The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety set the government a target of zero younger people in residential aged care homes by 2025 – a target that seems unlikely to be met despite the roll-out of several initiatives to address the problem. Debbie Sage, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Senior Associate and Accredited Aged Care Professional, explores the challenges involved.
Recognising the unique needs of young residents in aged care
While the aged care system is primarily designed to cater to older adults’ needs, many younger people under the age of 65 who have complex medical issues and require a high level of support, currently live in residential aged care homes. This situation stems from a lack of age-appropriate options and adequate community support services for this demographic.
The current system places a strain on aged care workers, who are already grappling with a staffing shortage, increasing demands, and challenging working conditions.
Catering to the diverse needs of both younger and older residents poses an additional burden, making it difficult to provide personalised care that addresses the unique requirements of everyone.
Recognising the need for change, the government is working to reduce the number of younger people in aged care. In the 2023-24 Budget, the government announced that it will pour $7.3 million into measures to transition younger people out of residential aged care.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we understand the need for the development of age-appropriate solutions to address the specific needs of younger people who require care.
This blog delves into the current situation of younger people in aged care, exploring government initiatives, legal considerations, and the potential for creating a more inclusive and supportive care system.
Why aged care?
Several factors contribute to the placement of young individuals in aged care facilities. Complex health needs, a lack of suitable housing, limited community support systems, protracted NDIS funding and housing support processes, and the intricacies of navigating the multiple systems available for their unique situation, all play a role.
The complex nature of health needs among young individuals often requires specialised care, and in some instances, aged care facilities may be the only option equipped to provide such services.
Navigating the intricacies of the various support systems available can be overwhelming, leading to young individuals and their families opting for aged care facilities because they believe it is the only seemingly accessible solution.
The number of young people living in residential aged care in Australia is declining. As of the end of June 2023, the number of individuals below 65 residing in residential aged care was 2,067, representing a 29.6% decrease from June 2022. Additionally, the number of young people entering residential aged care decreased by 44.1%, with 301 new admissions in the 12 months ending June 2023.
Yet, we are a long way off the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s target of “no people under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025.”
While the number of young people living in residential aged care is decreasing, it is not necessarily because they are finding appropriate alternative accommodation.
Navigating potential solutions
To address the challenges faced by many younger people, the Australian government has launched the ‘Younger People in Residential Aged Care System,’ a national initiative administered by not-for-profit Ability First Australia.
This program is dedicated to supporting young individuals who are currently in permanent residential aged care or those facing the possibility of residing in such facilities. By providing more choices and control over living arrangements, the initiative aims to reduce the number of young people at risk of entering residential aged care.
The program employs a system coordinator who can connect individuals to the service providers relevant to their specific living situation. This coordinator assists the individual and their families as they navigate the complexity of disability, housing, health, and aged care systems, helping them find and explore alternative accommodations and support services tailored to their needs.
Since its inception in July 2021, the program has supported over 2,500 people on a voluntary and free-access basis, focusing on those who are ineligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
There has also been a real push recently to transition younger individuals who are already living in aged care homes to check their eligibility for NDIS. The NDIS supports younger people under 65 years old with a permanent and significant disability to find other age-appropriate accommodation and support options. This is something to bear in mind, particularly because when you’re in aged care, you may be required to pay accommodation costs, living expenses and care services not funded under the NDIS.
Principles and guidelines for younger persons in aged care
Aged care workers should be aware that there is a legal framework that underpins the expected treatment of younger people in aged care homes.
The Department of Health and Aged Care updated its “principles and guidelines for a younger person’s access to Commonwealth-funded aged care services” in May 2023.
The guidelines state that no younger person under 65 should enter residential aged care unless there are “compelling exceptional circumstances” and that they should only carry out an aged care assessment once they have explored all age-appropriate accommodations and supports. The idea is to divert younger people from entering aged care as early in the process as possible.
If an individual has no other option but to move into the aged care system, navigating the legal aspects surrounding their care requires a comprehensive understanding of various legislation and regulations.
The Aged Care Act establishes the rights and responsibilities of individuals who operate in the aged care system.
The critical point to take away from this is that a younger person or NDIS participant who lives in residential aged care has the same rights as any other resident under the Aged Care Act.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, our team is committed to helping individuals and their families understand the legal aspects of aged care and other care options, including by ensuring that their rights are protected. We know the complexities of the system and can provide guidance to help younger people find alternative living arrangements, transition out of aged care, and ensure their best interests are protected.
We provide a variety of legal services, including helping people understand aged care regulations and representing them in court if their rights are violated. We can also help aged care workers and providers understand their responsibilities and obligations to all residents in their care.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping people through every stage of life
If you or someone you know is navigating the complexities of young individuals in aged care, Attwood Marshall Lawyers is here to help.
As lawyers who work in aged care, estate planning and estate administration, we are passionate about helping people make informed decisions and educating the community about all available options. Not only are our lawyers experienced in estate planning and administration, but we also have accredited aged care professionals who specialise in this very complex area.
Trusted legal and financial advice from an accredited aged care professional is the key to covering all your bases and ensuring your best interests are being protected – no matter what you decide.
If you or a loved one needs legal advice about aged care services, reviewing service agreements or estate planning to protect vulnerable members of the family, please get in touch with our Wills & Estates and Aged Care Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email email@example.com or free call 1800 621 071 at any time.