The changes affect three grants: These include the housing adaptation grant for people with a disability, mobility aids grant and the housing aid for older people.
Local authorities were notified by the department on Monday and have been told to implement them at once.
Under the changes, the eligibility age for the older person grants has now been increased from 60 to 66.
All members of the household over the age of 18, who are not in full-time education, will now be part of the means assessments for grants.
In addition there are changes to the income bands for the housing adaptation and housing aid schemes.
Households in the lowest band that have an income of €30,000 or less, who were before granted 100% of costs will now only receive 95%. The upper income limit to be eligible for both schemes has now been reduced from €65,000 to €60,000.
All applicants for grants will have to prove they have paid the Local Property Tax before they can qualify for the schemes. On average 10,000 people a year avail of the three means-tested grants. A spokesperson for the department said the changes have come as a result of a review of the ways in which the grants operate.
Eamon Timmins from Age Action said the cuts are targeting the most vulnerable in society and will make it even more difficult for those affected to remain in their homes. Mr Timmins stated older people “struggling to stay at home” would end up in acute hospitals and nursing homes as a result of these changes. “We’re very concerned that what they seem to be doing is trying to stretch scarce resources further to make it look like they’re getting to more people, but in effect some of the poorest people may lose out,” he said.
Still, speaking on the same programme, Ms O’Sullivan said the reduction in the maximum grant was only for elderly and not the disabled. In fact he stated there was a €3m increase in the overall amount of money being allocated to the schemes.
The minister said: “I believe that these changes will actually mean that more people will be able to stay in their own homes because they will be able to qualify for this grant, and because there will be an increase in the money. It will be spread around amongst a large number of houses. “But I do want to stress that if you have a disability, if you need something like a chairlift, you can still apply under the age of 66 for either a mobility or a disability grant from your local authority.”
Ms O’Sullivan said the rationale behind the review was to make sure the funding is used properly.She said the reduction in the older person grant from €10,500 to €8,000 came after an analysis of the grants from local authorities around the country. “Very few were getting €8,000 and the average was €5,000,” she said. “The intention is to ensure that the money goes to those who most need it.”
Micheál Martin the Fianna Fáil leader has said the Government should stop targeting older people. Mr Martin said they had been unfairly targeted by the Coalition.
In the meantime, Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended the changes to housing grants for disabled and elderly people.
He said the system for processing applications would be more efficient and the changes are “designed to give more immediate effect in the interests of elderly people who need it.”