Home owners in care to be exempt from vacant-property tax, says Murphy
Nursing home patients would be exempt from any future tax on vacant properties, according to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.
Mr Murphy last night moved to reassure older people that their properties would not be targeted after widespread concern was expressed about the Government's approach to the Fair Deal scheme.
He was speaking after the Government faced criticism over its plans to incentivise nursing home patients to become landlords.
A strategy launched by Mr Murphy suggests that a substantial number of houses are vacant because their owners have moved into care and have no motivation to rent out their homes.
The housing plan was welcomed in some quarters. However, concern was expressed about possible meddling in the Fair Deal scheme, which is currently being reviewed by the Government in the context of the forthcoming budget.
Under the scheme, people who take up residence in a nursing home have to give 80pc of their disposable income to the State to cover the cost of their care.
Mr Murphy is in consultation with the HSE and the Department of Finance about changes to the terms and conditions of the scheme that could see some rental income exempted.
It's not known how many vacant homes owned by elderly people in care are dotted around the country, but sources said the minister believed the figure was substantial enough to justify incentives. There are an estimated 25,000 people in nursing home care.
Speaking in Carlow yesterday, Mr Murphy insisted that any move to target vacant homes would not negatively affect elderly people living in nursing home accommodation.
"I think it's important that everyone understands that no one is talking about taking homes off elderly people, either those who are living in those homes or in nursing homes and who have those homes currently vacant under the Fair Deal scheme - that's not what we're talking about," the Dublin Bay South TD said.
"In the overall vacancy strategy, what we're trying to achieve is where there are homes that are not being lived in, that are vacant, that are in areas of high demand, that we try and incentivise those homes back into use.
"To have those incentives and to make them credible we also have to make sure there are potential penalties in place for people who don't do that; but when it comes to Fair Deal, we're not talking about that at all.
"Where there are people who are in nursing homes and who might like to let out those homes to help us with the problems that we currently have for social housing, homelessness and for other types of housing, if we can find a scheme whereby if they want to do that then they can, then we would like to accommodate that.
"I'm in negotiations with the Department of Health and the Department of Finance about that at the moment."
The issue of housing is one that has continued to haunt the Fine Gael-led Government since Leo Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.
But Mr Murphy yesterday stood by the Government's housing strategy and insisted he would push forward with legislation to turn commercial properties into residential-use buildings by October.
He also reiterated plans to impose penalties on those holding onto vacant properties "to make sure when we have the incentives and the potential penalties in place, that we know exactly where those vacant homes are.
"As part of that, with the Vacanthomes.ie website people can log suspected vacancies in their own community or on their way to work.
"We also have this legislation that I'm going to bring forward early in October that will allow people to change commercial premises to residential use, so we can get people back living in village, town and city centres. That is very important," he added.