring the burden of proof from applicants to local authorities in order that disability supports and local supports, in general, will be viewed as a human right.

I too note that the Bill will put more responsibility on the person making the application than on the local authority, although I will nonetheless support the Bill. It should be progressed and we can take all points on board during the debate in committee, where Deputies can work out how we can most effectively accelerate the application process. That is the most important aspect of the issue. I am aware of a case of a woman who had to go into care and was waiting for her grant application to be processed. An extension to her house was being built but, unfortunately, she passed away just before she had the opportunity to return home. In another case, a man contacted me in September, having made an application in February. When we called the local authority, we were informed it would be another eight or ten weeks before the decision was made. When I called the man today for an update, he said that while the application had been granted, he was still waiting for the job to be done. He has waited since February 2018, which is not acceptable. These are not exceptional cases. There are more such cases than there are straightforward cases where the application is processed and granted promptly.

Another issue that has been raised with me relates to when some part of the application form has not been completed properly or where the occupational therapist report has not been included. The application is returned to the applicant by the local authority and when it is resubmitted, it is put at the end of the list rather than being filed under the date on which it was originally submitted. Section 2(2) seeks to address that. If somebody needs a support such as a ramp to gain access to his or her house, it needs to be provided immediately because the person needs it, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree. Leaving an application for so long is ridiculous.

In my short contribution I want to mention occupational therapists. Many people must go to private occupational therapists and pay out €200 when they should be getting the service through the system. This also needs to be addressed.

What is positive about the Bill is that it is trying to keep people in their own homes and out of nursing homes and hospitals. We know the social and psychological benefits of this as well as the economic benefits. The difficulties I have encountered include that the level of documentation required is often very problematic for the applicant. While we know people of various ages apply for the housing adaptation grant the general demographic is older people, and when we look at the extent of the paperwork, red tape and emails it is very difficult. People might have a family member who can assist them but sometimes they do not. I wonder about the old-fashioned phone service with a real person at the end of the phone. Could this be put in place when it is necessary?

The turnaround time is also problematic. People qualify for a housing adaptation grant for a reason. The condition or disability warrants whatever improvements must be carried out to improve the quality of life. The illnesses and disabilities do not stand still while the documentation is being filled in and the application is going through the system. We know people have had to try to make do by bringing a bed downstairs, probably in a very small space, and using a commode. This makes life very unpleasant.

As has been said, there are people who cannot afford to pay for private therapy and we need to look at the availability of occupational therapists.

We know people feel comfortable in their own homes because that is where their friends, neighbours and community services are, whether day care centres or meals on wheels. There is a responsibility to try to keep people in their homes as much as possible. It is a much more caring approach.

We do not want the hassle that the housing adaptation grant system is at present. I must say that in the dealings my office has had with Dublin City Council we have found the staff to be very engaging, helpful and professional. It is fine to have individuals who are helpful but the process needs to be revamped to make the system much more efficient, timely and responsive to people when they have needs and not what we have seen, whereby the adaptation grant is provided but not until after the person has passed on or has had to go into a hospital or nursing home.

We could also look at extensions to houses. We know about the housing crisis and overcrowding. Some houses have the space to extend, whether at the back or side, and we could look at this because it would remove people from the housing list if they could have their own door on part of the land they have. We are looking for efficiency for ease of access for those who really need it and that it is addressed in a timely way.

We now move to the rural alliance - I apologise, the Rural Independent Group.

We would not want to be contaminated. It is the Independent Alliance.

I compliment Deputies O'Dea and O'Rourke for bringing forward the Bill on an excellent scheme. When common sense applied and there was plenty of funding many badly needed adaptations were carried out and I salute the staff on the local authority for the work they do. I also commend the occupational therapists on going out. It has become a bit bureaucratic of late, like everything else. This is a pity because it is a great scheme that keeps people out of hospitals and nursing homes. Above all, it keeps them where they are happiest, which is in their homes with their families, neighbours and friends. It is a saving and a win-win for the State.

