All packed – and nowhere to go?


Having been involved in retirement matters for many years, I continue to be concerned at the lack of ethics displayed by some providers of retirement accommodation. (And here I stress the word some!).

When it comes to providing accommodation or care for vulnerable elderly people; I subscribe to a very simple credo; and it goes something like this… Once a person is accepted into either a retirement village, or care centre, they are entitled to remain there until they either die – or of their own volition, decide to move.

I have often cautioned people purchasing cottages in retirement estates that in terms of affordability, the levies and additional costs such as frail care are far more important than the initial purchase price. You may for example be able to afford to purchase a unit in 2008 for say R1.5m, but will you be able to afford the levies in ten years time? And if you are a couple, the additional frail care costs, that one of you may then perhaps need? (And while it is true that only 8% of people over the age of 80 are ever likely to need frail care – how much of a gambler are you?). Take the following scenario. Mrs Brown and her husband purchase a 3-bedroom cottage in ‘La Remain’, for R2m, and (bearing in mind that we are today living far longer) both live for another 15 years. But then at the 10 year milestone, Mr. Brown needs frail care, which at current prices can cost anything from R15, 000 to R30, 000 per month. Their monthly living costs could increase as follows:


Initial move into Village in 2008: 

Cost of levy: R1, 500 PM
Cost of frail care: Nil
Monthly cost: R1, 500 PM


In 2018 Mr. Brown needs to move into frail care:

Cost of levy: R 3, 000 PM
Cost of frail care: R 18, 000 PM
Monthly cost: R 21, 000 PM


This represents an increase of 1,400% at a time when pension increases are unlikely to keep pace with financial needs. And even if Mr. Brown dies, his widow is till burdened with an enormous levy, supported only by her deceased husband’s pension, which on his demise may even itself, diminish? The truth of the matter is that today elderly people outlive their funds. But what does this have to do with ethics?

Last week I visited a lady in a Pinetown retirement village who is under threat of eviction on the basis of not having sufficient funds to pay her way. Mable is a widow who has lived in the village for over 15 years. Initially she lived in a large cottage: then downsized to a bed-sitter – and at the time of my visit had moved into a small frail care room – approximately 3.5 metres square. She had by this time used most of the proceeds of the sale of her initial large cottage; was running out of money… and was awaiting the Board of Trustees decision as to when she would have to leave! She is 93! This is unethical, as to my mind when accepting people into retirement accommodation (be that independent living or frail care), at a stage in life when they are frail and vulnerable – the facility takes on the ‘till death do us part’ moral obligation. But do I hear you ask… “Are there no exceptions to this obligation?”

Yes there are five, these generally being as follows:

• When mom or dad can no longer pay their bills, it is the legal responsibility of their children to provide financial support. But sadly in order to enforce this responsibility they would need to take their children to court. Can you really see that happening? And we should not forget that today, a parent of say 93, is likely to have adult children of over 70? Who may themselves be retired and consequently also feeling the pinch.
• And then there are the well-meaning but misguided parents who insist on assisting their children (and even grandchildren) financially – even to the detriment of their own financial security.

So, in situations where elderly parents are not supported by their off-spring, or where they insist on supporting parasitical children – such residents, could ethically be asked to leave. In all other instances, (even if they run out of money and have to be subsidised) they remain the collective responsibility of the village. When people move from their personal residences into retirement villages, that village becomes their new family – and residents and Trustees, should consequently behave accordingly.

There are however three other situations, where residents can legitimately be requested to leave:

• Firstly, where due to diminishing health, they can no longer live independently, and may be asked to move to frail care; or assisted living – but within the same village!
• Secondly, where their health problems are such that even in the village’s care centre, they can no longer be accommodated, they may then have to depart the village, in order to seek more specialised care. An example being the latter stages of Severe Alzheimer’s sufferers – But such instances are thankfully relatively rare.
• And lastly (very rarely) some residents are dysfunctional / antisocial to the extent that their very presence places the well-being of the village itself and residents generally at risk. In which case they are sometimes requested to find alternative accommodation.

The five examples cited are exceptions to the rule. Someone once described legality as being that which individuals can get away with… whereas morality relates to that which no one should try to get away with; but alas in contemporary times, morality and ethics (similar to our Rhinos) are endangered concepts, at risk of becoming extinct.

BUT… the good news is that the retirement estates and care centres in The Hills Retirement Community family; products of 104 years of service to the community, are ethical – and today under the watchful and responsible eye of Rotary, do guarantee to look after family members, on a till death do us part basis. So when concerned about retirement matters, always make sure that the people you are dealing with are ethical.


Henry Spencer
Author; gerontologist and motivation speaker on retirement matters
Phone: 072-514 0913