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Stop the senior rip-off

Stop the senior rip-off

RETIREMENT village residents and their families must be better protected by state laws to stop them being “ripped off”.

That’s the blunt message delivered by Federal Consumer Affairs Minister Michael McCormack, who has given the NSW government a six-month deadline to fix “rife” abuse of the industry.

Speaking as Kathryn Greiner wrapped up her inquiry into retirement homes in the state, Mr McCormack said he was alarmed by evidence suggesting lax and unenforced laws were being manipulated by unscrupulous owners and operators.

“It is rife,” he said. “People are being ripped off and families want to know their patriarchs and matriarchs going into retirement villages are going to be looked after.

“They want to know they are not going to be ripped off and are going to be able to enjoy their twilight years without the worry and stress of filling in a form that they didn’t know the ins and outs or whether they have to seek some form of redress through legal entities and we know that’s a slippery path.”

Mr McCormack has nominated four areas he wants addressed by the first half of next year through uniform state laws: fairer contract terms, structured exit fees, simplified contracts and consensus on dispute resolution.

“It would be desirable that we have unified legislation across the place because, quite frankly, the borders have to come down. We’ve taken the lead; we might have to take a sterner approach,” he said, declining to say what action that would involve.

It’s the first time the federal government has proactively taken a hard line after a decade of inaction following two damning reports that were scathing about the lack of protections for those moving into retirement villages.

Council On The Ageing Australia chief executive Ian Yates said consistent legislation was essential but he was far from hopeful of any state agreement. “I know when it was put on the agenda of (minister’s) state and territory colleagues they said ‘no’ in prompt terms to trying to develop consistent legislation,” he said.

He suggested the Australian Securities and Investments Commission could have oversight since village contracts were less about real estate and more about complex financial transactions. Retirement Village Residents Association president Tom Gait said a national ombudsman was a potential solution.

“NSW supports nationally consistent laws provided they do not water down protections for NSW retirement village residents,” NSW Innovation Minister Matt Kean said.

“I will not wait for the other states and territories to take any action that is necessary to protect NSW retirement village residents.”

Article by Charles Miranda appeared in the Sunday Telegraph.