Saturday 10 December 2016

This scheme based on an assumption of honesty is costing the State millions

Published 21/07/2015 | 02:30

Kathleen Lynch
Kathleen Lynch

The arrival of the Fair Deal scheme was a compassionate response to the worry and anxiety felt by older people and their families faced with the huge cost of nursing home care.

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Before its introduction, there was an uneven system of subvention funding across the country and heartbreaking stories of elderly people selling their homes only to subsequently run out of money.

Although much of the focus yesterday was on the 'options' for future funding of the expensive scheme - as set out in the long-awaited external review report- the real story was the weaknesses it uncovered in how the Fair Deal scheme is run.

These have serious implications for a scheme which was under such financial pressure earlier this year that residents approved for a nursing home were waiting months for a place. The review is particularly strong in posing questions about some applicants failing to declare home ownership.

While the HSE provides some suggestions on why the numbers are low, in contrast to other surveys showing higher levels of home ownership, the authors of the review, Deloitte and Touche, are a bit more sceptical.

The HSE admits that it relies heavily on people themselves to give a truthful and sincere account of their financial declarations.

Spot checks are carried out but verification can be difficult because the HSE offices lack expertise.

The review points to the various databases which could be looked at to improve the HSE's detective work in getting financial information and wants it to expand beyond its current range of searches.

Where a nursing home resident declares their family home as part of their assessment, a review takes place after three years.

If a person's circumstances change, the HSE should be notified and a failure to do so is an offence. Of course, discretions must be exercised where people are elderly, unwell or have dementia. However, there is a lack of standardisation across the HSE offices carrying out reviews of assets .

THIS is surely unfair to those who are honest about their financial situation and it leaves the State open to losing out on income which could be invested in the scheme.

The review report is correct in stating that the priority for now is for the HSE to improve the manner in which it administers the scheme.

So far, it has collected just some €20m from people's estates after death, although €34.9m is owed.

The review showed that in some cases recouping the money was not possible because the person designated to distribute the estate did not have a PPSN number, as is required by the Revenue Commissioners.

Surely this loophole could be remedied quite simply.

Irish Independent

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