Farmers set to save thousands with revamp of Fair Deal fees

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Tony Gavin

Eilish O'Regan and Niall O'Connor

Farmers and small business owners will see the burden of high nursing home bills for elderly relatives reduced under sweeping changes to the Fair Deal scheme.

It is understood as much as 90pc of farm assets may be exempted in determining how much farmers are liable to pay towards nursing home costs.

It follows ongoing pressure to change Fair Deal to prevent farmers having to sell parts of their land to meet these costs.

Senior Fine Gael figures yesterday discussed the State's nursing home support package for the first time this year ahead of the publication of a major cross-departmental review.

The review is expected to recommend a portion of the value of farm or commercial assets being excluded. Such a move would reduce a family's nursing home fees by thousands each year, Government sources told the Irish Independent.

Ministers have come under intense pressure in recent weeks amid claims nursing home fees are leaving families saddled with six-figure bills.

Senior sources within Fine Gael say the matter was discussed earlier this week following an RTÉ documentary by Brendan Courtney - which demonstrated some of the perceived unfairness of the Fair Deal scheme.

The issue arose again after it emerged a senior HSE official claimed elderly people are being left in hospital beds by relatives worried about the impact on their inheritances.

Read more: 'The more you have, the more you pay' - readers have their say on the Fair Deal scheme

The Department of Health confirmed the issue in relation to farms and small businesses is under review - but it is still unclear how soon a decision will be made.

Sources say that two ministers in the Department of Agriculture, Michael Creed and Andrew Doyle, are anxious to see changes to the rules surrounding farmers's assets.

At present, a family's payment is calculated based on 80pc of their annual income, as well as a 7.5pc annual charge on their overall assets. And assets that have been transferred within the previous five years are also means-tested.

A source last night said there was an expectation among some farmers for 90pc of the assets of the farm to be excluded, although the exact figure is to be decided.

"The Programme for a Partnership Government has committed to reviewing the nursing homes support scheme to remove any discrimination against small businesses and family farms," said a Department of Health source.

It comes in the wake of claims by Eunice O'Raw, the HSE head of legal services, that some farm families were keeping an elderly relative in hospital to avoid them going into a nursing home and being liable for fees under the Fair Deal scheme.

She said this practise was found to be aimed at protecting a farmer's inheritance although she did not say how many cases were involved.

Read more: Eilish O'Regan: Elderly face lottery when it comes to HSE home care support

But farmers reacted angrily and called on the HSE to clarify the statements.

"It's shameful that the HSE would target farming families in this manner," said Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association president Patrick Kent.

"Nonetheless, debate on the issue does serve to highlight just how brutal the scheme is. As it stands, the Fair Deal scheme is extremely unfair and unworkable for the vast majority of farmers and ICSA has been calling for changes to be made."

Health sources also pointed out that delayed discharges were down from 659 at the end of September to 458 yesterday.

Irish Independent