Dodgy retirement villages will be targeted under sweeping New South Wales reforms to give aged residents “a fair go”.
An ambassador will police villages, which will need to comply with a code of conduct, and fees will become more transparent under the changes.
NSW Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean made the announcement on Sunday in response to the Kathryn Greiner inquiry.
He said the government would implement the majority of its recommendations.
There are about 55,000 residents in NSW retirement villages, with that number expected to balloon to 325,000 by 2025.
“It’s really important that we get the changes right now to set this industry up for success in the future,” Mr Kean told reporters on Sunday.
The reforms include transparency measures to improve the disclosure of contract terms such as exit fees, which Mr Kean said would also drive competition in the sector.
It also adds improved dispute-resolution services for residents and clarifies outgoing maintenance cost responsibilities.
A mandatory code of conduct would set the standard for operators, and a Retirement Village Ambassador will be appointed.
Mr Kean said he hoped the reforms meant residents will only need to go to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal as a last resort.
The government will continue to consult with the sector.
The Greiner report was delivered to the government in December, making 17 recommendations.
Tom Gait, president of the Retirement Village Residents Association, described the recommendations as a “good start”.
He said he looked forward to additional measures, including increased staff training.
In her foreword, Ms Greiner said many residents found retirement village living “fulfilling”, but found issues around fairness of charges and contracts, dispute resolution, transparency of marketing, and the sales process when it was time to leave.
Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents to the online submission form indicated they did not believe that marketing activities are conducted honestly, fairly or diligently.
About 59 per cent of respondents said exit fees were not clear and easy to understand.
Maintenance costs were also unclear, according to 53 per cent of respondents, and a source of disputes between residents and operators.
Residents said the formality and length of dispute-resolution processes, and lack of access to affordable legal resources, prevented them from progressing disputes.
NSW Fair Trading commissioned the inquiry after a joint investigation by Fairfax and ABC’s Four Corners revealed alleged misconduct in the sector.
“We strongly support the inquiry’s findings, and believe that our response will go a long way in putting the power back in the hands of retirees and their families,” Mr Kean said in a statement.
“These reforms will put consumers first, and see greater protections for residents through increased transparency, improved dispute resolution, and more certainty around costs.”
The government last year introduced an online calculator to help residents and families understand the cost of retirement villages.
Ageing Minister Tanya Davies said it was important to increase confidence in the sector.