'Fair Deal' revamp will save farmers thousands in fees for nursing homes
Farmers are in line to benefit from significantly reduced nursing home fees under radical measures being considered ahead of next month's Budget, the Irish Independent has learned.
Sweeping changes to the State's Nursing Home Support Scheme, otherwise known as 'Fair Deal', will see the value of farm assets being excluded for the first time.
Government sources say the move is part of plans to 'rural-proof' the Budget and make it more viable for farmers to pass their businesses onto future generations.
Ministers say there is an acceptance that farmers are a "special case". The impact of nursing home fees is placing in jeopardy the viability of farms being passed on to the next generation.
However, there are differing views in Fine Gael as to the size of the package, with some ministers pushing for the full 100pc value of the farm assets to be made exempt.
Sources within the Department of Health, which oversees the Fair Deal scheme, say the exemption could actually be closer to 50pc.
In either case, farm families would save thousands of euro per year on their nursing home costs.
At present, a family's payment is calculated based on 80pc of their annual income, as well as a 7.5pc annual charge on their overall assets.
And assets that have been transferred within the previous five years are also means-tested.
But the Government has been warned that many farmers are not availing of the voluntary scheme because of the cost involved.
Farming groups also say that farmers are transferring land much sooner than they would like in a bid to avoid extortionate nursing home costs.
Well-placed Government sources last night said they expected at least half of the value of the assets to be excluded under the new measures - in a move that would cut the annual nursing home bill by thousands of euro.
The Budget is also expected to feature immediate changes to assist farmers who have suffered sudden illness or disability. The Fair Deal scheme is currently subject to a review, with changes expected to be flagged in the Budget.
Health Minister Simon Harris and Minister of State Helen McEntee recently held a meeting with the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) , during which concerns over the scheme were discussed.
As revealed by the Irish Independent this week, farmers in specialist sectors are also due to benefit from new tax measures.
The Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and his junior counterpart Andrew Doyle are examining measures which would allow farmers to place a portion of their income in a special fund during a good year, which would not then be subject to income tax.
The money could then be drawn down and taxed when called upon.
Government sources have also indicated that a moratorium in employers' PRSI for specialist sectors is being examined ahead of next month's Budget.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar indicated at the Ploughing Championships that a potential increase in the Farm Assist and Rural Social schemes was on the cards in the Budget.
In order to qualify, farmers aged between 18 and 66 must satisfy a means test accounting for every form of income.
There are about 8,500 people currently in receipt of Farm Assist, as well as about 2,500 places on the rural social schemes.