This is a vital issue that can significantly affect the quality of life of a person with a disability. A total of 15% of the population in Tipperary, amounting to 23,593 people have at least one disability, more than 10,940 people in Tipperary have a difficulty with pain, breathing or other chronic illness or condition, while 10,374 people have difficulties with basic physical activities. We have good hurlers in Tipperary also so do not get bogged down with these figures. These are large enough numbers of people to whom we must show compassion and look after. Disability and the need for adequate housing conditions to enable independence are vital issues for many people.

As Deputy O'Dea said when he introduced the Bill, there are serious defects in the administration of the current scheme and how it is operated by various local authorities. Nothing is uniform as it varies from local authority to local authority. It is not as efficient as it should be or could be. We need to address this to ensure fast turnaround times to enable people to live in their own homes, and we need to do this with compassion and empathy.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak on this very important topic. I thank Fianna Fáil and Deputy O'Dea for giving us this opportunity. The housing adaptation grant is very important for people who need it. None of us knows the minute or the hour when someone belonging to us would become ill or disabled and it is very important that people can access the housing adaptation grant and get a little bit of help through this. However, there are difficulties. We do not have enough funding for bigger issues, such as somebody who wants an extension. I know of several cases and in one case the husband is in a wheelchair and the wife is very incapacitated. They have been waiting for a number of weeks for an occupational therapist.

I honestly believe the Government is the best crowd in the world for the bush in the gap. There is a problem with people accessing what the Government tells them they are entitled to. If they were keeping a thieving heifer out of a field they would have no bother because it is now impossible to access some of the services people are told they are entitled to. This is no fault of Kerry County Council because it is one of its best sections and it does tremendous work in giving people what it can but its money is limited. When people ask for a bathroom, shower or stair lift it is turned around very quickly because it is small money but when it increases to €15,000 for €20,000 people are waiting for a year and a half. This is too long because year and a half for an invalid or someone in trouble is too long. The answer we get from the local authority is that it does not have enough funding. Will the Government please address this issue? We need more funding for this grant.

An issue giving people an awful lot of difficulty is that the age for eligibility for grant aid for the elderly has been increased to 66 years. Previously the local authority had discretion to turn it around and do something for someone aged 59 or 60 who had a leaking roof, whether there was a door or a window falling in. We say we want to keep people in their homes for as long as possible but over the past three or four years when people over the age of 60 look for some help they have severe difficulty because the council cannot or will not give it to them until they reach the age of 66 years.

I very much thank Deputy Willie O'Dea and Fianna Fáil for bringing this very important issue to the floor of the House. Whether we speak about essential repairs, disabled person's grant or mobility aid grants they are the very grants that are so important because they help to make it practical for people to continue to live in their own homes. Whether a person is getting older and suffering various infirmity problems, or whether, through old age or an accident, a person needs to have a house adapted, it is probably the most important work that could ever possibly be grant aided for them because it makes the difference between being in a hospital or nursing home setting or being in their own home. This Government, previous Governments and, I am sure, future Governments will always maintain the proper place and the best place for any person to ever live is in their own home, if it is practical and possible for them to do so.

At this point I want to highlight the work done by our local authority, Kerry County Council. If we do not boast about our own crowd we cannot boast about any crowd, and I would put it to the Minister of State that Kerry County Council and the department that deals with the administration of the funding this and other Governments give to them are second to none in Ireland. With regard to efficiency, they do their level best. The clerks of work who look at the actual practicalities of what it takes to do the job and the engineers - I could name them but I will not embarrass them by doing so - are not good, they are excellent.

They put their hearts and souls into their jobs. The departmental officials who process the grant applications understand that those applications are not simply forms but requests for grants for adaptation of homes to enable people to remain in them.

I thank and congratulate Deputy O'Dea and Fianna Fáil for bringing forth this Bill. I support the Bill as it makes provision for ease of access to housing adaptation grants for people with a disability. Currently, huge delays are being experienced across the sector in the processing of various applications. People with disabilities should be given vital funding to renovate their homes within one month of a request. It is appalling that some are being forced to live in nursing homes for up to seven months owing to lengthy delays in the processing of applications for funding to adapt their homes to their physical needs.

