Illegally charged care home residents to receive €8m
More than 500 people with intellectual disabilities who were illegally charged by the State for their care are to receive €8 million in compensation following a U-turn by the Department of Health.
More than a decade after money was illegally deducted from the residents of three Dublin care homes, the department has said it is dropping court proceedings designed to block the payments.
It revealed its change of mind after inquiries from The Irish Times about the High Court case, which started three years ago and has been adjourned 24 times.
The people at the centre of the case – long-term residents of Cheeverstown House, St Michael’s House and the Daughters of Charity – are due compensation of up to €20,000 each.
The department and the HSE could now face claims from people with disabilities in other homes. Large providers of care for the intellectually disabled such as St John of God’s and the Brothers of Charity did not appeal the department’s refusal to pay at the time but could now seek similar treatment for residents.
Unusually, the 515 people at the centre of the case were not represented in the case, which was taken by the department and the HSE against an appeals officer who had ruled they were entitled to compensation under the long-stay charges repayment scheme.
Speaking before the department announced its change of heart, the officer, Ed Kent, acknowledged it was “a difficulty” that no one was advocating on behalf of the people directly affected. However, Mr Kent, whose work on the scheme is almost complete, added, “I’m not there to do that.”
One source said that while their needs are taken care of, the money could still be put to good use. “For some, it might mean a special chair, for others a trip to Disneyland.”
The case arises from a charge imposed since the mid-1970s on people with an income who were resident in long-stay care homes. In 2004, the Supreme Court found there was no legal basis for the charges, which were suspended until new legislation allowed for their resumption.
A scheme was put in place to repay the charges that had been illegally deducted. To date, the State has paid out €425 million in respect of more than 20,000 claims.
Mr Kent, who was appointed as appeals officer for the scheme in 2006, ruled that residents of the three homes were entitled to have the charge repaid for 2000-2004. The department and HSE appealed three test cases to the court in January 2010, arguing there were “no recoverable health charges” due.
A department spokeswoman said it and the HSE were initially unhappy with Mr Kent’s ruling and ordered a review. “Following that review, which of necessity took some time, we are now of the view that it would not be appropriate to proceed with the appeals.”
Mr Kent, who operated independently of the department but has a desk in Hawkins House, said the interests of the residents were being protected despite the delay. Interest will be paid on the sum awarded.
The money will not go directly to the benefit of the residents or their families; it will be lodged in an account maintained by the HSE for their benefit.