Friday, 16 July 2021
Nursing Homes Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages
Mary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
I agree with my colleague, Senator Byrne. Senator Higgins is conflating a successor and an inheritance. The mechanisms created under the Bill for the appointment of a family successor are strictly in place for the purpose of calculating a person's contribution to long-term care. They have no other role. That is their only role. The successor may not inherit the farm. The successor can be the wife or the husband but that is not to say that the son, daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law or whoever will not inherit the farm. That is what is being conflated. In order to apply for this cap to be implemented, on the day this Bill is enacted, a person can appoint a successor. Doing so will ensure that the farm or small business is kept within family ownership for the next six years. The HSE will do one check over that time and this rule will mean that the farm or business will be kept within the family. The successor may not inherit and has no legal right to inherit. He or she is just a successor so that a person who enters long-term care can avail of the cap after three years and does not have to pay 7.5% on the value of his or her house, properties, outbuildings, pub, small restaurant or whatever business he or she has. We need to be clear on that. The whole purpose of the successor is to ensure that the farm or small business is kept within the family. That is why we did not include land that was leased out, as that would go against the thrust of what we were trying to achieve.
I understand the concerns relating to the status of spouses on farms where succession arrangements are made, with regard to social insurance. I appreciate that concern and I will raise it with my colleagues in the Departments of Social Protection and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. However, it is important that we accept and appreciate that issues of social insurance contributions and so on do not form part of this Bill. They are very important issues and all we want to do is support people in order that they will have the financial means to live at home or to enter a nursing home. I reiterate that if someone's father, mother, aunt or uncle has been in a nursing home for two years, from the day a successor is appointed those two years served will be included and they will only have to spend another year in the nursing home for the cap of three years to apply. If a person has already spent four years in the nursing home, from the day a successor is appointed and agreed, within the terms and conditions of the Bill, that cap will apply immediately. We tried to make this as workable and as family friendly as possible.
The issue was raised with us of sons or daughters who had gone away to Australia, America or Canada but who had always been part of the farm family. Initially they would have had to prove that the farm had been in family ownership for three of the previous five years but if they have been gone for three years, through no fault of their own for work or whatever, they can still become the successor. As I said, they just have to prove that they have a link with the farm and that they will farm it for a reasonable amount of time. They do not have to provide any financial statements or anything to prove that they are getting an income from the farm because we all know how it goes with small farms and small businesses. I was part of a small business for 17 years. We had the corner shop where I lived and I ran it with my father and then with my sister when he passed away. We all know that families help out in small businesses, whether that is a pub or a farm. One of my staff members went home today and she said she would not be seen for the weekend because they are cutting silage for the entire weekend. It is as simple as that. It is all hands on deck.
I do not think this issue is sufficiently connected to the scope of these amendments and the nursing homes support scheme in general to merit the introduction of this amendment. On that basis I cannot accept it but I have given a commitment that we will raise the issue and I understand where the Senator is coming from.