When out canvassing in west Cork recently on behalf of my brother, Danny Collins, one of the most common complaints from my constituents was the delay in application processing times. People are on bended knee waiting for applications to be processed. In some cases, the people waiting have no other source of income. I was appalled to hear that not only are people waiting months for an application to be processed, in some cases people are waiting over a year. In my view, Cork County Council is doing the best it can with the resources it has. The area for which it is responsible stretches from Kinsale to Castletownbere. It needs additional resources. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, cannot stand idly by and allow these delays to continue. People are suffering. The average time to process a housing adaptation grant for people with a disability is four months, with some applications taking up to seven months.

I support this Bill as I believe it is only fair that the local authorities that administer the housing adaptation grants on behalf of people with disabilities should complete the processing of an application within a timeframe of no more than four weeks from the date of receipt of the application. This timeframe should apply not only to the processing of adaptation grants but across all sectors. There is no doubt that the population is growing and thus we are seeing increases in applications across all sectors and Departments. It is a no-brainer that this Government will need to provide Departments with additional administrative staff to meet the increased demand. People should not have to wait months for an application to be processed.

These are extremely valuable grants. We hear often from people who benefit from them, particularly older people, that they help keep them safe in their homes. Let us all acknowledge that there is good work happening as a consequence of these grants. I do not think that legislation on its own is always the only policy response required. Processing times vary across the country. There is a huge difference in the number of local authority staff employed by some local authorities relative to others. Kerry was mentioned earlier. Taking the example of Kerry and Meath, there are 60,000 or 70,000 more people living in Meath than there are in Kerry but the last time I checked Kerry County Council had double the number of staff of Meath County Council. The ability to process applications is often related to staff numbers. It is not that staff are not doing their jobs. In areas where there is a shortage of staff application turnaround times can vary. This needs to be examined in addition to legislative change. It may well be that legislation is not required if administrative ability is strengthened where necessary.

The means testing for some of the grants can leave a cohort of people far behind. This cohort most definitely includes a family with a child with a disability. Where there is a reasonable amount of earning power but there are other children, one of whom might, for example, be in college, the means test is an unfair disadvantage. There is a different weighting required where there is a child with a long-term disability. I do not think this requirement is being fairly or properly captured in the current grants system. It would be useful to hear not only from the local authorities but from those people who have applied for grants and received them and those who applied and did not get them. It would be important to hear from a focus group of that cohort about their experiences as this would enable us to identify the shortcomings and tailor our responses to those experiences.

Like other speakers, I am routinely contacted about people who are in a hospital and cannot return home. Local authorities do not take such matters into consideration in the processing of applications. They administer applications on the basis of date of receipt and then by category but applications in respect of funding for adaptations to enable people to return to their homes are not a category in their own right. If we are to keep people at home, well and safe and out of nursing homes, there will have to be an adjustment made in this respect. It is really important that this is factored in.

In the main, these grants are an incredibly important solution for people to live safely in their homes or to live independently. Whatever changes need to happen need to be for the better but there is a lot that is happening that is very good as well.

I congratulate my colleagues, Deputies Willie O'Dea and Frank O'Rourke, on bringing forth this timely and important legislation. As public representatives, this is an issue about which we are frequently contacted in our constituency offices. This is about some of the most vulnerable in our society, some of whom are at home but ill while others are in hospital or in nursing homes. This proposal seeks to speed up the adaptation grants processing system which is broken in the sense that processing is done at various stages. This is tedious and difficult for families who may be already faced with the difficult task of trying to get a loved one who was ill or had a stroke home from hospital. These grants are important to these families. They enable people to live independently or at home in familiar surroundings, where we know people recover and make the best progress, in a lot of cases. Also, enabling people to live at home is less costly to the State. Bureaucracy has taken over and, perhaps, gone mad in relation to housing adaptation applications. Local authority administration of applications is often delayed by outstanding occupational therapy reports, quotations from a builder and income statements. While all this work is necessary, this proposal means it can be done more efficiently and faster and, thus, families will get a quick response and can then move to get their loved one home from a hospital or nursing home. These families not only have to care for the person who is sick or has a disability, they have to bear the expenses incurred in doing so.

