HSE targets home-help firms that seek more fees from elderly
A CLAMPDOWN has been ordered on state-funded home-help companies which take top-up fees from elderly and disabled people, the Irish Independent has learnt.
In some cases, home help companies have been raking in fees of up to €170,000 a year from their clients, who are generally elderly.
This is on top of the payment these companies receive from the Health Service Executive (HSE) for providing services for up to 50,000 people nationwide.
Staff known as 'home helps' support older people and people with disabilities by visiting them in their own houses for a number of hours, allowing them to continue to live independently.
The companies working in this sector receive around €50m in state funding each year -- and are not supposed to seek additional payments from their clients.
The HSE is now threatening to withdraw funding from companies who continue charging their clients.
There are around 30 companies offering home-help services and the majority have not been seeking the extra contribution from clients.
But some of the firms being targeted in the HSE clampdown made client contributions mandatory.
Others accepted money from clients, leaving it up to them to decide whether they would pay something toward their care or not.
Although the companies are doing nothing illegal by accepting the client contributions, the practice is against HSE guidelines.
And, according to the HSE, legislation is planned to regulate the conduct of home-help companies and enforce stricter rules on charges.
Some of these firms charged clients around €4 a visit -- a fee that can add up to over €1,000 in the course of a year.
The HSE has sent letters to these companies asking for a signed guarantee that all charges and contributions will be stopped.
An investigation by the Irish Independent last November found several companies acknowledged the payments in their annual accounts to the Companies' Office under the heading "contributions".
New accounts filed since then by Drumcondra Home Help and Care Services Ltd in Dublin showed it increased its income from these contributions from €144,563 in 2009 to €170,202 in 2010.
The company, which received over €1m in health service grants, has declined to clarify if the practice has now stopped.
A member of staff said the manager was unavailable for comment.
A spokesperson for Arklow Home Help service in Wicklow, which received €42,163 in contributions in 2010 after getting €1.3m in health grants, confirmed it had now stopped taking contributions.
Wicklow Community Services, which received €1.7m in health funding, and took €43,281 in client fees in 2010, said it was no longer accepting the top-up fees.
Donnycarney and Beaumont Home Help service in Dublin, which received €86,246 in 2009, was unable to say whether client contributions were being accepted.
George Jones, chairman of the board of Greystones Home Help in Wicklow, which received €29,983 from clients in 2010, said it was no longer taking any money from clients.
"The contributions were always voluntary . . . the sums were small and could be around €20 a month," he said. The not-for-profit body, which has seen its €1.6m annual budget reduced due to HSE cuts, provides a service for 300 clients.
"We have now stopped it as part of our contract with the HSE. The service is under pressure from cuts and we have not reduced the hours of home help. But it may come to that. We cannot run on losses."
A spokeswoman for the HSE stressed that firms providing the home-help services must meet the terms of a service level agreement, a form of contract.
If the terms and conditions of the agreement are not complied with the HSE can withhold or withdraw funding from the organisation.