Thousands of farm families are set to benefit from changes to the Fair Deal scheme which will see the introduction of a cap on farm contributions taken by the State to fund care costs.
The Cabinet is set to approve the long-awaited reformed deal on May 28 in a move which will save farmers thousands of euro in nursing home fees. The cap will immediately affect 300 farms and families around the country but potentially thousands will benefit as more rural families access nursing home care.
Under the current scheme, families pay up to a 7.5% annual contribution from the value of their principal residence. This contribution is capped at a maximum of three years. However, up to now, farm families do not qualify for that cap as they are treated the same as a small business.
The Irish Farmers Association has said this is discriminatory, especially with nursing home fees in some cases costing over €1,200 a week.
Last month, farmers protested outside the Dáil claiming they were being forced to sell off portions of land to meet those costs.
The minister of state for older people, Jim Daly, has confirmed legislation to update the scheme, which will cost €10m annually, will go for Government approval by the end of the month before going before the Dáil.
“My officials are now in the final stage of incorporating legal advice into the heads of a bill, and I intend to bring these heads to [the] Cabinet for approval before the end of this month,” said Mr Daly.
“This amendment has the potential to benefit thousands of farm families over the years ahead and will play an important role in ensuring family-run farms and small business can be passed on to future generations, while at the same time making a reasonable contribution towards the cost of nursing home care.”
The new cap rule will also be backdated by three years, which means that anyone in nursing home care whose assets or farm has paid two years contributions will be charged for one more year.
There are 700 farmers involved in the scheme and 265 are expected to enter it this year. The Department of Health, which runs the scheme, has said the average Fair Deal charge is €12,000 a year.
The IFA’s Maura Canning said farming families were being forced to break up farms or seek out loans while only on meagre incomes.
“A son or daughter has to get a loan. On average, nursing home fees are €900 [a week] and this can be a lot when a farm is only bringing in €23,000 a year, especially if it goes on four or five years. This will be good for farming families.”
In total, almost €1bn in state funds for Fair Deal have been set aside for 2019.