31 March 2023

ACT Government to investigate establishing retirement villages ombudsman

| Ian Bushnell
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man holding a petition

John Beagle and petition: an ombudsman is long overdue. Photo: Kay Beagle.

A petition for the ACT to establish an ACT retirement villages ombudsman has borne fruit, with the Legislative Assembly voting to investigate the issue.

Launched by John Beagle and his wife, who live at The Grove retirement village in Ngunnuwal, the petition was taken into the Assembly by Labor MLA for Yerrabi Michael Pettersson, who moved the motion for the investigation and also made the case for the Federal Government to establish a national retirement villages and aged care ombudsman.

Mr Petterson said residents often faced protracted disputes with for-profit village operators over maintenance and fee issues.

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“Right now, there is no accessible, non-adversarial recourse available for residents in disputes with operators that can make enforceable decisions to resolve disputes,” he told the Assembly.

Mr Pettersson said that despite being the first port of call if a dispute arises, the internal retirement village disputes committee often failed to obtain tangible outcomes for residents because the decision was not binding.

“If a resident subsequently chooses to escalate the matter to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) or the ACT Supreme Court for enforcement, they often find themselves bogged down in a costly, arduous, administrative nightmare,” he said.

“As a result, very few seniors pursue the justice they deserve and give up altogether.”

Mr Pettersson also said retirement villages were big business and management was often out of town, distant and unwilling to engage, especially in writing, or spend money on repairs.

He said the measures that provided for dispute resolution in the Retirement Villages Act 2012 were unfit for purpose.

It would also help if there was a national body to regulate retirement village and aged care disputes so that residents across all states and territories had the same access to justice as each other.

“And that’s exactly what I’ve heard from hundreds of people who are living in retirement villages right now,” he said.

“Their stories of neglect and mismanagement are compelling.

“And it’s clear to me that swift action needs to be taken to investigate the best way to fill the dispute resolution gap which currently exists in the legislation.”

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Mr Beagle, who was at the Assembly when Mr Petterson’s motion passed with the backing of all parties, said a retirement villages ombudsman was long overdue and establishing an ACT position could be the model for a Federal office.

He said that the idea had coincidently received backing from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute which published a paper in December recommending the establishment of a Federal Retirement Village Ombudsman.

“There is now going to be a very well organised concerted effort involving hopefully many of the 40-odd retirement villages’ residents, cooperating to highlight the need for the Ombudsman,” Mr Beagle said.

The government must report back to the Assembly by the end of September.

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