More must be done to flag urban isolation after a third inquest in a week heard how an elderly person lay dead in their home for months before their body was discovered.
Calls have also been made for the Department of Social Protection to introduce an early warning system in its pensions’ section to identify those who have missed several payments.
Campaigner Paddy O’Brien, who has spent decades advocating for the elderly and who organises the country’s largest talent competition for the over-60s, said the department must do more than simply write to a customer after 60 days asking why they have failed to collect their pension.
“In two of these cases, their customers were dead in their homes while these letters were coming through the door,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I want to avoid a repetition of these tragedies. I have written to the department calling for a change.
There should be a system in place where if pension payments go uncollected for a long period, the department should be able to alert local gardaí or the local parish priest.
Cork City Coroner’s Court heard yesterday how the badly decomposed body of George Harrington, 79, of 1A Imaal Court, The Glen, was found lying in his flat, above a busy community resource centre, on May 14. Evidence in his flat suggests he died the previous November.
Cork City coroner Philip Comyn said it appeared as if he had been “enveloped in a cloak of anonymity”.
Last week, Mr Comyn heard how the badly decomposed remains of the reclusive unmarried Ritchie Scanlan, 84, were found in his home in Madden’s Buildings, Blackpool last July. He may have been dead for up to seven months.
Mr Comyn said it was disheartening that Mr Scanlan had “fallen through the cracks of society”.
And earlier this week, a coroner in Co Mayo heard how the decomposed remains of Irene Daly, 82, were found in her house in Knock three months after she died.
Mr Comyn reiterated that he could not understand how alarm bells did not sound in places such as the Department of Social Protection when these people failed to collect their pensions for such a long period.
In a statement, the department said its electronic information transfer payments made in the post office must be collected in person and remain available for collection for up to 60 days.
“Pensioners are not required to collect their payments on a weekly basis and some people will allow a number of payments to build up before collection,” said the department.
“If a payment is not collected within the time limit, the payment is suspended and the department writes to the customer enquiring why they did not collect their payment. Further payments do not issue until the department hears back from the customer.”
However, Mr O’Brien said the department must do more and said such ‘urban isolation deaths’ can be avoided.
“We all have a role to play here, to be more observant, to call to people,” he said.
“People must not assume things. We must each take it upon ourselves to check on someone if we don’t see them for a while. We should not be embarrassed to knock on a person’s door or be worried about offending the person.
“It’s better to have the person open the door and find out they are okay, than to find out a few months later that the person has died.”