Safeguards for accommodation bonds will receive a $22 million boost over the next four years, as part of the Rudd Government’s aged care package.
Legislation will also be introduced to strengthen current arrangements for the permitted uses of bonds, improve reporting requirements, introduce criminal penalties for the misuse of bond funds and put in place a regime to implement the announced changes.
“While the overwhelming majority of aged care providers do the right thing, there are currently no significant penalties or other accountability mechanisms for the misuse of bond funds,” said a spokesperson for the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot.
“The reforms will increase the accountability of aged care providers for the way they use the life savings of residents.’’
Another $3 million has also been promised to the sector, to help improve the Complaint Investigation Scheme (CIS) and to provide access to mediation and conciliation services. This initiative is based on the unreleased independent review of the CIS which found that the scheme needed to be strengthened.
The CIS funding will reduce caseloads to improve timeliness and thoroughness of the investigations. The government has also promised to provide additional resources to the CIS to reduce case loads in the scheme to improve the timeliness and thoroughness of investigations.
The $25 million total to improve consumer focus forms part of the recently announced $739 million policy reform package to be delivered by the Rudd government over the next four years.
“These reforms mean that allegation of poor quality care or abuse will be investigated and acted upon more quickly, and protections for residents’ life savings held in the form of accommodation bonds will be strengthened,” said a spokesperson for the Minister for Ageing.
The CEO of National Seniors Australia, Michael O’Neill, views the cash injection and promised reforms as “good news”.
Mr O’Neill said that a stronger CIS means more “accountability and transparency,’’ which would allow consumers to make better informed decisions.
“We are supportive of a system of aged care that is transparent, that has suitable protection measures in place,” he said.
“More resources are necessary to ‘’to weed out practices or activities that are not helpful for the image of the industry.
“It’s all about the continuation of reform,’’ Mr O’Neill added. “It’s nothing new.” He described the money as an “essential [investment for] people who are vulnerably and need protection.”
A spokesperson for the Minister for Ageing indicated that these reforms are only the beginning in what will be a longer process of consultative and improvement.
“[We] will continue to work with the aged care sector, consumers and key stakeholders, including the Ageing Consultative Committee to develop and implement other improvements to the Scheme including broadening the range of options for the resolution of complaints through mediation and conciliation.”