I support this Bill and I again thank my colleagues for this tangible and practical initiative that will be welcomed across the country.

I join in complimenting Deputies Willie O'Dea and Frank O'Rourke on bringing forth this legislation. As stated by previous speakers, the Housing (Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability) Bill 2018 is geared towards making the system more efficient. In doing so, we will free up hospital beds. We all know there are people in hospital beds because their homes are not suitably adapted to enable them to return to them, which, as stated by Deputy Niamh Smyth, is the right and proper environment for them. The introduction of a four week timeframe will speed up the process. In my own county, the staff who deal with these applications do an excellent job. Processing can be slow and tedious at times but that is more a fault of the system than of the staff.

They do an excellent job dealing with such grants.

I join my colleagues in welcoming this proposal. I hope it will come to fruition. I firmly believe that if it gets through the system, it will certainly improve matters for people with disabilities.

I thank Deputies O'Dea and O'Rourke for introducing this Bill, the timing of which is invaluable. I know from years in local government that this grant scheme has been a victim of its own success. It has been invaluable to people who had no money to get their houses upgraded and for those who want their loved ones to remain at home. I welcome the Bill. I know we often put agreements in place but we need personnel too, including occupational therapists. Local authority staff do a great job. Where possible, local authorities get their staff to assess the projects. However, they do not have enough staff, particularly occupational therapists. It is no good putting timeframes in place unless we have the personnel in place to carry out the necessary work. I welcome what is proposed.

I thank Deputies O'Rourke and O'Dea for introducing this legislation, the aim of which is to improve the lot of people with disabilities in the context of obtaining grants. There is a crisis across the disability services sector in the context of access to those services. I refer here to delays in respect of respite, home care, home help and home adaption grants. Such delays affect the most vulnerable in society. People with disabilities are increasingly being affected by poverty and social exclusion. They want to live full, fulfilling and engaged lives and can do so with the right supports. The Government continues to hinder access to the necessary supports for these people. That makes little or no sense. It certainly makes no economic sense because the State must pick up the tab when people with disabilities and vulnerable individuals are not supported.

There is also the failure of the Government to act on Fianna Fáil's and Deputy O'Dea's proposal to allow home care to be provided under the fair deal scheme - a sound and important idea - because it is of the view that this would be a false economy. Instead of empowering people to live at home and have an better quality of life, their disabilities are being compounded by the lack of services available. I compliment Wexford County Council. It does a fantastic job of providing services when it can, but it is clearly not being given the necessary resources to allow it to offer timely supports. People with disabilities want to live at home. It is effective for them and good for their quality of life and their mental health. It is also effective for the State. The Minister needs to take action in respect of the legislation before the House.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Housing (Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability) Bill. I thank my colleagues for introducing it. We all acknowledge and recognise the significant and important role that the adaptation grant has played. We have all seen it in our own communities. When I was preparing a note for this, I quickly realised that there are two cohorts of people who avail of the grant. The first is somebody who is living at home whose condition is deteriorating over time, whose family has the opportunity to make necessary arrangements. The people we see in our constituency offices are those who have experienced a crisis or a traumatic event. For example, where an elderly person has had a fall, a stroke or something similar. They are in the hospital and the family comes to us because they want to know what to do, what is available and how to get the person home. This is an element which is slowing the process.

As the Minister of State knows, there are people in hospital today who could be in their own homes if there were appropriate and adequate facilities available to them. That is where they want to be and it is where their families want them to be. This legislation will assist in facilitating that. It is important to recognise that this is only one aspect. Previous speakers made the point that legislation only goes so far. It is important that this legislation is enacted but it should be underpinned by the provision of home care supports for older people. The cost of a person in the greater Dublin area spending a week in a nursing home is approximately €1,500 per week. The economic and financial benefits to the State of being able to keep somebody in his or her home, where he or she wants to be, needs to be recognised. We need to take legislative and administrative steps to make that happen. In many cases, people apply for the grant and try to get quotations at the same time. It is an extremely protracted process and they are asked for additional information. A previous speaker made the point that, during the existing application process, there is no discrimination between somebody whose case might be deemed urgent and who is currently in a hospital and ready for discharge and a person whose case does not have that level of urgency. This creates substantial anxiety and pressure for the families involved.

