I would like to thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter tonight.
Everybody accepts that the intent of this scheme is excellent. It proposes to arrange for minor alterations and repairs to the homes of the elderly to ensure that their houses last longer and that they have reasonable comfort in their later years. The intention is excellent but unfortunately the scheme is a total shambles.
It is a cruel farce being perpetrated on old and vulnerable people. Many applicants are traumatised by long delays, refusals or worst of all by being left in limbo and hearing nothing about the status of their application. This scheme was trumpeted by Government as the be all and end all of schemes. It was to deal with urgent housing defects, such as leaking roofs, rotting windows and doors, dangerous wiring, proper sanitary facilities and heating. It is under-resourced, underfunded and understaffed.
In south Tipperary the allocation for this year was £237,500 for the scheme and no staff was provided for the health board to operate the scheme. Furthermore, £100,000 of that money was committed for last year's applications. That meant that of the 450 applications received this year only 150 have been assessed. Two-thirds of this year's applications, 300 applications, have not been assessed nor have the applicants been visited. Elderly people are just lost when it comes to the operation of this scheme.
An applicant with whom I am dealing is 75 years of age and has only an outdoor toilet. This applicant applied seven months ago to have an internal room altered to provide an indoor toilet and bathroom facility. He has not even been visited yet; his case is not unique. That is how things stand for the 300 applications received by the health board in south Tipperary this year. One type of improvement applicants are waiting for is heating. Since in the region of 2,000 people die annually for want of proper heating one would think heating for the elderly would be a priority.
The scheme is totally underfunded and there is no staff available to health boards to operate the scheme. In south Tipperary alone I estimate that a reasonable provision to have work carried out for the applicants who have applied would be £1 million. That is a small amount for the benefits that would accrue to the elderly and to the health boards as it would ensure that the elderly could live at home in reasonably comfortable conditions in their later years.
I appeal to the Minister to fund and staff the scheme properly. This year there has been no additional allocation under the scheme. In previous years an allocation was made in late October or early November. That has not happened this year. The additional allocation was small, it was about £25,000 in south Tipperary last year, but this year not even that amount has been allocated. I ask the Minister to consider making a further allocation immediately to the various health boards and to ensure that in the forthcoming budget a reasonable allocation will be made to the health boards to meet the number of applications received.