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Nanna deserves better: the fight for retirement housing standards

 

Unfair fees and poor dispute resolution are ruining retirement for some, warns the Consumer Action Law Centre’s Mick Bellairs.

Watching television ads aimed at retirees and it’s easy to be sucked in by the sales pitch. Retirement communities are wondrous places! Grandma can learn tai chi while grandpa plays tennis, they can then share a nutritious meal (probably while overlooking a picturesque lake) before bed. Every day is sunshine and happiness, there’s not a worry in the world.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the reality.

The Consumer Action Law Centre is working with a number of retirees who face daily problems in the place everyone should feel safe and secure – their home. One group, 14 elderly residents from a residential park near Dandenong, are engaged in a prolonged dispute over unfair fees that first came to us in 2013. Older Victorians shouldn’t be spending years of their lives battling for justice.

Each story is different, but the issues fall into three main categories:

  • Unfair contract terms in particular expensive and variable fees that residents are required to pay;
  • A lack of industry standards including financial transparency (over where the money paid by residents goes) and a lack of accepted management standards and accreditation; and
  • Flawed dispute resolutionVCAT is simply not an appropriate forum to resolve disputes in this area – cases can take years and require expensive experts and specialised legal assistance.

Currently, retirement home residents have a golden opportunity to share their experiences with a Victorian parliamentary committee investigating housing options for older Victorians.

The inquiry has come about because of the bravery of residents prepared to speak out. The turning point was an event at Parliament House in 2015 to celebrate International Day of the Older Persons. About 80 courageous residents of retirement housing told MPs directly that things had to change.

The event was the first time many residents felt empowered to share their problems.

Part of the solution must be a Retirement Housing Ombudsman; somebody who can provide free, fair and quick dispute resolution. Consumer Action has long experience with industry-based ombudsman schemes and we know they work.

Because of the scarcity of voices speaking about retirement housing in public, the Parliamentary Committee has specifically asked to hear from residents of retirement housing. This includes people living in retirement villages, caravan parks, residential parks and independent living units.

Working with our partners at COTA, Residents of Retirement Villages (RRVV) and Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG), we’ve been able to collate and share the experiences of many affected people. But we can’t reach everyone impacted. If you know of someone living in retirement housing who might be experiencing some or all of the problems described above, please encourage them to get involved.

This campaign has shown us that there is real political will to create safe, affordable and fair retirement housing options for all who need it.

But real change requires residents to speak up now.

The Parliament is currently seeking submissions until Thursday, 30th June. All the details about the inquiry and how to make a submission are on the Committee’s website. For more information, contact campaigns@consumeraction.org.au


Banner and feature image: Flickr: Pug50 (CC)