One or two speakers had issues with parts of this legislation. Those issues can be dealt with on Committee Stage. I encourage Members on all sides to allow the Bill to progress. I encourage the Government not to delay the Bill and to accept it in a positive way in the context of the other steps that could be taken. I refer here to home care packages that would run in parallel with what is proposed here in order to ensure that we are creating the maximum amount of available spaces in our acute hospitals and not having people unnecessarily delayed in those hospitals, particularly as they do not want to be there.

I echo the sentiments of previous speakers who referred to the benefit of the scheme to which the Bill relates. My council in Kilkenny has been very proactive in ensuring that the scheme is delivered across County Kilkenny. A staffing review of local authorities will commence this summer. Some of the issues to which Deputies referred focused on increasing levels of staffing in different authorities in order to ensure that applications are processed. As the Minister of State, Deputy English, indicated, the Government is not opposing the Bill. While we support the objective of a timely decision on applications, some of the provisions require further consideration to ensure that ease of access for applicants to the scheme continues.

This Bill seeks to address an administrative issue by means of primary legislation. The existing legislative base, namely, the Housing Acts and the regulations made under those Acts, already provides for the implementation of the measures called for in the Bill. On a practical level, it is unclear what real effect the additional documentary requirements proposed in the Bill would have on the processing times relating to the application process. They run the risk of placing additional burdens on applicants. As the Minister of State, Deputy English, stated earlier, the concern is that the flexibility exercised by local authorities could be reduced by some of the provisions in the Bill. Under the Bill, the inspection of inspection of properties could potentially be outsourced to privately-recruited engineers, with the applicants having to source and pay for this service. This work is effectively already being done by local authority technical staff. A personal visit by a local authority inspector to an applicant is very valuable in delivering a quality service to the people who need it. Placing the responsibility for this work on the applicant would also result in either the applicant having to be recompensed or bearing the cost himself or herself.

The Bill could also close down the flexibility for local authorities that already have a panel of occupational therapists available to evaluate applications when received. This arrangement often provides a local authority with a reliable report on the needs of an applicant and, coupled with the input of the authority's technical staff, helps to ensure that the funding is safeguarded for those most in need. Colleagues know that local authorities strive in every way to get the right services to the people who need them. We all know of cases where people with a disability or the elderly apply under the scheme and the local authority goes the extra mile, often prompted by its technical resources and the inspector who has visited the applicant in his or her home. I do not think any of us wants to lose those advantages of the scheme and that level of flexibility.

I fully accept that consistency of approach is a critical issue in the administration of these grants. This is being pursued through the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland, which sets out a clear roadmap to achieve the Government's goal of streamlining the application process and ensuring ease of access for applicants. The Government is focused on taking concrete action to deal with certain inconsistences which currently exist with regard to the grant application process and administration of the scheme nationwide. The majority of local authorities have adapted their approach in recent years to ensure that the available resources are targeted at those in most need, including prioritisation on the grounds of medical or financial need.

The Department seeks to bring together the experience that has been built up since the scheme was introduced and to ensure the shared knowledge is further developed across the 31 local authorities. I am very conscious of the social benefit accruing from the scheme, in particular facilitating people to remain living independently in their own homes and communities.

Significant progress has been made in increasing the reach of the grant scheme. More than 25,000 households have benefitted from the scheme during the first three years of Rebuilding Ireland, with funding for up to another 11,800 this year. That means almost 37,000 households will be assisted through the grants under Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2019. The best way to ensure the State fully meets its obligations to those who need assistance is through improved delivery and the development and implementation of improved policies and measures, where required.

Notwithstanding improvements to the grants process, Members will agree on how critical it has been that we have increased the funding that has been made available for the scheme in recent years. The level of funding has increased year-on-year from 2014 when the figure was €43 million to an allocation of €71 million this year. The commitment of the Government to continue support for the scheme was reinforced again recently when we published the Housing Options for Our Ageing Population - Policy Statement, with the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Jim Daly.

