Ministers disagree on Fair Deal scheme as O’Brien presses for rental income exemption

Department concerned some families may abuse measure by pushing older people into residential care to access income

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has argued the measure could free up more than 9,000 vacant properties that are currently not being rented as 80 per cent of any income raised would have to go towards the owner’s nursing home costs. File photograph: iStock

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has argued the measure could free up more than 9,000 vacant properties that are currently not being rented as 80 per cent of any income raised would have to go towards the owner’s nursing home costs. File photograph: iStock

 

Government officials are expected to continue working on planned reforms to the Fair Deal nursing home scheme, which have been hit by disagreements between Ministers.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is pressing for an exemption to be put in place for rental income generated from family homes from contributions to the Fair Deal scheme.

Mr O’Brien has argued that such an exemption could free up more than 9,000 vacant properties that are currently not being rented as 80 per cent of any income raised would have to go towards the owner’s nursing home costs.

However, there are concerns in the Department of Health that the measure could be abused and that some families could seek prematurely to push older people into long-term residential care to access the rental income.

Government sources said talks were continuing on the reforms ahead of a memo being brought to the Cabinet shortly, but there may not be agreement on the rental income issue in time.

Some highly placed sources said an amendment on the rental income issue could be brought by Mr O’Brien, when the reform legislation subsequently reached committee stage in the Oireachtas.

Sources said a three-year cap on income from the sale of a family home had been agreed between Ministers at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on housing some weeks ago.

The sale of a family home is counted as an asset, and 7.5 per cent of the income raised must contribute to the Fair Deal scheme for each year a person is in long-term residential care.

Some sources maintained that it was agreed at the sub-committee meeting that talks would continue on the issue of an exemption for rental income ahead of a final decision, but that this was not contained in a memo on the issue circulated by the Department of Health last week for observations by other Government departments.

Vacant homes

The Irish Independent on Monday quoted Mr O’Brien as saying that the rent exemption was urgently required to free up vacant homes during the housing crisis and that he “does not accept” the argument that the proposal will lead to a rise in elder abuse.

“I am not convinced we will see a correlation in vacant homes being occupied with an increase in manipulation of older people or their financial situation.”

However, the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for older people Mary Butler said she had concerns about premature entry of older people into nursing homes and that safeguarding arrangements may be needed.

About 22,500 people are expected to be covered by the Fair Deal scheme for their nursing home care this year, at a cost to the State of more than €1 billion.

Ms Butler told the Dáil last week that she expected to bring new legislation on the scheme to Cabinet for approval in the next couple of weeks.