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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 July 2007, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Help for vulnerable home owners
By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Elderly or disabled people who need to repair or adapt their homes in order to stay in them may be eligible for help - although many do not know it.

A female pensioner on the phone
Financial help can be available if you only know where to go for it

Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs) have been around for more than 20 years but because they go by different names in different areas many people who could benefit may not be aware of them.

HIAs can help older or disabled home owners and private sector tenants find the money for everything from an odd job up to major alterations costing thousands of pounds.

One of the main sources of money the agencies can help people access are Disabled Facilities Grants.

Claimants have to declare their income, but might be eligible for up to 25,000.

June Stephens from Woking accessed a Disabled Facilities Grant with the help of her local agency, Homelink.

I just can't believe it, I've got a home which is stress-free
June Stevens

The grant helped pay for major changes to her bathroom and kitchen.

June has used a wheelchair for 30 years and gets a mobility allowance, while her husband gets paid a works pension.

Until she received the grant she could not afford the big changes their house needed.

She is delighted with the way her home has been modified.

She told BBC Radio 4's Money Box: "I just can't believe it, I've got a home which is stress-free. It means anyone coming to help me, it's easier for them."

When the agency visits, it makes suggestions on changes which might be of benefit, but there is no obligation to carry them out.

If people do want to make the changes, the agency suggests how best to meet the cost.

June paid 300 towards the work and provided the boiler. The Disabled Facilities Grant paid for the rest.

Sensitive approach

Last year the government gave HIAs around 12m. The rest of their running costs are met by health authorities, social services and local councils.

Woking's Homelink - which helped June - has a staff of eight.

Last year it helped more than 1,000 people access grants worth around 360,000.

PROGRAMME INFORMATION
Money Box was broadcast on Saturday 7 July at 1204 BST on BBC Radio 4
Homelink manager Sally Allan said the key is being sensitive towards the needs of people who contact them.

"We'll talk to them about what their aspirations are, work with what they can afford," she said.

Where people live may dictate what help is on offer.

Foundations is an umbrella group which acts for Home Improvement Agencies.

Tony Malloy, its director, said the network of agencies is continuing to develop: "There isn't 100% national coverage.

"One of the things we're trying to do is to encourage the development and the consistency of delivery across the country."

'Unique' contribution

Communities Minister Baroness Andrews recently spoke to charities at a special event to outline current government thinking on helping the elderly stay in their own homes.

She praised the contribution HIAs have been making.

"They're able to join up services in a way which is unique and very important," she said.

They need to earn and gain the confidence of the individual householder who's sometimes going to be very wary
Mervyn Kohler, Help the Aged
"I think that's the key to keeping people safe and comfortable in their own homes."

Many of the charities present supported the role Home Improvement Agencies have been fulfilling.

But Mervyn Kohler from Help the Aged said winning people's trust was still an issue: "They need to earn and gain the confidence of the individual householder who's sometimes going to be very, very wary about 'Greeks coming in bearing gifts'."

Government projections show that over the next 30 years the number of people over 65 will almost double, to 16 million.

If older people overcome their reservations, the demands on Home Improvement Agencies are likely to rise significantly.



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