Housing grant schemes for the disabled and elderly that have been closed for the last nine months in Clare will not be reopened until the conclusion of a national review by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
Ennis councillor Johnny Flynn at the July meeting of Clare County Council agreed to defer his request for a motion passed in October 2018 be overturned which he felt ‘severely restricted applications and caused hardship’.
Nine months ago, Cllr Gerry Flynn “in view of the quantity of applications and shortage of funding” tabled a motion which sought the suspension of grants for Housing Aid for Older People (HOP), Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability (HAG) and Mobility Aid Grant (MAG) to deal with the backlog and emergency cases that arrive.
Director of Service, Anne Haugh outlined “the justification for the October decision remains and to reopen the various grant schemes at this time will generate an expectation that Clare County Council cannot fulfil as the existing backlog has not been cleared”.
Up to the end of June, 239 applications have been approved but not claimed for 2019 with €1,307,715 committed to the works. 100 applications have been sanctioned for the first six months of the year, 43 for MAG (€215,000), 30 for HAG (€500,000) and 27 for HAP (€162,000). It is estimated that by year end, between €1.4 and €1.6m will have been spent on priority one applications.
“Taking committed approved grant expenditure and the priority one applications together requires budget allocation of €3 million. The 2019 budget allocation is €2,205,380 with 20% (€441,076) of this to come from own resources. It is intended to apply for an additional budget allocation to meet the current demand and process applications on hand,” Haugh stated.
She warned, “To reopen the schemes at this juncture will lead to a significant increase in applications, this will generate expectation from applicants that their funding will be approved and at this time we are not in a position to approve same. The reopening will only serve to increase waiting times and thus the waiting list into 2020.
“We are committed to reopening of the schemes in early 2020 as by that stage we will have discharged the backlog and will be in a position to accept new applications under all schemes. We will continue to work with those most in need and endeavour to provide grant assistance to the most vulnerable”.
Cllr Johnny Flynn highlighted, “A lot of elderly people living in conditions that are unacceptable but they are not priority one, they are near the end of lives”. The Fine Gael representative acknowledged the reply but sought a firm commitment the schemes would be reopened in the near future.
Independent councillor, Ann Norton called on the local authority to source more funding to assist the amount of applicants. “There are people out there that do believe they are priority. We have an ageing community, there is a number of people out there with different types of disabilities, this is one of the issues I find very difficult. Clare County Council need to look at more funding”.
Sixmilbridge councillor, John Crowe supported the motion. “There has to be a very serious application for funding”. His namesake, Cllr Cathal Crowe backed the “thrust of the motion”.
Referring to his October motion, Cllr Gerry Flynn praised all councillors for backing the proposal in the year of an election. “There is a need for approximately €3m to clear the backlog. By looking to reopen the schemes you are giving the people out there false expectations, one of the biggest things a councillor can do is be true to the people” to which Cllr Johnny Flynn replied, “The most important thing is that we be honest on whether we have a grant scheme or not”.
Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling cautioned, “Reopening something when there is no additional resources may equally be sending out the wrong message. Maybe in the context of reviewing our budget for the coming year, we can look at these schemes in our element of funding which is to leverage additional money. If you’re spending at one end, you have to get it back. Reopening it isn’t going to help additional recipients. This scheme is one of the most important things a local authority can do”.