A drastic cut in housing grants for the elderly and the disabled has angered Waterford City Council members who, having encouraged people to apply for such aid, say they now feel foolish having to inform them there’s no money available. At Monday night’s Council meeting they demanded restoration of the grants to “agreed levels”.

Mr. Lar Power, Director of Housing, Emergency Services, Community and Enterprise, provided some statistics outlining a dire situation.

He said that in line with previous years, he had anticipated grant aid of about €800,000, to which the Council would add 20 pc. But in fact they got only €360,000, while on foot of expectations the Council had committed itself to a total spend of €900,000. Taking into account that it originally budgeted for a contribution of about €160,000, that amounted to a Council overspend of nearly €400,000, which it now had to find.

Furthermore, out of 410 applications lodged, only 161 had been approved. Just a tiny number would be ineligible, which meant that nearly 250 applicants had to be notified that on account of a lack of funding there was no point processing their applications until next year. And in the current financial climate Mr. Power said he would not hold out any great hope of an improved situation in 2009.

He estimated that in a full year, about €2.6 million would be needed to meet demand.

Informed that the Council was not notified of the level of funding until May, Cllr Tom Cunningham said the government had now been exposed for speaking “with forked tongue”.

“The grant aid has been drastically cut, leaving the most vulnerable in society to suffer once more”, he said. “This is Fianna Fail reneging yet again on its commitments and it is because of previous experience in this regard that the good people of Waterford chose to elect just one party representative onto the current Council”.

On the same theme, Cllr Hilary Quinlan accused the government of having made election promises “on this, that and the other”, delivering on very little. He added that the people applying for the grants under discussion were in desperate need of assistance and now most of them had to be told there was no point even processing their applications. It was a scandalous situation, with the most vulnerable in society, once more, being left to carry an unfair burden.

Cllr Pat Hayes wondered how the government could treat the elderly and infirm in such fashion. “How in the name of God can they do it”, he asked.

Several other members spoke in like fashion and a motion on the subject, tabled by Mayor Jack Walsh, was passed unanimously. A copy is to be sent to other local authorities.

The motion called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to improve the level of funding so that aid applications for urgent and necessary house repairs and alterations could be met. The grants in question come under the headings of Housing Aid for the Elderly, Mobility Aids and Housing Adaptation for People with Disability.