Health of the elderly is being 'put at risk' by plans for them to rent out their houses
Plans to encourage elderly nursing home residents to rent or sell their vacant homes could lead to them suffering undue distress and anxiety, it has been claimed.
Under a proposed new Fair Deal scheme, elderly people will be "encouraged" to become landlords and rent out their vacant properties in a bid to ease the property crisis.
As part of the current scheme, nursing home residents must hand over 80pc of their assessable income to the State.
Concerns have been raised regarding the impact the proposed changes will have on elderly nursing home residents.
"We must ensure older persons are not unnecessarily pressurised into divesting a possession that holds great emotional and spiritual value for them," said Tadhg Daly, of Nursing Home Ireland.
"People presenting for nursing home care are amongst the frailest in society and any imposition of stress or worry upon them can have a very seriously detrimental impact upon their well-being."
Rushed changes to the scheme without due consideration to nursing home residents "must be resisted", he said.
Yesterday, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy moved to calm fears nursing homes residents could be forced to rent or sell their vacant homes. He ruled out the possibility of making the scheme compulsory.
"What I have said, quite publicly on a number of occasions, to people who might have a second home or a vacant home or a property interest, is that they should be on notice that changes are coming," he said.
But a spokesperson for the minister said last night there would be "no question of forcing elderly people to rent out their homes".
He added that compulsory purchase orders were not being considered for these categories of homes either. Instead, he wants to incentivise them to become landlords by changing the terms of the 'Fair Deal' scheme.
Justin Moran, of Age Action, gave a cautious welcome to the minister's plans to bring more vacant homes to the rental market. "Any change must be an incentive that protects the choice of a nursing home resident to rent out their home," he said.
There must be no pressure or coercion, he warned. Nursing home residents were already paying levies on their income, assets and family home and they would be unable to afford a vacant property tax, he said.
The housing and home charity, Peter McVerry Trust, welcomed the inclusion of many of its recommendations in the minister's plans, including a national empty homes unit, empty homes officers in every local council, and a national empty homes database.
Trust chief executive Pat Doyle said it was important to tackle the huge levels of empty homes. "It is absolutely critical we must all operate with a sense of urgency at every stage of the process until we get people into their homes," he said.
"A number of critical elements have been delayed until budget day, including details of an empty homes tax, measures to allow Fair Deal participants to rent their properties without penalty and capital funding for local authorities to carry out major compulsory purchase order campaigns."
Niamh Randall, of The Simon Community, said it was taking too long to implement the strategy. The repair and lease scheme must be made much more attractive for property owners, she said.
"The rapid build housing is taking up to 18 months to deliver. An 18-month time-line is just not rapid," she said on the 'Today' programme on RTÉ Radio 1. Security of tenure to keep people in their homes in the first place was key to solving the homeless problem, she said, along with building social housing.
Labour's housing spokesperson Jan O'Sullivan said the minister needed to ensure a vacant property tax is introduced.