Retirees Take on Big Business (Hall, A. PM, ABC Radio, May 07, 2008)

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MARK COLVIN: An unlikely war is being waged in some of Australia’s retirement villages. People in their 80s have been taking on some of the country’s biggest companies over allegations of over-charging and double dipping on fees. In one case, a retired person won a settlement of $60,000.
Despite a Senate inquiry and moves to tighten laws in recent years, retired people say they continue to get a raw deal, but the retirement village industry argues any problems are isolated.
Annie Guest compiled this report.
MARION PHILLIPS: And this time we’ll make a better job of remembering and keeping all the pamphlets because it’s…
ANNIE GUEST: In a Sunshine Coast retirement village, Philip and Marion Phillips are planning their next holiday.
PHILIP PHILLIPS: Make sure that the date stays on the photographs and doesn’t disappear when I put it on…
ANNIE GUEST: It’s light relief for the 81-year-old from the Association of Residents of Queensland Retirement Villages.
Often he’s taking on big companies that have been buying up villages, accusing them of over-charging frail aged residents through the many occupancy agreements from leasehold to strata title.
PHILIP PHILLIPS: Double dipping I think it’s called. It’s atrocious. I mean retirement village residents are very much the weaker party in all this and many of them are past being able to protest.
ANNIE GUEST: Philip Phillips alleges thousands of dollars are illegally levied when residents leave.
PHILIP PHILLIPS: If somebody is in the village for six years and a week, they can be required to pay seven years’ exit fee which is diabolical.
ANNIE GUEST: How often is this happening in your view?
PHILIP PHILLIPS: All the time.
ANNIE GUEST: That’s denied by the Retirement Village Association. Its Queensland spokesman is Allan Pidgeon.
ALLAN PIDGEON: Well it’s easy to allege that things are illegal. The advice of the industry is that we’re operating within the Act as it prevails at the moment.
ANNIE GUEST: In disputes over other levies, one Queensland resident was paid $60,000 to settle a case about over-charging.
The State’s consumer tribunal has heard a handful of disputes about issues like replacing a hot water system and mostly found in favour of residents.
Philip Phillips says maintenance fees can be $300 a month.
PHILIP PHILLIPS: Unfortunately the scheme operators seem to think that that doesn’t matter and they can ask residents to pay for repairs personally.
ANNIE GUEST: But Allan Pidgeon says they’re isolated incidents.
ALLAN PIDGEON: It’s the interest of the manager to have a well maintained village to maintain the values of the properties and so I think here both resident and manager have the same interest of making sure that the village is well maintained.
ANNIE GUEST: Around the country there have been other legal battles.
In 2004 the High Court found a New South Wales retirement village must compensate an elderly couple over fee increases.
Eighty-four-year-old Western Australian Norma Parker won her case. She says plans to change her residency deed would have left her worse off.
But Allan Pidgeon says very few people complain to Fair Trading authorities and surveys have found high satisfaction nationwide.
ALLAN PIDGEON: Resident satisfaction as revealed in a recent, in a University of Queensland study a couple of years ago indicted that 94 per cent of residents said their expectations of retirement village living had been met or exceeded.
ANNIE GUEST: There are widespread concerns that contracts can be 60 pages long.
But Andrew Macintosh from Australia’s biggest retirement village owner FKP says there are legal requirements.
ANDREW MACINTOSH: We’ve got these disclosure requirements that are imposed by the Act.
ANNIE GUEST: Are you saying that there’s not much room for the industry to simplify the contracts without changes from governments?
ANDREW MACINTOSH: Well, there probably is and that is in relation to plain English leases and other documents that we have, and I know that a lot in the industry are actually doing that.
ANNIE GUEST: In recent years some States have moved to improve laws for residents, but last year a Senate inquiry heard concerns about ongoing problems and recommended the Competition and Consumer Commission examine contracts, with a view to greater protection for residents.
It hasn’t done so because the Government has never formally made the request.
Back on the Sunshine Coast, Phillip Phillips plans to battle for fellow residents as long as he’s able, but today it’s time for some more pleasant pursuits.
PHILIP PHILLIPS: Right, back to the garden wench!
MARION PHILLIPS: Yes, that’s where I prefer to be.
MARK COLVIN: Marion Phillips ending that report from Annie Guest.

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