Elderly people who have to enter full-time residential care could allow their homes be used to house homeless families, under new laws to be debated in the Dáil.
In proposed reforms to the Fair Deal scheme, the bill being proposed by Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea aims at reducing costs associated with homelessness as well as providing more suitable accommodation for those who need it.
Mr O’Dea tabled the matter at Wednesday's meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and will get final approval to present new legislation to the Dáil.
Under the proposed bill, Mr O’Dea says people who enter nursing homes, or their families, would register with an approved housing body who would then under a licence agreement use that home to house a homeless family.
At present, those people who rent out their homes must surrender 80% of the rental income to the HSE to cover the costs of the nursing home care or as happens in many cases the homes are left lying idle.
Mr O’Dea says the most recent figures show that about 5,000 homes nationally are currently lying empty because of their owner being signed up to the Fair Deal scheme.
Speaking to the, Mr O’Dea said: “At present, the cost to house a homeless person is about €40,000 a year in accommodation which is not really suitable for families.
“This proposal would see the costs dramatically decrease - average rent outside Dublin is about €14,000 a year – and would see homeless families be given accommodation which is far more suitable to their needs."
As the transaction would occur by way of a licence, as opposed to a lease or rental agreement, it allows for homes to be used for a set limited time period.
He said there is no excuse to have so many homes lying empty at a time when they are so badly needed and said adequate protections are included both in the primary Fair Deal legislation and his proposed new bill.
Mr O’Dea is to meet with Junior Health Minister Mary Butler who raised some concerns about how this would affect people with dementia or other debilitating illnesses.
He said that he has the intention of “ploughing ahead” with the bill and said he has sought advice from the parliamentary legal office which has said it is fit to proceed, subject to minor technical amendments.