Older people may prematurely enter nursing homes due to housing plan aims – advocates

Housing for All seeks to ‘release’ vacant homes of nursing home residents

Safeguarding measures may be necessary to protect older people from “premature entry into nursing homes”, as the Housing For All plan seeks to “release” vacant homes of nursing home residents, advocates warn.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien said up to 9,000 homes could be lying vacant due to aspects of the Fair Deal scheme – which funds nursing home care – that disincentivise the letting or selling of properties of older people upon entering a nursing home.

Under current arrangements, rental or sale income from an older person’s principal private residence is reckonable as income, thereby increasing their contribution towards the cost of care.

Amendments have already been introduced to the Nursing Homes Support Scheme, ie the Fair Deal scheme, to limit payments from the sale of the principle private residence, to three years and to cap it at 7.5 per cent of the value of the property.

Housing for All states: “Further amendments to the Nursing Homes Support Scheme will be made later in 2021 in order to exempt rental income from a principal private residence when calculating the income of an applicant. Local Property Tax returns for 2020 indicate up to 7,800 vacancy exemptions were processed due to illness.

“While the conditions of the exemption do not specifically refer to the Fair Deal scheme, it might be assumed that a significant portion of these relate to the scheme and the changes proposed to both the sale and rental of property outlined here could release a significant number of homes to the sale and rental markets.”

Sean Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, called on all involved in devising changes to "tread lightly and with extreme caution". He questioned how many homes would in fact be "released" adding all would eventually come into the sale or rental market anyway.

“The most important issue is that there must be safeguarding structures put in place to ensure older people are not forced into nursing homes unnecessarily.

“The other point I would make is that when you break it down the number of suitable houses that would become available is quite low. When a person goes into a nursing home there is often a spouse still living in the home.

“The homes, by their very nature, may be quite old and in need of upgrading and refurbishment before they can be rented out. Furniture might need to go into storage.

“And then there is the fact that the average length of time a person is in a nursing home is just two years, so the home is going to come into the market anyway.

“I know the Government has to cover all bases but I would question how many homes this will actually release,” he said.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, agreed safeguarding measures must be put in place but questioned how widespread the issue of abusive families ushering older people into nursing homes prematurely, was.

“I’m sure it could happen but I think it might be overstated,” he said.

Minister for Older People Mary Butler has reportedly expressed concerns and said safeguarding arrangements may be needed.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times