Sunday 19 January 2020

Charlie Weston: Homeowners who already feel under siege face having further threats knocking at their doors

The sanctity of the home has been tampered with
The sanctity of the home has been tampered with
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Homeowners could be forgiven for feeling under siege at the moment. Elderly people, in particular, fear that the Government is intent on stripping them of their assets.

The sanctity of the home has been tampered with after officials proposed taxing sales of family homes.

But there are also warnings that property tax will surge when the freeze on rates ends and fears that changes to the Fair Deal scheme will mean that a larger chunk of future inheritances for families will be taken by the State to fund the deal.

Proposals are also being floated to tax empty homes, a measure that would impact people who are in nursing homes, and plans to bring in a new scheme to care for people in their own homes are expected to involve a Fair Deal-style charge on the value of the home.

It seems that Government officials, ever scrambling around for some extra tax revenue, have decided that an assault on the family home is the answer to their prayers.

It is as if officials have decided that not only are there pipes and foundations under each house, there is also a crock of gold. This is particularly sensitive in this country because we store much, if not almost all, our wealth in our homes.

Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe
Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe

The average wealth of a household is €219,000, according to the Central Statistics Office.

Most of this is made up of bricks and mortar.

And households where the person filling out the CSO survey is aged more than 65 years hold almost one-third of all the household wealth in the State.

But hang on here, I hear you say. People have paid for their homes, over and over.

Income taxes were stratospheric in the 1980s, to say nothing of marginal income tax rates in excess of 50pc now. And mortgage rates reached 16pc in the 1980s. Now there are new threats to our homes.

Taxing family home sales

Leave the family home alone. That was the message to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe when proposals emerged to tax family homes that are sold before the resident dies.

Currently, any gain on the sale of a family home is exempt from capital gains tax, which is levied at a rate of 33pc. If the proposal to scrap the exemption is implemented it will mean a family moving to a larger home, or elderly people downsizing would be hit with huge capital gains taxes.

This would mean less money was available to fund a new home.

For "empty nesters" moving from a large home to a smaller one, the imposition of the tax would mean their savings for their old age would be reduced.

Mr Varadkar was quick to rule out introducing the tax on the sale of family homes, but the proposal made by State officials has angered many people.

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Property tax

Property tax could more than triple for homeowners in areas where prices have soared - unless the Government steps in to prevent the latest looming chapter in the housing crisis.

The Government's adviser on property tax, Dr Don Thornhill, has warned that new measures must be put in place before the property tax freeze ends in 2019.

Dr Thornhill warned that households must not be hit with sudden shocks in taxation.

"We cannot have a situation whereby households are hit with 40pc, 50pc, or even 60pc increases," he said.

Property prices were frozen until 2019 under a measure introduced by the previous administration. However, the looming increases will have a greater impact in the many areas where house prices have soared to a larger degree than others.

Fair Deal

The Fair Deal scheme was put in place to meet the mounting cost of caring for the aged.

It involves freeing up equity from homes. But as things stand, it will not be sufficient and needs to be reviewed - something the Government intends to do.

A Fair Deal it may be, but it ain't cheap. There is a levy of 7.5pc of the value of the home or farm for three years.

On top of this, the resident pays 80pc of their assessable income. Then there is an annual levy of 7.5pc on any other assets, such as savings and investments, from which the first €36,000 is exempt.

All of this eats away at the assets of the resident, and leaves a smaller estate for inheritance purposes.

But the real problem is that elderly nursing home residents are being forced to pay top-up fees, that can be as high as €100 a week.

Changes need to be made to Fair Deal to ensure the extras are included in the assessment when working out the financial contribution required.

Empty homes tax

The Government is considering introducing sharp rises in property tax on vacant properties. The move would hit elderly people in nursing home care, unless there was a specific exemption for them.

The proposal could see property tax doubling for owners of vacant homes.

Homelessness charities have been calling on the Government to introduce the charge to dissuade unused property hoarding and reduce pressure on the housing system.

The Taoiseach has said there is a lot of vacant property across the country that could either be bought or renovated and brought back into use. "I think we need to impose penalties on people who leave houses vacant in areas where there is high demand for housing," he said.

It is understood that preliminary discussions have taken place between officials from the Department of Housing, the Department of Finance and the Attorney General on a levy on vacant homes.

Nursing at home for the elderly

The Department of Health has launched a public consultation process to get the views of the public on what kind of statutory home care scheme they would like to see. It is likely any scheme will involve an assessment and possibly a financial contribution.

And the likelihood is that it will be part-funded by a charge on the value of the home, as in the case of the Fair Deal scheme.

The number of people waiting for HSE free home care supports has climbed to 4,600 as demand for the service, particularly among the elderly, continues to grow.

The department has pointed out that currently there is no charge for home care provided by the HSE.

It will spend around €370m on home care services this year. Currently, around 49,000 people have a home help service and another 16,750 have a home care package.

Irish Independent

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