€5.1m due to State in outstanding fees as residents warned over hidden costs
The State is owed more than €5.1m in outstanding payments from the estates of elderly nursing home residents who have passed away, the Irish Independent has learned.
The funds are due under the Fair Deal scheme for the care of 221 people who opted to defer payment for their nursing home stay until after death.
Figures show only 129 people have had more than €50,000 taken from the proceeds of their estate - often involving the sale of their home.
The care bills for a significant number of deceased Fair Deal residents range from €5,000 to €25,000.
The Revenue Commissioners collect the debt and insist on payment within a year after the person's death, otherwise interest is imposed.
Since the scheme started in 2009, it has clawed back €46m and charged €459,686 in interest.
The majority of people who avail of the Fair Deal scheme pay their portion of their weekly State-subsided fee upfront, in their lifetime.
The taxpayer will fund the Fair Deal scheme to the tune of €940m this year, an increase of €18.5m on 2016.
It will allow an additional 500 people to be supported, bringing 23,600 into the Fair Deal scheme by the year's end.
Once a person is approved and put on a placement list the waiting time before entry to the nursing home should not be longer than a month.
Meanwhile, people who are about to enter nursing homes and their families have been advised to ask about "hidden charges" before they sign a contract.
This follows concerns at the practice in many nursing homes of charging extra for items like social activities, chiropody, physiotherapy, dental care, incontinence wear and transport.
The Irish Independent has been contacted by a number of families who say their elderly relative, who is availing of the Fair Deal scheme, has been asked to pay €50 a week for social activities even though they are not able to take part.
There have also been demands for payment of €100 a month for incontinence pads, even though the elderly resident had a medical card.
This charge has been justified if the resident is using a higher than normal number of incontinence pads.
The charges have also included €25 a week for a nursing home doctor's service, even where a resident is entitled to free GP care with a medical card.
Age Action Ireland, which has received complaints from families about these charges, said people should get an itemised bill and make sure any extra charges are set in the contract before it is signed.
"You need to ensure you are not being charged for things like doctor's services or incontinence wear if you have a medical card," said a spokesman.
In response, Tadhg Daly, of Nursing Homes Ireland, said his organisation has consistently highlighted the narrow definition of services covered under the Fair Deal scheme.
The fees do not cover the full cost of health and social needs which are part of day-to-day nursing home care, he said.
The Ombudsman Peter Tyndall, whose office has received complaints, has highlighted the exclusion of therapies and social programmes covered by Fair Deal.
He has described the care package, which includes bed and board, nursing and personal care, bedding, laundry and basic needs and appliances, as "narrow".