Retirement Villages Sector Launches Blueprint

Group of older adults eating lunch together at village

New Zealand’s retirement villages sector has launched a comprehensive blueprint to introduce a range of improvements in the industry.

The blueprint, launched at the Retirement Villages Association (RVA) annual conference in Auckland last week, includes providing residents with a stronger voice, strengthening the complaints process and working with the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) to monitor re-licensing times so best practice standards can be developed.

The RVA will also explore establishing an Ombudsman to hear and resolve complaints and invite an independent member of the public to sit on its Executive to represent residents interests. Retired High Court Judge Hon. Dr John Priestly QC is already the independent chair of the RVA’s separate Disciplinary Authority to look at complaints about egregious operator behaviour.

“The growth of our sector, the fact more than 100 Kiwis are choosing to move into a retirement village every week and the overwhelming satisfaction levels among residents clearly demonstrates that we have struck the right balance between robust regulatory oversight and effective self-governance,” said RVA President Graham Wilkinson.

“However, we accept there is always room for improvement and refinement around certain practices as our sector and our offering evolves. This blueprint sets out the tangible and definitive steps we will be taking to achieve that goal.”

As part of the blueprint, the RVA has agreed with the CFFC to survey all members annually to examine emerging trends and work with members, residents and the Retirement Commissioner to design a best practice approach to re-licensing that reflects the reality of the local real estate market, yet ensures residents’ estates do not wait an unreasonable period of time for a refund.

“We agree there is a role for continuously educating operators and residents about the re-licensing process and to encourage best practice including dealing with potential drawn-out re-licensing times,” said Wilkinson.

The blueprint also sets out plans to review Occupation Rights Agreements (ORAs) to address any perceived unfair terms or confusing clauses and ensure clarity around what the resident and operator are responsible for, in particular, repairs, maintenance and replacement of operator-owned chattels.

“We will work with our members, residents and the Retirement Commissioner to identify best practice for future ORAs which define each party’s responsibilities, so that residents are not responsible for usual maintenance and replacement of operator-owned chattels, whilst protecting operators from bearing the cost of making good resident abuse or damage to chattels.

“Already some operators have moved towards this position and we anticipate the majority of operators will follow quickly.”

The RVA has worked with the CFFC to develop best practice standards around the disclosure of information about residents’ transfer to care and have called for these to be incorporated into the Retirement Villages Code of Practice.

“We also agree that the retirement sector can encourage best practice standards, as is illustrated by the sector actively encouraging operators to stop charging all fees when a resident moves out,” said Wilkinson.

“This is an example of education and market pressure. The practice was extremely rare 20 years ago, but today the majority of villages have adopted this practice and we expect more to follow, although this will always be a challenge for smaller and not-for-profit villages.”

Last year, the RVA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Retirement Village Residents Association of New Zealand to work together on issues.