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Wednesday 26 September 2018

Exclusive: 'Fairer Deal' for farmers blocked - warning on 'special' deal over nursing homes

Farmers have long argued for changes to the scheme to the Fair Deal Scheme
Farmers have long argued for changes to the scheme to the Fair Deal Scheme

Niall O'Connor, Margaret Donnelly and Eilish O'Regan

A special deal to slash nursing home costs for farmers is in jeopardy following a dramatic intervention by the Office of the Attorney General, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Farmers have long argued for changes to the scheme, saying that it does not lend itself to their asset-rich but cash-poor status, with a review ongoing.

One of the country's most powerful lobby groups, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), has demanded sweeping changes to the State's Fair Deal scheme in a bid to the ease the burden of high nursing home costs.

Briefing documents seen by this newspaper detail how the IFA is seeking a suite of measures that will result in 90pc of farm assets being exempted from consideration when it comes to nursing home bills.

The documents also show how the IFA has asked the Government to reduce the period in which the State can means test farm assets before landing families with the bill to care for their elderly.

But it has emerged that the Office of the Attorney General (AG) has now stepped in and warned the Government that any changes to the Fair Deal scheme must not reward farmers over other business owners.

Older People Minister Jim Daly. Photo: Tom Burke
Older People Minister Jim Daly. Photo: Tom Burke

Older People Minister Jim Daly last night confirmed the intervention, telling this newspaper that he will meet the IFA president Joe Healy in the coming weeks to discuss what changes can be implemented.

"This has been going on for far too long. It needs to be brought to a conclusion," Mr Daly told this newspaper.

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Some changes to the State's nursing home support scheme were announced in the Programme for Government, in order to alleviate the burden on families.

But almost a year-and-a-half later, the review into the scheme has still not been published.

According to IFA briefing notes, which have been circulated to the main political parties, the scheme in its current state is threatening the viability of farming for future generations.

The lobby group has called on the Government to introduce the following key changes:

  • Basing the nursing home fee on the "agricultural value" of the farm, rather than the overall assets themselves;
  • Reducing the period from five years to three, after which the State can target assets that have been transferred on to the elderly person's children or next of kin;
  • Making the scheme more accessible to those who have availed of care in the home before moving into a nursing home facility.

But last night, the minister overseeing the implementation of the review, Cork South West TD Jim Daly, confirmed that the AG had raised concerns on constitutionality.

It is understood that this relates to the prospect of farmers getting a better outcome of the review than other small business owners.

Nonetheless, Mr Daly insisted he would consider all options, adding that certainty surrounding the future of 'Fair Deal' is necessary.

In a statement, the Department of Health said that a number of key issues in relation to nursing home care have been identified for more detailed consideration across departments and agencies.

These include examining the treatment of business and farm assets for the purposes of the financial assessment element of the scheme. "This work is currently underway," the statement added.

Other burning issues include a review by the NTPF of its pricing mechanism for funding the Fair Deal scheme, which is underway, and a value-for-money review of public nursing homes, due to begin later this year.

The working group will also consider additional charges in nursing homes, after it was revealed that many residents on the Fair Deal scheme are being forced to pay extra.


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