As well as the increased funding in recent years the Department also works closely with local authorities to monitor spend over the year and to achieve a full drawdown of the available funding. As the year progresses, any underspend is redistributed to those authorities with high levels of grant activity who seek additional funding. Local authorities in turn will always work with qualifying applicants to ensure they get the most beneficial result, in line with their financial circumstances. The Minister of State, Deputy English, mentioned that the Department is in the middle of a review process on the grants which involves engaging with local authority practitioners that are on the front line. We have met already with 18 local authorities in the past two months and the focus of this effort is on identifying and addressing inconsistencies between local authorities and making the grants more accessible. In that work we identified variations in approach by local authorities, such as what ID is required or proof of earnings. The differences also include processing times for applications, which is the motivation for the Bill. I acknowledge, therefore, the merit of the Bill's main provision. The review is a significant process that I believe will improve the operation of the grants and achieve a better application processing arrangement without losing flexibilities that are currently working well for both the authorities and for the people who live in their areas and who avail of the grants. Accordingly, it is considered appropriate to adopt the reasoned amendment to the proposed Bill, and that it is deferred for a period of six months to explore further the extent to which the underlying ambition of the Bill can be addressed through the review already under way, and to allow for further consideration of certain legal issues associated with the Bill. Without that reasoned amendment, it may mean a money message cannot be issued in respect of the proposal and time is not given to accommodate our concerns with the legislation.

I wish to share time with my colleagues.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Housing adaptation grants are crucially important in helping people with disabilities continue to live in their own homes and can have a significant impact on their independence and quality of life. The Bill being introduced by Fianna Fáil will require local authorities to make a decision on a person's entitlement to the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability within four weeks of receiving a completed application. The Bill, if passed, will ensure a decision on entitlement to the grant is made in a timely manner, thereby improving outcomes and increasing efficiency.

Many families are unable to carry out the necessary works until their applications are approved because they simply do not have the money. While they are forced to wait, their loved ones are living in a home and some of them are still in hospital. We heard last year that 136,000 bed days were lost through delayed discharges, which equates to approximately 500 a day, which equates to the number of people on trolleys. The delays and the fact that people have to stay in hospital longer due to the fact that the correct adaptations have not been carried out in their homes have a significant knock-on effect. Affording people the opportunity to live in their own homes is a central plank of Fianna Fáil policy. In many instances, that is only possible through the installation of stairlifts, grab rails, showers, wet rooms or ramps, all of which are covered by the housing adaptation grant.

I wish to draw the Minister of State's attention to funding. A total of €71.25 million was available nationally in 2019. However, a problem arises with the allocation available, especially in Waterford. There are 5,000 local authority houses in Waterford but the budget for adaptations to them is only €300,000, whereas the budget for adaptations to private houses is €2 million. The waiting list for tenants of Waterford City & County Council for adaptations, for example, to remove a bath and put in a shower, or for a stairlift is now in excess of two to three years. That is a very worrying trend and I wish to draw the attention of the officials to that.

I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I thank the Opposition and non-Government Deputies who have expressed their support for the legislation. A number of points were made by various Members which I wish to address briefly.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, Deputy Munster and others made the point that many of the delays are due to funding. In my opening statement, I outlined that €71.25 million was allocated last year for housing adaptation grants, but that is woefully inadequate. Let us face it; the population is ageing and the population is growing and, therefore, we will have more people with disabilities and more elderly people who want to live in the comfort and security of their own homes. The question of funding is paramount and it must be taken on board. We deliberately left out any reference to funding because, first, we could not put extra funding in the Bill for obvious constitutional reasons concerning money messages. We are concentrating on the process so that the Government will not have any excuse to refuse to accept the legislation.

