Friday 23 March 2018

Fair Deal now facing block from officials in Health

Fears raised that vacant homes strategy could hit funds for State provision of nursing care

FAIR DEAL: Nursing care. Stock picture
FAIR DEAL: Nursing care. Stock picture
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Department of Health officials are seeking to block reforms to the Fair Deal which would incentivise older people to sell and rent their homes over fears this would slash funding for the State-supported nursing home scheme.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy's highly anticipated vacant homes strategy was expected to include an overhaul of Fair Deal which could reduce the amount of contributions paid to the HSE by older people staying in nursing home care if they rented or sold their homes.

However, a senior Government source yesterday revealed that Department of Health officials were "resisting" due to concerns that the plan to allow people keep more money from renting or selling their homes would have "unintended consequences" for the €1bn scheme.

"Health wants to under stand the financial effects of any change because you wouldn't want to do anything which would in any shape or form create a hole in the funding for the scheme," a senior Department of Health source said.

"Too much work has gone into it by too many in government to not make sure Fair Deal is adequately funded and to make sure the turn around time is four weeks."

The well-placed source, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, also said waiting times for nursing homes were dramatically reduced when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was the Minister for Health because he ensured the scheme was adequately funded.

"When Leo was Minister for Health, he got the turnaround time down to four weeks because it was adequately funded. You have to check the cause and affect of any change," the source said.

Two weeks ago, Mr Murphy was forced to spend a number of days explaining his proposed reforms to Fair Deal after his plan was criticised by groups representing older people. Mr Murphy's proposals were aimed at allowing people in nursing homes to keep more of their rental income than is now permitted.

Last weekend, Minister for Health Simon Harris intervened to reassure older people they would not be unduly affected by any changes to the scheme.

A source close to Mr Harris said he was forced to intervene as there was a lot of confusion among older people about the impact of the scheme after it was proposed by Mr Murphy.

"There was a lot of clarification needed and the minister's comments last week were an indication of the need to provide reassurances to older people after the initial announcement," the source said.

It is understood Mr Harris supports the proposed changes to Fair Deal as along as they do not put a financial burden on the scheme.

A source in the Department of Housing dismissed Health officials' concerns about the scheme and said Fair Deal was "only a very small part" of the Government's plan to resolve the housing crisis.

Mr Murphy is expected to announce a number of new strategies aimed at increasing the housing supply in the coming weeks.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section