Prior to the onset of the Covid -19 pandemic I received the occasional query about the Fair Deal Scheme, but over the past three months I have received a deluge of queries, along with a good number of requests to assist in the application process.
I can only conclude that the reason for this upsurge in demand for information is the uncertainty that many older people are experiencing about what the future holds, coupled with the fact that many of them have had lots of time to think this matter over recent months.
The people who contacted me have a particular concern about their eligibility for support under the scheme, and generally with good reason.
Typically they are people who have not passed on the family farm for whatever reason and are worried that it may be too late because of the HSE's five-year look-back policy.
In some cases, the land has been rented out but in others it is being farmed by a family member, and it is these cases that are particularly worrying.
Once again, I have to highlight my belief that the delay in implementing the three-year cap (see panel below) on including active family farms in the means test is deplorable.
This saga has been going on for nearly three years with promise after promise but still nothing has happened. This is definitely a 'must do' task for the new government.
Nursing home care will cost at least €1,100 per week, and finding a significant proportion of that kind of money will present an impossible challenge for most farm families.
Borrowing from a bank to fund this cost makes no sense as one cannot tell how long the nursing home stay is going to be.
The only option open in many situations is to avail of the Ancillary State Support Scheme, otherwise known as the Nursing Home Loan Scheme.
Effectively what the scheme does is to delay paying for the nursing home cost until after the death of the person receiving care.
The loan is secured by whatever assets that they may posses such as land, a dwelling or other property, and that person must provide written consent to having a Charging Order registered against their asset when applying.
The Charging Order is a simple type of mortgage which secures the money that the HSE loans to them.
The HSE will then cover the cost of the nursing home care and when the person dies they will hand over the task of collection of what they are owed to the Revenue Commissioners.
THE ROLE OF REVENUE
When the loan is due to be repaid after the person's death, the HSE will inform Revenue of the amount due and the date that it is due.
Revenue then collects the loan on behalf of the HSE and when the loan is fully repaid Revenue informs the HSE, who removes the Charging Order registered against the asset.
The person's next of kin will have the choice of paying off what is due, assuming they have the resources to do so, or alternatively they will have to agree to the disposal of some or all of the property that was subject to the Charging Order.
LOAN REPAYMENT DEADLINE
The loan is due to be repaid within 12 months of the death of the person in care or within six months of the sale or transfer of the property on which the Charging Order exists, if this occurs before the person in care dies.
If Revenue receives payment in time, no interest is charged but if the loan is not repaid within the six- or 12-month deadline as the case may be, interest will be charged.
No interest is charged during the lifetime of the loan unless the time deadlines are not met, in which case the rate is 8pc per annum payable from the date of death, or from the date of sale where the asset is sold or transferred before the person receiving care dies.
However, while interest is not charged during the lifetime of the loan amount outstanding, when payment falls due the amount is adjusted in line with the Consumer Price Index.
When applying for the Nursing Home Loan, the person making the application provides details of the person who will be responsible for repaying the loan.
That person is called the relevant accountable person. When the loan is due to be repaid, the HSE gives that person's contact details to Revenue who will contact that person to request repayment.
Where the loan is secured against a dwelling, certain categories of person such as a spouse, partner, relative or connected person may seek a deferral of the loan repayment provided the house is their only residence and that they have lived there for not less than three years preceding the original application for the Nursing Home Loan.
In addition, they must not have an interest in any other property.