Wednesday 13 December 2017

Sligo pensioner loses battle with HSE over nursing home fees

Tim Healy

AN elderly woman who claims she is facing eviction from a nursing home over €38,000 per year fees has lost a High Court bid to get the HSE to pay towards her care.

Martina Noonan (77) and her farmer son Stephen (38) claimed the HSE refusal means it is effectively demanding that Stephen sell the 56-acre family farm at Rinroe, Enniscrone, Co Sligo, to pay the €736 per week nursing home bill.

They claimed she has been threatened with eviction from the Ard na Greine nursing home in Enniscrone, where she has lived for three-and-a-half years, because neither she or her son can afford to pay the fees without State help.

The HSE argued she was the beneficial owner of the farm, worth €610,000, when 52-acres was transferred to Stephen and four acres to his sister Anne, for a nil value just three months before Mrs Noonan went into the home in December 2009.  

She therefore did not qualify under the State's "Fair Deal" scheme which provides nursing home payments for people unable to afford them.

The court heard income from the farm is just €168 per week and Stephen has received correspondence from the nursing home telling him alternative accommodation will have to be found for his mother, who is in poor health, unless the bills are paid.

The Noonans argued Mrs Noonan held ownership of the farm for less than a minute during the administration of estate of her late husband who had died without making a will.

The one-third of the estate which  Stephen and Anne were entitled to, under intestacy rules, was transferred to Mrs Noonan before she immediately signed over all of the land to the children.   This was in effect a constructive trust in which Mrs Noonan had no beneficial ownership, it was argued.

Following a two day hearing, Mr Justice John Hedigan said while he had great sympathy for the Noonans' situation, he found the HSE was correct in law to refuse assistance under the scheme.

He said their case was "hopelessly holed below the water line" because they received excellent advice from their solicitor when the transfer took place.

He did not believe the transfer was intended to try and improve the Noonan's position regarding nursing home care but the incontrovertible fact was that at the time of the transfer Mrs Noonan was the beneficial owner. 

It therefore had to be considered a transferred asset when Mrs Noonan was being means tested under the Fair Deal scheme, he said.

In view of the fact that this was an unusual case which needed to be brought, Mr Justice Hedigan agreed to make no order in relation to costs of the case which means both sides will have to pay their own costs.

Irish Independent

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