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Cash-strapped seniors to get Govt help

Seniors excluded from Government financial assistance have been made eligible again.

A stipulation in the 2004 Financial Assistance Regulations, which blocked struggling seniors who owned their own homes from receiving help, has been rolled back, effective next week.

Seventeen seniors were declared ineligible for assistance over the past year because they owned their own homes or had interest in property.

Families Minister Glenn Blakeney yesterday announced that changes will be made to the Financial Assistance Regulations 2004, enabling such persons to be assessed for benefits.

“Some will recall that on April 1 2011, the Financial Assistance Regulations 2004 came into effect and changed eligibility criteria such that any applicant with assets exceeding $5,000, inclusive of interest in real property, would not be eligible to receive financial assistance,” Mr Blakeney said.

“There were 34 seniors who owned property and were receiving financial assistance at the time the legislation changed on April 1 2011. Those seniors were ‘grandfathered in’ and allowed to continue to receive financial assistance for one year up until March 31 2012.”

However, the Families Minister said, the Department of Financial Assistance discovered that some older residents were being left out in the cold.

“Since the legislative changes went into effect, it has been observed that there has been an adverse impact on seniors who are homeowners or who have an interest in real property, even though the changes in the law made at that time were not intended to disadvantage such persons.”

Mr Blakeney said: “These most recent amendments to the Financial Assistance Regulations 2004 will take effect on April 1 2012 and will mean that persons 65 years or older will not have their interest in real property factored into consideration by the Department of Financial Assistance when calculating the value of assets for purposes of eligibility to receive financial assistance benefits.”

The news was welcomed by Age Concern director Claudette Fleming, who said she knew seniors who had been hit by the earlier regulations. She said Government’s action was “probably not quick enough for those being affected”, but praised the reversal.

“There are times when good intentions yield unintended consequences,” Ms Fleming said, adding that it was important that “there remains a willingness to be flexible”.

Seniors advocate Marian Sherratt suggested an adjustment of financial assistance to “house rich, cash poor” seniors, in the form of a loan that required property put forward as collateral. Assistance could then be repaid by family, or the estate itself, she said.

“This puts the funds back into the pot to help someone else, rather than increasing Government debt and, ultimately, taxes,” Ms Sherratt said. “I can also see the potential for abuse if Government supports the home owning senior while the family waits to inherit property free and clear.”

Shadow Community Development Minister Donte Hunt called the switch good news for the seniors who would now get help.

“But it comes after so many tales of hardship have been put to the Government people like ‘Mrs O’ and ‘Auntie Em’, who suffered for years without help from Financial Assistance.

“The arguments for expanding access to financial assistance for struggling seniors who owned their own home or had an interest in it have been put by Opposition spokesmen for years, dating as far back as Health Minister Patrice Minors.

“The hardships have not fundamentally changed for these seniors, yet only now in the shadow of an impending election does the Government finally extend a helping hand. Good for them, but people’s needs, not political needs, should be what drives decisions such as this.”

Families Minister Glenn Blakeney

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Published March 29, 2012 at 9:52 am (Updated March 29, 2012 at 9:51 am)

Cash-strapped seniors to get Govt help

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