Westmeath “will not be found wanting” on housing grants

The majority of applications for Housing Adaptation Grants in Westmeath will not be affected by the new Government regulations.

That’s according to the council’s director of housing services Jimmy Dalton, who outlined the grant allocations for 2014, as well as the changes in the grant schemes, to councillors on Monday.

Westmeath has been allocated €561,000 by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government towards housing grants for older people and people with a disability for the coming year. This sum is to be matched by a contribution of €140,250 from Westmeath County Council, bringing the total amount of the grants available in 2014 to €701,250.

Under the new guidelines from the Department, all household members’ incomes should be included in assessment for the grants, and all applicants must show that they are compliant with Local Property Tax requirements.

There is also a reduction in the maximum income threshold from €65,000 to €60,000, an increase in the age eligibility limit from 60 to 66 years, as well as further changes to income bands and maximum grants.

When the council applied these criteria to the applications already in the system, it found that none of the applications approved during 2013 would have been affected by the change in income threshold, while three applications would have been affected by the change in age limit.

Mr Dalton said he wanted to get the word out there that the scheme is up and running for this year. He particularly wanted to point out that those who applied before December 31, 2013 will be assessed under the old criteria.

“I welcome the fact that the scheme is being funded to the same level as last year. There is lots of scaremongering, and people with applications in think they will not be qualifying. It is an excellent scheme, which gets work done for people who need it,” said Mr Dalton.

The council’s senior executive officer for housing, Roibeard O’Ceallaigh added that the council will take a “common sense” approach to applications, for example in cases where the awarding of a grant would allow someone to come home from hospital.

Cllr Mick Dollard said the grant aid was “one of the best schemes of the local authority”.

However Cllr Paddy Hill was angered to learn that those applying this year would be subject to the new regulations, particularly the increase in age limit.

“We were told last year that there was no point in people applying, and unfortunately now the Department has changed the age from 60 to 66. I’m sure I’m not the only councillor who told people not to apply until 2014,” he said.

However, Mr Dalton said the council would “never be found wanting” when it came to grant aid.

“Irrespective of when the application is submitted, a person’s needs in terms of their health and ability will determine their priority. Our job is to ensure that the people most in need receive priority,” he said.

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