A retiree and activist in his 90s is urging the ACT Government to set up a dedicated ombudsman for retirement villages, which would be an Australian first.
John Beagle, a resident at The Grove Retirement Village in Ngunnawal operated by Lendlease, has lodged a petition with the Legislative Assembly calling for a retirement village ombudsman to handle and rule on complaints from residents.
Mr Beagle said the ombudsman should have teeth and the power to make orders.
He said such an office was desperately needed for the ACT’s retirement village residents who can only pursue a complaint in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal or beyond that the Supreme Court.
“This is a complex, time-consuming and potentially very expensive process,” Mr Beagle said.
“Most people haven’t got the wherewithal or the will or the energy to do this.
“This plays right into the hands of the retirement village operators.”
This was evidenced by the fact that only three complaints had been made to ACAT in the past decade, one of which was launched recently by Mr Beagle on behalf of a fellow resident.
That proved successful with Lendlease agreeing to remedy the situation on the eve of a hearing.
“People in retirement villages want a quiet life and they put up with all kinds of shit because they can’t do anything about it,” Mr Beagle said.
It should not be assumed that the small number of complaints here in the ACT and in other jurisdictions meant all was well, he said.
A recent example in the ACT was a woman who found herself living on top of a cafe established by the village operator.
“She’s living happily and the next minute they put a cafe under her villa, and she’s got all the smells and all the noise and there’s nothing she can do about it,” Mr Beagle said.
“If she complains to the manager they say well this is our property we can do what we want. If you want to go you can leave and if she leaves she loses hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
Mr Beagle said seniors in NSW and Victoria had been lobbying for a retirement village ombudsman for many years and NSW Labor had promised to establish one if elected in the 2023 state election.
But the ACT could do it first and set the standard.
Mr Beagle has written to the Canberra Liberals, Independent Senator David Pocock and the Council of the Aged (COTA), which had undertaken to contact their 2000 members and the 65,000 ACT recipients of the Seniors Card.
He said the for-profit side of the industry was big business, mainly in the transaction of property and there was a major power imbalance between elderly residents and the operators.
Ibis World report that the industry is worth $4.7 billion and has grown at a rate of 3 per cent a year since 2017.
In 2017 it came under scrutiny from the ABC’s Four Corners program with an investigation into the financial practices of a company called Aveo, which was taken over in 2019 by Brookfield.
Operators make their money from two main sources, firstly when the village is established and the lease is provided to the first resident, then when the outgoing resident sells their unit to an incoming one.
Mr Beagle said it was a hugely growing industry no less than in the ACT.
“In the future there will be thousands more people entering retirement villages,” he said.
His petition calls on the Assembly to introduce a Bill for the creation of a retirement village ombudsman. Yerrabi Labor MLA Michael Pettersson has sponsored it.