The debate was based on Care & Repair’s report on the State of Older People’s Housing in Wales, which highlighted the increasing volume of complex hazardous disrepair we are finding in client’s homes. The report also highlighted the challenges our caseworkers and technical staff find in accessing funds to complete works in people’s homes to make them safe.
Last year, over 62,000 older people in Wales turned to Care & Repair for help, a 6,000 increase from the previous year. More and more of these clients are coming to us with a small issue, only for our caseworkers to find a whole host of additional issues when we arrive at the property to assess it.
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS explained the reasons for this in the Senedd, saying “social isolation over the past several years thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns meant that informal support from friends or family or neighbours ceased almost overnight. During this time, deteriorating housing conditions went unnoticed, unchecked, and unresolved.”
The Plaid Cymru Member highlighted a case in Wrexham for a request to fix a front door, only for us to find numerous other urgent problems. When we got to the property we found a leaking toilet directly above the kitchen, which had, in turn, left the suspended wooden floor in the kitchen rotten and structurally unsafe. With the floor at risk of collapse into the cellar below, the agency moved essential items out of the kitchen.
“No help was available from the insurance or the local council. Unable to leave a client with an unsafe home, Care & Repair arranged temporary props to support the timber beams and make the property safe from collapse. The floor structure repair cost was estimated at around £1,000, raised from hours of applications by Care & Repair to small funding pots to make up the money, leaving none left-over for the original service request.”
We were pleased to see an acknowledgment in the Senedd of the lack of support for owner occupiers to maintain the condition of their home. The Welsh Housing Quality Standard provides standards for social homes, and the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 sets out standards for the private rented sector, yet there is no equivalent, and therefore no support, for people in Wales who own their own home.
At Care & Repair, we are seeing the effect of this lack of support first hand. Last year, the number of privately funded works we completed last year was down by 11 per cent to just over 1,300, whereas the number of charitable works completed increased by 130 per cent. This points to fewer older people being able to afford repairs and more needing financial support.
We were pleased that the debate had cross-party support for our ask for a safety-net grant for older people living in homes with hazardous disrepair. Labour Members Mike Hedges MS and Huw Irranca-Davies MS highlighting the support Care & Repair provides in their local areas.
Plaid Cymru Member Peredur Owen Griffiths MS for South East Wales gave examples of how disrepair affects daily life and is often a hidden issue because older people learn to make do. He highlighted cases of Care & Repair clients using battery-powered fairy lights to light their home due to water-damaged electrics, and the worry and mental health impacts disrepair can have on older people.
The Conservative Member for North Wales, Mark Isherwood MS, acknowledged that four out of five clients who come to Care & Repair self-report a disability, and that people living with health conditions require more support to maintain their homes.
Jane Dodds MS, and leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, spoke about the specific challenges rural homeowners face in Wales, with older people in these areas tending to live in properties that are poorly insulated and in poor states of repair, with fixed incomes that mean they have diminishing financial resources to make repairs.
Mabon ap Gwynfor went on to say: “What we need, I think, is to really look at what we can do to support low-income homeowners with urgent repairs, and Care & Repair, as a trusted partner, would be well-placed to provide this efficiently while they’re tackling other issues, such as adaptations and energy efficiency. So, I’d like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on establishing a safety-net grant that low-income homeowners can access to allow them to make essential repairs to their homes so that they can live in safety, comfort and with dignity.”