My constituency colleague from Limerick City, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, spoked about housing adaptation funding for local authority houses. I am sure the situation is mirrored around the country, but the situation in Limerick is beyond contemptible. I dealt with an elderly woman last week who is unable to walk and has to crawl up the stairs because it is a local authority house and Limerick City and County Council does not have money to fund a stairlift. The council cannot say when it will have the money and it cannot accept application forms. I have come across that situation again and again. I could give more graphic examples to the House but I will spare Members from those. I am sure the situation is mirrored around the country. We are conscious of the situation regarding funding both for private accommodation and for local authority accommodation.

I am disappointed with the Government's response to the Bill. I often listened to Ministers and could not believe what I was hearing, but it is the opposite this evening; I cannot believe what I am not hearing, which is that the Government is going to withdraw this ridiculous, absurd amendment and allow the Bill proceed to the next Stage. What in the name of heaven is the purpose of an amendment that delays further consideration of the Bill for six months? As I said in my opening statement, occasionally, we get the opportunity in this House to do something that will tangibly benefit people who need to be helped - a vulnerable section of society. The Government was presented with that very opportunity when Deputy O'Rourke and I introduced the Bill and it deliberately, callously, calculatedly and with malice and forethought decided it would not do any good for those people, that it would let the current, unsatisfactory, bureaucratic-ridden situation continue unabated.

If those people are suffering as a result it is too bad. It is too bad if they are suffering from anxiety and distress while waiting to know whether they will get a grant and, if so, how much it will be. That does not seem to matter. It is kicked into the Bermuda Triangle and will not be discussed for six months. Who knows what will have happened by then, or what this House will look like then. This is basically telling us to sod off, if I may use that expression in Parliament. The Government is not interested. It pretends it is doing studies and that it is concerned, but it is not really interested. It has been given the opportunity to do something important but instead kicks it off into the Bermuda Triangle.

Given the reasons for the postponement, it is no surprise the Minister of State did not issue a script. He was the sole possessor of the script, which we are all supposed to get a copy of, and he raced through it at a rate of knots. He speaks quickly at the best of times, but he really excelled today. I suspect the reason the script was not circulated was that the reasons and excuses given are so ridiculous, threadbare and tenuous that the Government was afraid it would be released to the media. It will be available, and we will release it. He said that in 2017 - some two years ago - the Government decided this had to be dealt with and the system had to be streamlined. He now says the Government is beginning to consider how to streamline the system. We are two years down the road. People are suffering. They are waiting, and the numbers in the queues are growing, and the Government is only now beginning to consider the process of streamlining. As the Minister of State's speech went on, the situation became even more risible. We were told that some people approached local authorities with incomplete submissions. Under the system Deputy O'Rourke and I are proposing, if one's submission is incomplete, due to an error in the form or a missing document, he or she will be met at the counter by the relevant official, who will tell the person to come back with the correct documents. The Government is scratching around for excuses.

We are told that different local authorities need different types of documentation. We are proposing a standard system in which everything will be set out. I want to assure Deputy Pringle that it will not increase the burden on the applicant in any way. That is not our intention. We intend to put the minimum burden on the applicant, and we are open to any changes to the Bill which will ensure that is the case. We were also told this may not be a subject for primary legislation but could be appropriately dealt with via secondary legislation. The people who are waiting for their grants to be processed do not give a flying fig whether this is done via primary or secondary legislation, or subordinate legislation, or whether it is done via European law or Irish law. They simply want the job done and for a more efficient system to be created.

Another excuse was given; this one is a beauty. The Minister of State said that older people were not mentioned in the title. Older people are among those who apply for housing adaptation grants. I am very sorry - mea culpa - that the word "older" was not mentioned in the title. Needless to say we will accept an amendment to that effect.

We were also told that some local authorities do not need two quotes whereas others do. This will be a standardised system. The time of Civil Servants in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is being wasted in the search for excuses. Any excuse to fill out the time will do. They are tasked with making what looks like a reasoned argument for why this will be delayed by six months before the Government even begins to consider it. I believe Shakespeare said that a guilty conscious is the mother of invention. These are all invented, contrived, ridiculous, nonsensical, threadbare arguments. We want to help these people. If it is the intention of the Government not to help those people then shame on it. We are giving it a chance to do something tangible and practical for people who need help, and the Government is deliberately turning it down.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 30 May 2019.