Noonan targets the grey vote with a range of measures for the elderly in Budget
With more leaks than a sieve, Budget 2016 was, not unexpectedly, met with a surge of apathy.
However, Mr Noonan, already past normal retirement age at 72, clearly has his eye on other pensioners after he presented them with a range of grey vote-getting measures which will keep this articulate and noisy lobby group happy. Nobody, least of all politicians in an election year, want to see older people marching outside the Dáil as happened when the previous government attempted to get rid of their medical cards.
First up was the €3 increase in the State pension. This was somewhat unexpected as research from McKinsey published last week had already indicated that Irish pensioners are financially better off in retirement than most of their European counterparts, although they may not all see it that way. As it stands, 677,000 of those reliant on State pensions will benefit from the increase and indeed, from the extension of the bands before Universal Social Charge (USC) is paid.
USC itself is down across all levels, so even relatively wealthy pensioners will be better off as less of their money goes towards this dreaded tax.
The fuel allowance has increased by €2.50 per week to €22.50. With fuel prices falling, and oil prices hitting the floor, this will make pensioners’ household budgeting a little bit more manageable. If we get a bad winter, they’ll certainly be pleased with any extra amount to pay for coal, gas or oil.
People caring for a dependent relative, and this is often older people, will welcome the carer’s tax credit being increased by €190 while the respite care grant, often given to the same group, has been fully restored to €1,700 for next year. This will be much appreciated by lobby groups such as the Carer’s Association for its members. For many carers, however, instead of this being used toward a holiday or some break from their caring duties, it can end up being spent on household utilities, or bills which are all the higher when you have someone else dependent on you.
Other measures which will please seniors is the part restoration of the Christmas bonus – with 75pc of their normal payment being given as an additional gift in time for the festive season.
Older people in particular, had been dismayed to see the whittling away of Inheritance Tax thresholds. They worried about the family home having to be sold to pay the tax after they passed away, rather than being left to adult children intact. The current ‘Class A’ Threshold which was €225,000 is being increased to €280,000. Not a huge change, but with rising property prices, it is welcome nonetheless.
Anyone making changes to the family home, such as a new kitchen, or easily accessible bathrooms for instance, often undertaken on retirement, will benefit from the extension of the Home Renovation Initiative for another year. This
VAT-back scheme allows 13.5pc of works costs to be rebated.
The Fair Deal, or Nursing Home Support Scheme, is important to elderly or infirm older people who need to enter a nursing home and worry about waiting lists which had lengthened to eight months. Half are admitted from acute hospitals (the so-called ‘bed blockers’) while they await a place under the scheme.
Mr Noonan has given extra resources to ensure that the waiting time will be no more than four weeks, meaning hospital discharge decisions can be made faster, and those who are transitioning from home care to residential units can do so quicker.
All in all, 2016 will be at least a little easier for our senior citizens.