Retirement Villages are a significant form of housing for older Victorians. Across the state, around 30,000 people live in more than 350 retirement villages. Often, older women make the move into retirement housing after the loss of a partner – a time of grief, stress and pressure that can hinder informed decision-making. This vulnerable consumer group is confronted with complex contracts and choices that are hard to understand, even with legal advice.
COTA Victoria has been part of a long-running campaign to reform the retirement housing sector. Over the past seven years we’ve worked with residents and other organisations to research the issues and speak up in policy reform processes.
What we did
In 2016, we made a joint submission to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the retirement housing sector. Our submission highlighted examples of exploitative and abusive practices and called for broad-ranging reform.
We’ve been involved in events from small stakeholder meetings to a large forum that attracted more than 100 attendees to Parliament House in 2017. Residents also joined us to advocate directly to MPs in the lead-up to the 2018 Victorian election. Subsequently, we supported joint research into consumers’ decision-making processes led by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC).
Since 2019 we have been participating in the review of the Retirement Villages Act 1986 (Vic), as a member of the Stakeholder Reference Group. Most recently we have commented on the Options Paper in a joint submission with the Consumer Law Action Centre (CALC), Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) and Residents of Retirement Villages Victoria (RRVV). Our nine key points are aimed at creating a simpler, forward looking retirement housing system that meets the aspirations and needs of older people.
Over the course of our advocacy, we’ve seen some improvements, primarily in consumer awareness. Media coverage of exploitative practices has made people more aware of the financial ramifications of a move into a retirement village. There’s also greater awareness of the Deferred Management Fee model, exit fees and the lack of transparency in contracts.
In turn, this has prompted minor improvements to business practices. Some retirement villages are now offering clearer fee information so that consumers have a better understanding of what they’re buying into.
But there’s still a long way to go. Vested interests, inter-jurisdictional issues, political resistance, and legislative complexity have all been roadblocks to reform. We’re continuing the push for residents’ rights and better consumer protections.