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With all the rapture about interest rate cuts – now equalling 0.75 per cent over the last two months – spare a thought for older Australians.

Already a third of over 50s say they can’t afford their home repair bills, according to a national survey, and with every dent to their savings, things get worse.

Australia’s over 50s are facing a combined repair bill of $5.57 billion to fix more than 17 million defects in their homes.

The most common issues reported in research by insurance provider Apia were leaking taps (41%), trees that need to be trimmed for safety reasons (39%), cracks in walls (38%), insect or vermin infestations (33%), and blocked drains (27%).

Nearly half (43%) of the survey’s respondents said they didn’t have the skills to fix the problems around their home.

National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill isn’t surprised by the finding that one-third of older Australians can’t afford the cost of home maintenance.

“The folk who are reliant on the pension and on a fixed income, the reality is they … don’t have a lot left over at the end of each week or fortnight, they don’t have the capacity … within whatever the amount is, to shuffle it around too much.”

It’s a particular issue in winter as heating bills begin to bite.

“This time of year, very clearly electricity costs, gas costs, those kinds of pressures are sucking out a substantial amount of … the pension, or the self-funded investment returns,” O’Neill says.

Rate cuts over the last two months will affect some retirees more than others, says Pauline Vamos, chief executive of the Association of Superannuation Funds.

“Those that have converted to cash early … will see a drop in their income and this does affect their spending power,” she says. “Many people in retirement … they will be dependent on income from cash.”

But Vamos points out that cash is like any other asset and can go up and down in value. “That’s why diversification is absolutely imperative, no matter where you are at your stage of investing,” she says.

Not being able to afford to keep homes up to scratch has obvious ramifications over the longer term as little problems left unchecked can turn into big damage bills. But the immediate danger is that posed to the person living in the property, as poor maintenance can lead to issues such as tripping hazards for older people.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths, hospital admissions and emergency department presentations in older people, and falls most commonly occur in the home. In Victoria, for example, there are about 250 fall-related deaths each year, and 12,000 fall-related hospital admissions.

Given the trend is for people to age in situ, the lack of home maintenance is a real concern, says O’Neill.

“Once you got to a certain age and it was about going into residential care, it is very clearly now the other way,” he says.

“The time may have come at 75 [to move], now it’s much more likely to be 85. With age comes increased risk as well [as people become more frail], so it’s actually quite an important issue.”

Story by Carolyn Boyd; Story source:

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