“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” – that’s what Lesley Menzies OAM and President of Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria (RRVV) told members of Victorian Parliament in October 2015. “Dispute resolution rarely works” she said. “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…precious years of our retirement spent battling these huge businesses who have access to banks of lawyers.”
With retirement housing regulations governed by different pieces of legislation, residents can be easily confused by what their rights are. Through our casework we’ve seen many older Victorians dealing with extremely complex contracts, making it difficult for them to understand their rights and obligations. Comparing options is also difficult and there is a lack of specialist legal advice for people on low incomes.
We worked with our partners at Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG), Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, and Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria (RRVV), to raise the profile of the problems older Victorians are experiencing, key issues related to the complexity of their contracts, the fees charged, and the difficulties they have in resolving disputes quickly and fairly.
Together, we’ve pushed these issues into the spotlight, with more than 70 residents participating in our October parliamentary event. The overwhelming message was the need for an ombudsman to resolve disputes quickly and fairly, without the need to resort to slow, costly and adversarial courts and tribunals. With the Opposition and the Greens offering support for action, the stage was set for reform, and in 2016 the parliament commenced an inquiry into Victoria’s retirement housing sector. The Inquiry will hold public hearings in the latter half of 2016, and report back by March 2017.