Thursday 18 July 2019

Fair Deal to get fairer for farmers

Government to implement long-awaited changes to 'even up the playing field' for applicants to scheme

Bill Browne

Changes announced to the Fair Deal scheme that will 'even up the playing field' for business and farming applicants have been welcomed by Cork East Fianna Fail TD Kevin O'Keeffe. 

Last August the Government committed to implementing changes to the scheme recommended in a 2015 review undertaken by the Department of Health, which said that consideration should be given to the capping of nursing home costs against the value of a farm of business.

It deemed as "reasonable" the widely held view that the rules of the scheme placed a significant burden on farming families.

Under the existing scheme elderly people are eligible to receive funding from the HSE's Nursing Homes Support (Fail Deal) Scheme, to help fund their long term care. 

Applicants must contribute up to 80% of their assessable income and 7.5% of the value of the value of their assets per year, which in the case of property can be collected from their estate after they die. 

However, it had been claimed the scheme actively discriminated against farmers and small business holders who have to pay a capital sum, based on a percentage of the value of their farm or business, against nursing home care. While individuals with family homes only pay the percentage charge for a period of three years, farmers and business owners continue to be liable every year for the duration of their care.

The authors of the report acknowledged the current rules created what they described as "real difficulties" in certain circumstances.

"At present both the income generated and the capital value are used as a basis for contributions. The resultant dilution of equity in the capital asset, particularly in circumstances where the three year cap does not apply, can cause real difficulties for farming and other families," read the report.

"Further consideration will be given to the application of the asset-based contribution to family farms or other family businesses where the relevant asset generates a household's income, and where the asset would in the normal course pass on to the next generation as a primary income source," it said. 

This week Health Minister Harris announced the Government had approved an amendment intended to change the treatment of family farms and businesses under Fair Deal.  

"I am pleased that Government has approved this General Scheme of a Bill, which stands to positively affect family farms and business owners who are in, or are going into, nursing care home," said Minister Harris. 

"This will make a substantial difference and finally remove the discrimination many of them face under the existing law," he added. 

Minister Harris said his department would commence the process of pre-legislative scrutiny and engage with the Attorney General in preparing the legislation for publication. 

While it is not yet known how long this process will take, Deputy O'Keeffe said it was "at long last" a welcome step down the road in evening up the playing field for those from the farming and business communities when applying for Fair Deal. 

"It is great to see them being treated in line with all other applicants towards the cost of care in a nursing home. Financial support is very important for those who require long-term nursing home care and any additional support will make a big difference for all those involved," he said.