Seanad hears of Bill to tackle fair deal burden on farmers, small firms

Problem arises in rolling 7.5% charge against value of assets held towards care home costs

The Seanad was told that the average length of stay in a nursing home is just over three years. File photograph: Getty

The Seanad was told that the average length of stay in a nursing home is just over three years. File photograph: Getty

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Legislation to amend the fair deal nursing-home scheme, which had the “unintended consequence” of penalising farmers and small businesses, will be brought to Cabinet in the next two weeks.

Minister of State for Older People Mary Butler told the Seanad on Monday that Attorney General Paul Gallagher has signed a finalised draft of the Bill which aims to ease the burden on farmers and small businesses.

Reform of the scheme was promised almost two years ago. But amending legislation fell with the last Dáil before the general election in February 2020 and was further delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Presently, people using the scheme and moving into nursing homes contribute up to 80 per cent of their income and up to 7.5 per cent of the value of any assets held towards the cost of their care.

The value of a person’s home is only included in the financial assessment for the first three years of their time in care. But this three-year cap does not apply to family-owned and operated farms or businesses when calculating the cost.

Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O’Loughlin said the 7.5 per cent per annum levy meant “farmers and business owners face indefinite contributions on their assets, which in some cases threatens their very viability” and the scheme clearly discriminated against them.

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers said the annual charge meant “if you were in nursing care for 14 years you’d lose the farm completely”.

She said many older people were not going into care. And this was not from greed or wanting to hold on, but “out of fear that the farm will not be there to hand on to the next generation”.

The Minister said the scheme, introduced in 2009, aimed for fairness and equity. But “there are always some unintended consequences and unfortunately the unintended consequences will affect the farmers and small businesses”.

Cabinet approval

Ms Butler said the average length of stay in a nursing home is 3.3 years. But 37 per cent of all people in the nursing home supports leave the scheme within six months of entry.

Ms Butler said the legislation is technical – with 26 sections and resulted in the Attorney General seeking 146 clarifications from drafters of the Bill in the Department of Health.

The draft has been circulated to Government departments who will consider it for 10 working days. Ms Butler intends to bring it to the Cabinet meeting in two weeks’ time, “hoping that the Cabinet will approval. And then it will come before the House.”

The Minister also said work is continuing on reforming the model of care delivery for older people so as to support them to remain living independently in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.

“This will involve a demonstrable shift in the provision of care from hospitals to community settings.”