The original Retirement Villages Act, which includes a Code of Residents’ Rights is dated 2003. A Code of Practice for all registered retirement villages (RVs), which sets out the minimum standards for RV operation, applied from 2008. Since then, there has been enormous growth in the number of RVs and the number of older people living in them. Between 2012 and 2021 the number of RVs grew by 25% to 425, with an increase of 71% in the number of units in them, to over 36,000. It is estimated that 48,736 older people lived in RVs in 2021. Looking to the future, there are 216 new developments in train, 129 are expansion or refurbishment of existing villages and 87 are totally new.
Coupled with projections of large increases in the older population to come – the key RV target population, those aged 75 plus, is expected to nearly double by 2048 – suggests that this is an accommodation option which needs close consideration.
In December 2020, the Retirement Commission/Te Ara Ahunga Ora published a “white paper” advocating a review of the RC legislation. New law is expected to be introduced this year, but in the meanwhile a lot of discussion is going on. Part of this was a Retirement Villages Stakeholder Forum, held in the Banquet Hall at Parliament on 3rd August. RV operators, residents’ committees, relevant government agencies and voluntary organisations participated, along with a others (including me). The presentations outlined proposals for change and there were penetrating Q and A sessions, along with opportunities for informal discussion (a great relief to be able interact face-to-face in breaks, after many months of virtual interaction).
As well as addresses by the Minister of Housing. the Retirement Commissioner, the Retirement Villages Association, which represents the majority of RVs, and the Retirement Village Residents groups, there were panels examining three vital areas where legislative and administrative issues were identified as needing attention. These are framed as stages in a resident’s’ experience.
Moving into a village
Before moving into an RV every new resident must receive independent legal advice and sign a contract – an Occupation Right Agreement (ORA). This sets out the terms and conditions of residence. The central aim of any legal changes is to ensure that this document is fair to both the residents and the village operators. Discussion centred about the possibility of producing a standardised ORA which would apply to all RVs. A multiplicity of terminology, layouts and formats at present is causing confusion and difficulty for prospective residents in being able to make comparisons between village options. Will it be possible to draft an ORA which fits everyone’s requirements? How can new types of tenure in RVs, for example, renting and reverse mortgages, be covered?
Living in a village
The main focus here is how complaints and disputes arising in an RV setting can be dealt with. Simpler, clearer, fairer and less intimidating processes were called for and well as speedier resolutions. At present settlement may be through informal means, such as helplines, CAB, Age Concern, or through formal, legally-based agencies. Choice of method may depend on the extent of the complaint, whether it involves care services, financial matters, clinical issues and so on. Who decides which channel is appropriate? It was clear that RV residents require information, advice, and advocacy in this area.
Moving on from the village
Of the 425 RVs in NZ, 65% contain an aged care facility. This applies to 74% for the leading six operators. RVs may include hospital level or dementia care, respite care or semi-independent “care suites”. Moving on generally means moving into a higher level of care to compensate for a reduced capacity for independence. Because of the variety of facilities which a village may offer it would be very difficult to produce a standardised care ORA, especially when non-residents may also occupy on-site care units. Do residents need to know the details of access, cost, and care service provision on their initial entry to a village? What rights to care do residents have in relation to care? There is considerable confusion and uncertainly at present, underlining the need for updated agreements and regulations.
If draft legislation appears this year, it will be accompanied by a discussion document for public consultation next year. There will be opportunities for public comment through the select committee process. It seems that even comparatively speedy progress will mean that no new legislation will be in place for three years. In the meanwhile, older people considering living in an RV will need clear and accurate support and advice to navigate channels to and within RVs. But once there, research suggest high levels of satisfaction for residents.
Thank you for raising this very valid point Layor. Much appreciated.
There are two further points that could be added. Firstly, you have to assume your lawyer is familiar with ORAs when giving you the obligatory explanation of the agreement. I can vouch for the fact that they are not all familiar. I had to explain to my lawyer where the explanation given was seriously incorrect! Secondly, if everything turns to custard after your settling-in period you are locked into the RV. Financially, very few could afford to move out.