Nationally consistent legislation and contracts, better training and an industry code of conduct have emerged as critical parts of an eight-point plan developed by Australia’s retirement village industry to simplify contracts and restore confidence in the sector.

As the industry remains under siege amid media reports of deceptive sales tactics and oppressive contracts, the Retirement Living Council together with more than 20 retirement village operators and retirement village association leaders have unveiled the strategy to ensure contracts are clearer and easier to understand and that dispute resolution mechanisms are robust and effective.

A core part of the plan revolves around a push for nationally consistent legislation and contracts – an initiative seen as critical amid an environment of considerable variation in contract requirements across states and territories at the moment.

The industry will also work with the Australian Retirement Village Residents Association to develop a Code of Conduct which will outline standards for the marketing and operation of villages as well as dispute management procedures for operators and residents.

Other parts of the plan include better training and accreditation and encouraging potential residents to obtain independent legal advice before signing contracts.

Ken Morrison, chief executive officer of the Property Council of Australia, says the moves are about providing residents with a clearer voice and confidence that concerns and disputes can be dealt with promptly and fairly.

“Over 180,000 older Australians live in retirement villages,” Morrison said. “This action plan is about giving residents, their families and the broader community confidence that the interactions between residents and the villages they are part of, reflect community expectations.

“Our retirement villages should be places where all residents feel they are being treated fairly, kindly and where they can have their say. This action plan will lay the foundation for an industry where complaints are better managed and residents get a better service.”

The moves come amid intense scrutiny of the sector following a joint ABC/Fairfax report which uncovered complaints of residents being subjected to deceptive marketing tactics and complex contracts.

As a result, governments are acting.

NSW has announced an inquiry into how retirement villages are operating in that state.

In Western Australia, meanwhile, the competition regulator is looking into retirement village fees and contracts, whilst Queensland is looking at new laws to make contracts fairer.

The Plan at a Glance

  1. Support nationally consistent retirement village legislation and contracts.
  2. Ensure there are transparent and easy-to-understand descriptions in contracts of entry pricing, ongoing service fees, reinstatement costs and fees and payments relating to departure to ensure residents have certainty about the costs associated with living in a retirement village.
  3. Encourage all potential residents to seek independent legal advice before signing a contract, and work together with government and the legal profession to make this happen. We will also encourage potential residents to share this information with family members and trusted advisers.
  4. Improve training and professional support for village managers, sales people and other staff who engage directly with current and potential residents.
  5. Commit to improve industry village accreditation standards and coverage, and support government initiatives to make accreditation a mandatory requirement for operating a village.
  6. Commit to working with the Australian Retirement Village Residents Association to implement an industry Code of Conduct to set and maintain high standards about the marketing and operation of villages, as well as dispute management procedures for all operators and residents.
  7. Commit to the establishment of an efficient and cost-effective government-backed independent dispute resolution process, such as an Ombudsman or Advocate, for disputes that are unable to be solved at a village level.
  8. Maintain and strengthen the relationship between industry and the Australian Retirement Village Residents Association to make sure resident issues are clearly identified and addressed.