Minister of State for Older People Mary Butler has said she will be meeting with the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Thursday afternoon to express her concerns about proposals to free up houses owned by nursing home residents.
Ms Butler said she would prefer to see the results of a review of the Fair Deal scheme which is due to be completed next month before any decisions were reached. “Purely from a safeguarding point of view.”
The Minister told RTÉ radio’s News at One that she wanted the housing crisis addressed and that all available properties were made available.
However, it had to be acknowledged that people were in nursing homes through the Fair Deal Scheme had to be supported as this was a very sensitive and complex issue.
“Moving into a nursing home usually takes place at a time of crisis, at a difficult time for both the older person themselves and their family. And it is not easy to ask a vulnerable older person to pack up a lifetime of belongings at a time of crisis.
“My main concern, and I have articulated this many times previously, this is the third time we've revisited this issue. My only concern is that there are no unintended consequences that may result in premature entry into nursing homes.”
Ms Butler pointed out that 70 per cent of those living in nursing homes had dementia and many older people did not want to be landlords.
“I'm speaking out today because I did support the amendment last night about eliminating remaining barriers.
"I just want to make sure that there are no unintended consequences that might precede premature entry into a nursing home, or that any older person might be frightened at the moment, thinking that they may have to go in a nursing home to free up their home.
Ms Butler pointed out that the barrier had been lifted last year for people accessing the Fair Deal scheme under which if someone on the Fair Deal scheme rents out their home, they are entitled to do so and to keep 60 percent of the proceeds, while 40 per cent would be assessed for tax. However, she said that only 24 homes had been freed up under this scheme since last November.
This statistic emphasised the point she had made that there were a myriad of reasons why people went into a nursing home and renting out their home would not be their top priority.
A review of the scheme was to take place after six months, which would be April. “I still expect that review to go forward, and I am actually meeting Minister Darragh O'Brien this afternoon at 3.30 to discuss my genuine concerns.
"I value our government. I value our colleagues. I worked very, very hard in what I do, but I do not raise these issues lightly because I have a genuine concern.
“I absolutely believe that we agreed to review after six months, and I believe that that review should go forward and should identify key issues on what potential ramifications there might be for older people.
“I would prefer to see the results of the review before we take any decisions moving forward that might have an effect on older people purely from a safeguarding point of view.
“Any person in a nursing home, their family, people who haven't the capacity, the person who you know, who makes the decisions for them are completely entitled to rent out their house with no issue with that at all. We changed the guidelines in relation to the amount of money that could be facilitated to see if it would mean that more houses would be rented out. It hasn't worked.
“I personally never believed that it would make a huge impact because, you know, property is occupied by other family members in a lot of these cases. Properties in some cases can be in poor condition and not suitable for rental.
“Seventeen percent of people who are in nursing homes are only there for six months, 30 percent are only there for a year. So in a lot of cases, a person is only after settling into the nursing home, and they might make that decision, you know, to rent out their house. And in a lot of cases, the person has passed away, and the house then might be held up in relation to wills or probate, which is another issue.
“This is the third time that we have visited this particular issue in relation to Fair Deal. So there was consultation twice previously. People would be very much aware in Government how I feel about this, but this time in relation to the motion on Tuesday, no, as I said clearly yesterday, I wasn't consulted.
“I was disappointed I wasn't. But at the end of the day, what I want to do as Minister for Older People is to make sure that our older people are valued, that they're looked after, and if there are any unintended consequences that might arise as a possible change, that we would sit down and make sure the safeguards are in place beforehand.”