Retirement living parliamentary event

Consumer Action hosted a morning tea at Parliament House on 9 October 2015 which brought together over 70 retirement housing residents with their local parliamentarians. It was a hugely successful day, and we thank the residents and members of parliament who attended for their contributions. One of the highlights of the day was a speech delivered by Lesley Menzies, President of Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria. A transcript of Lesley’s speech can be found below:

Speech by Lesley Menzies

President of Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria

Victoria Parliament House, 8 October 2015

Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria (RRVV) is an organisation created in 2006 to support retirement village residents and provide an information and advocacy service to all living in retirement villages in Victoria.

RRVV is a committee of 8 and deals with many issues and difficulties that residents often have to contend with on a daily basis. We have 8,000 members but we represent all 40,000 retirement village residents.

I have been a member of RRVV for 4 years, on the committee for 3 years and President for 20 months. It is a very busy yet fulfilling job and wholly voluntary.

This gathering today is to celebrate the United Nations designated International Day of the Older Persons which has been held annually since 1991. The official day is of course the 1st October. Our event is being held today to align with a Parliamentary sitting day to enable us to meet as many politicians as possible and to share with them our experiences in retirement living. Some good I am sure but some not so good. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, in his talk on this ‘older persons day’ stated the importance of making cities inclusive of older persons and generating opportunities for their economic and social participation in accessible and safe environment. Also providing affordable safe housing and the health and social services needed to support ‘ageing in place.’

This is a very important issue as our Australian Federal Government’s ‘ageing in place’ plan progresses. Retirement living accommodation needs to be built with all the facilities in place to enable ageing in place. Such as wider doors to allow for wheelchair access, wider showers without tracks and proper grab rails and ergonomic taps in bathrooms. Practical and accessible kitchens with no high cupboards and easy pull out drawers would be nice also.

If low care is no longer available to older people and this plan of ‘ageing in place’ is to be effective the catch call of ‘independent living’ for retirement village managers can no longer apply. Owner operators must show some responsibility when building these resort style villages and ensure that these amenities are included in the homes they are providing for elderly people. These costs should be met by the owners and not put to the residents at a latter date to make the alterations. It is after all the last home they will occupy.

For this industry to progress into the future, the resident needs to have the proper protection. We are dealing with big businesses whose main aim of the game is profit, profit and more profit, but this often comes at the expense of those who can least afford it a retiree on a limited income base. Over 80 percent of residents in retirement villages are on a pension or part pension. Residents have to move out as they can no longer afford the rising costs, the high deferred maintenance fees mean they cannot afford to buy another home some losing up to 50% of their investment and forcing them to move into the insecure world of rental accommodation after they have lost all of their hard earned savings. That is if a low cost rental is available.

Secure housing is something that most of us take for granted, yet stories of harassment, bullying and unsafe housing are often too commonplace in the retirement village industry. Dispute resolutions rarely work. Complaints must be handed to the manager, who may be the perpetrator, then the owner/operator, it then moves to Consumer Affairs and then to VCAT. This process can take many years. Precious years of our retirement spent battling these huge businesses who have access to banks of lawyers. A real David and Goliath situation faced by elderly vulnerable people at a cost they cannot afford. When all they want is their honest entitlements.

The answer is quite simple, the retirement living industry needs an Ombudsman. One who can settle these disputes justly and efficiently. This would free up the courts and provide a stress free process for older people to access, as well as improving the industry standards.

In short – what do residents want? Well improving communication and transparency in the industry would be a start. As well as respect, empathy, integrity and honesty. Just the basic standards of good business practice that we all expect out there in the big wide world of the consumer. This is after all a consumer industry and we are the customers.

I would like to extend my thanks to the Consumer Action Law Centre for the invitation to speak today as well as organizing this function for all of us. Their help in our endeavors to have the Retirement Village Act overhauled and to gain the appointment of an Ombudsman is invaluable.

Many thanks to you all.

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