Nursing home residents 'not declaring' full assets - report
A tough clampdown is being urged on nursing home residents who are failing to declare lucrative personal assets and income, including houses and pensions from abroad.
A review of the Fair Deal nursing home scheme, which heavily subsidises fees and will cost €1.5bn this year, has found major weaknesses in the means-testing of residents who apply for the financial support.
The HSE relies heavily on the honesty of applicants to make financial declarations of what they have in assets and cash.
Currently just 56.4pc have been assessed as owning a family home but independent figures show it is as high as 75pc in the general population.
A sample HSE survey of residents who died found a quarter had under-declared their cash assets.
Residents may be pressurising local auctioneers to lower the value of their homes for their application forms.
In some cases, money from the estates of some residents who have chosen to pay after their death could not be recouped because the person delegated as responsible could not be traced or did not have a required PPSN number.
Another issue relates to pensions that an applicant might be getting from abroad. There is no specific question relating to pensions from outside Ireland on the application form, leading to a suspicion that many people simply omit this information.
Ultimately, some HSE offices dealing with applications said they did not have the expertise to verify financial declarations.
The review of the scheme, which is currently supporting 22,605 people, was commissioned by the Department of Health and carried out by external consultants Deloitte and Touche.
Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch said yesterday that she was to ask a working group to look at a series of options proposed in the report, which could see changes to its terms and conditions, leaving people paying €50 more a week for their care.
She said the Government had decided to make "no changes" on eligibility criteria or the future financing of the scheme.
However, she said work would "commence immediately" on areas to tighten up its administration.
The report stressed that the issues it had uncovered in relation to validation and verification of financial declarations by residents should be "addressed as a priority".
The review described it as a positive scheme but an expensive one for the State.
"While those in long-term residential care contribute to the costs of care in accordance with their means, the average contribution amounts to only 25pc of the cost of care," it said.
The average cash assets of residents are €49,590. The average weekly contribution is €285 for a public unit and €294 for a private home.
The report suggests a number of options to cope with the rise in numbers availing of the scheme, which will be up to 33,070 in less than a decade.
These include no longer disregarding savings of €36,000 for a single person or €72,000 for a couple in the assessment.
Another suggestion is to remove the three-year cap on an asset contribution, which is currently a maximum of 22.5pc of the value of family home.
The income contribution of 80pc could be increased to 85pc for the better off.
Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland warned: "This report cannot be left idle.
"Kicking the can down the road will see a drastic scenario of older people not accessing nursing home care or languishing in hospitals."
Age Action Ireland called for more consultation with older people's groups.