Warning to retirement village operators is long overdue
– NZ Herald editorial published yesterday.
Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson has joined with Consumer NZ, the Retirement Village Residents Association, the Law Society, and many others in calling for a review of the Retirement Villages Act 2003. The commissioner this week released a substantial report listing the shortcomings cited among 3254 submissions. The most widely discussed issues, she said, were operators taking too long to resell the property after a death; no shared capital gains; and weekly fees continuing after death or hospital admission. Retirement Village Residents Association president Peter Carr says the law, as it stands, allows continued and increasing financial exploitation of vulnerable, predominantly women, New Zealanders. “The law,” says Carr, “is an ass.” The Associate Housing Minister, responsible for the retirement village sector, Poto Williams has said she wants changes, particularly on complaint processes and contracts. Wrightson decries the imbalance of power between operators and consumers. Effectively, the village residents are bound to contracts the Law Society says need to be explained in plainer language, involving the kinds of people who are often unlikely to complain. It’s clear a law review is the last thing the Retirement Villages Association wants. Chief executive John Collyns says it’s unnecessary, excessive, and change is already planned. In particular, the sector has launched a blueprint to provide residents with a stronger voice; strengthen the complaints process; explore the establishment of an Ombudsman to hear and resolve issues; fix potentially unfair clauses and develop best practice standards for relicensing times. Collyns says the association wants to work with members, residents, and the Retirement Commissioner to design a best practice approach to relicensing “that reflects the reality of the local real estate market”, yet ensures residents’ estates don’t wait an unreasonable period for a refund. The association also points to independent research showing more than 95 per cent satisfaction with village living and more than 100 older New Zealanders choosing to move into a village every week. The problem is the concerns have been around for some time and are well known. The Commission for Financial Capability has raised many of the issues covered in Wrightson’s discussion paper in previous years. In the meantime, Wrightson says there are some areas where work can be carried out to ensure better outcomes in the short term while a review takes place. These “interim recommendations” include looking at contracts to identify and remove unfair terms, the appointment of an RVA Disciplinary Authority to deal with serious complaints about operator behaviour, transparency of data regarding resale times, and the processes villages follow terminating financial charges after exit. It’s estimated 12.6 per cent of New Zealanders aged over 75 live in retirement villages, and the figure is growing. As New Zealand’s baby boom population reaches retirement, the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to be about 1.2m by 2036. The retirement village sector owes it to itself, not to mention the consumers who will become increasingly reliant on it, to be the very best it can be right now. Otherwise, the law will have to make it so.