Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Nursing Homes Support Scheme
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank him for taking time out of his schedule to come to take this matter. It is very much appreciated. This matter relates to the fair deal scheme on which the Minister of State is doing some work. I refer to the way this issue affects farm families and small businesses in particular. As the Minister of State will be aware, there is a three-year cap on payments based on the assets of residential dwelling houses but unfortunately this cap does not extend to the farm holdings and small businesses. As he comes from a rural part of the country, I am sure the Minister of State can appreciate the hardship this can impose on a farm family in particular and any small business owner where payments based on their assets extend beyond the three-year cap on payments that applies to the owners of residential dwellings.
I have met many families who have found their farms will not be viable in the future because of payments that apply. Livelihoods and lands that may have been in families for generations have been lost in some cases because lands have had to be disposed of to meet the full cost of the nursing home bill.
Many people have contacted the Minister of State on this issue. He has taken this matter on board and he is doing work on it. He might be able to advise where this debate is currently at and when his proposals are likely to see the light of day. It is important this proposed legislation is introduced and that the scheme is adapted to ensure a burden is not placed on small farms and small businesses. It is also important that we look to the future. I have heard the Minister of State say many times that perhaps a fair deal scheme could also be introduced to enable people to stay in their homes and have the backup they would require as not every older person needs to go to a nursing home. If proper supports funded by the State were provided many people would be able to stay at home. I am sure everyone would wish to stay in their own home and live within their communities and family set-up. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's comments on that matter. I apologise for not being here until the last minute and I look forward to the Minister of State's response.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I assure him that if I had to wait another 20 minutes for him I would have been quite happy to wait because I always appreciate any time somebody draws attention to this particular issue and gives me an opportunity to provide an update on it. I am in competition with many other Ministers who are trying to get their legislation through the House and their priorities addressed, and we are all fighting for limited resources.
I genuinely very much appreciate the Senator raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to give it some more focus, provide an update and keep it as a priority for both Houses, as the legislation will have to go through both Houses. I will appreciate the Senator's support at that stage when we bring the legislation through the Houses to ensure that we get it through in a timely manner.To answer specifically the Senator's question as to where this is currently at, I said when I took up the job of Minister of State that this was a priority and that I wanted to deal with it. We had to go through a great deal of engagement with various bodies. I acknowledge the representative farm bodies in particular. They kept this on the agenda for many years and highlighted the challenges faced by real farm families in respect of this particular issue.
The Senator has already outlined to the House the terms. As he is aware, there is a 7.5% deduction of assets year on year, capped at three years where it applies to a family home. If it is a farm or business, however, there is no such three-year cap. The deduction further applies to 80% of one's income. In effect, when somebody decides to go to a nursing home, 7.5% of his or her farm or business can be deducted indefinitely. If someone ended up staying in a nursing home for ten years, potentially 75% of the assets would go back to the State. We all know about farm succession and the fact that other family members rely on these assets. As such, we are trying to stop that. One of the key issues and challenges is the fact that many people have lots of other changes they would like to see made to the fair deal scheme. However, I am adamant that if we stick to this one change and support making it happen in a timely and efficient manner, it will be a significant matter for these families. It would avoid too much tinkering with what is a comprehensive Act. The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 is an extensive enactment and we have to be very careful when we start to tinker with it.
In July 2018, I sought and received the approval of Cabinet to proceed to draft legislation to apply the three-year cap to farms and businesses. As such, it is official Government policy. The heads of the Bill are being drafted by my officials. A number of legal issues and anomalies have arisen and a number of "what if" scenarios have been brought to our attention. We have to get the legislation right as we do not want it challenged in the courts. We do not want the legislation to be inequitable; we want it to be as fair as it can be. We are working on those challenges behind the scenes but I am hopeful the draft heads will be approved by the Government by the end of the year. As soon as the draft heads are approved and published, we can proceed to legislate in 2019. That is where I will be looking for as much help as I can get to prioritise the Bill on the legislative programme. Of course, many Ministers are trying to get their legislation onto the agenda.
The Senator asked about the home care scheme and I support him in that regard. I have always been a strong proponent of the provision of more options than just home and the nursing home. People need those options but traditionally that is all that has been available to older people. It has been a case of either staying at home or going to a nursing home whereas I have always believed we should have had many more options, including supported housing models. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, and I will host a conference in Dublin next week to look at initiatives and models of providing supported housing for elderly people which will allow them to continue to live behind their own front doors in a supported way and which may not necessitate them going to nursing homes at all.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. I am heartened by it and I hope the Bill will be drafted before the of the year and enacted speedily. There will be people who have loved ones entering nursing homes today. What will the position be if the legislation is introduced in mid-2019? How will it affect someone who has applied for the fair deal scheme today? I welcome the Minister of State's comments on any model which encourages people, in the phrase he used, to live behind their own front doors. I look forward to the conference and the publication of whatever report emerges from it. It is the way forward. It is a much cheaper and more cost-effective for the Exchequer to keep people in their own homes. I appreciate that sometimes people have no choice but to go to a nursing home and that we are very fortunate to have them. However, where possible, the priority should be to keep people behind their own front doors, in the Minister of State's words.
The Deputy asks a pertinent and important question as to what a family should do today where a decision is being made in respect of an elderly relative or what a person should decide as to whether he or she should enter a nursing home himself or herself. Are they going to delay a decision because there has been commentary in the news about changes to the scheme such that it will not be as severe or punitive financially? There is no gain for anyone in delaying entering nursing home care as there will be a retrospective aspect to the legislation. At whatever stage in 2019 the legislation is enacted by the Houses and signed by the President, we will apply it retrospectively to anyone who is already in a nursing home. People will have to pay for three years anyway. As such, a person debating about going into a nursing home or waiting for a change, should of course go in. I hope that any older person will make that decision as soon as care is necessitated because he or she will, in any event, have to meet the 7.5% contribution for three years. We can presume with reasonable confidence that this legislation will be well wrapped up within that three years. It will apply then to anyone who has been within the system for three years. While there will be no recoupment for those who have been in there for seven years and we will not be giving any money back, anyone who comes into the system or who is one, two or three years into their phase will see the recoupment stop after three years. As such, there is no financial benefit to anyone in delaying the decision to go into a nursing home.