1,726 families homeless while up to 9,000 family homes of nursing home residents lie vacant
With 1,726 families in homeless accommodation we must urgently release up to 9,000 family homes which are locked out of the housing market as a result of the Fair Deal Nursing Home Scheme, according to Denis Naughten TD.
The figures in today’s Homeless Quarterly Progress report from the Department of Housing show that there are 3,848 children in 1,726 families who are without a home. Yet there is up to 9,000 family homes, close to schools, some with buses and broadband outside the door which are falling into disrepair because of perverse Fair Deal rules regarding rental income – that’s five vacant homes for each homeless family.
“At a time when we have a shortage of family homes right across this country we must address the anomaly which results in a treble penalty being applied under the Fair Deal Nursing Home Support Scheme if the vacant property is used to provide a homeless family with a roof,” stated Denis Naughten.
“In a bizarre twist, current policy on the Fair Deal scheme is effectively banning the renting out of vacant homes belonging older people in nursing homes because they are hit with a treble penalty under the current means test rules.”
Denis Naughten pointed out that under a Social Welfare means test an asset’s market value or the net income generated from that asset is considered for the income calculation if a property is not occupied. However, under the Fair Deal nursing home scheme, 7.5% of the market value of the house is used but if that home is rented out when the older person goes into a nursing home then the gross income, exclusive of any costs such as maintenance or letting fees, is also included in the means calculation. Yet it gets worse because if that rent then goes through the older person’s bank account this is also considered as capital and is included in the means assessment.
“So, if a vacant property is leased out to one of the 1,726 families who are looking for a roof over their heads, the older person in the nursing home is paying for this in their means assessment three times,” explained Denis Naughten. “In addition, such a means test can fail to take into account the costs associated with the letting or maintenance of the property.
“Right across the country in cities, towns and villages there are many such properties in good repair and in areas of high demand for rented homes. Some of these properties even have 1,000mbps fibre broadband outside the door. I’ve spoken with many family members of older people in nursing homes who would love to see these homes occupied by those currently in homeless accommodation.
“In recent figures I received from the HSE, there are currently just 812 of the 9,746 Fair Deal vacant homes rented out and usually by the time an older person’s estate is finalised, the property in question requires significant investment before it can become a home again.
“I have written to the Chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health, Michael Harty TD, asking that this anomaly be addressed when the committee considers changes to the Fair Deal legislation next month.
“In light of the rise in the number of children and families in homeless accommodation we urgently need to bring these families into communities where the taxpayer has already paid for infrastructure such as schools, roads, water etc I am hopeful that I will secure all party support for such a reform. Surely, we can join the dots, help older people, give a home to children and stop properties becoming derelict. A win-win situation for everybody,” concluded Denis Naughten.
Vacant home numbers:
Letter to Dr Michael Harty TD, Chairperson of Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health:
Dr Michael Harty TD
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health
29th August 2019
Dear Dr Harty,
I am writing to you requesting that the following proposal be considered by your Committee as part of the forthcoming pre-legislative scrutiny of the amending legislation to the Fair Deal nursing home support scheme.
While I fully support the reforms proposed to protect family run businesses, including family farms, I believe that another anomaly in the means assessment must also be addressed.
In a bizarre twist to the current means assessment under the Fair Deal scheme, it is effectively banning the renting out of vacant homes of older people in nursing homes because they are hit with a treble penalty under the current assessment rules.
Under the Fair Deal nursing home support scheme, 7.5% of the market value of the house is used but if that home is rented out when the older person goes into a nursing home, then the gross income exclusive of any costs, such as maintenance or letting fees, is included in the means calculation.
And it gets even worse, because if that rent then goes through the older person’s bank account this is also considered as capital and this is included in the means assessment.
So, if a vacant property is leased out to a family that is looking for a roof over their heads, the older person in the nursing home is paying for this in their means assessment three times.
While the Fair Deal nursing home support scheme does make provision for rental income, which is considered income for the purpose of the financial assessment of means and is assessed at 80% less any allowable deductions, this is only the case if it has been rented out prior to the older person being admitted to a nursing home.
But should the property be rented out after the person is admitted to a nursing home then the current structure of the means test fails to take into account the costs associated with the letting or maintenance of the property.
Contrast this with the means assessment under Social Welfare legislation where either the asset’s market value, in this case a home, or the net income generated from that asset, the rent of the property less reasonable costs, is considered for the income calculation if the property is not occupied.
While canvassing during the recent local elections, I came across many such properties, in good repair and in areas of high demand for rented homes. Some of these properties even have 1,000mbps fibre broadband outside the door.
I’ve spoken with many family members of older people in nursing homes who would love to see these homes occupied rather than falling into disrepair and become unsightly, as well as denying young families a home.
Looking at the most recent statistics I could source from HSE Parliamentary replies just 600 of these 14,000 “fair deal” vacant homes have been rented out in neighbourhoods where we have the opportunity to bring new families into communities where the taxpayer has already paid for infrastructure such as schools, roads, water etc.
Sadly, it is usually the case that by the time an older person’s affairs are finalised, the property in question requires significant investment before it can become a home again, and in many cases families do not have the resources to do so, which leaves the property vacant for even longer periods of time.
The Minister may argue that Action 17 of the Strategy for the Rental Sector has already committed the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to examine the treatment under the Fair Deal nursing home support scheme’s financial assessment of income from the rental of a person’s principal private residence where they move into long term residential care. But the Strategy for the Rental Sector committed to this being completed by March 2017 yet I understand that the Department of Health is presently engaging with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in this regard to examine the policy and legal implications on this issue.
This is not getting the priority that is required considering the current housing situation and I must also remind Members that the current means test reform before the Committee was proposed as far back as 2015 (see attached Parliamentary reply) and has yet to be put into primary legislation.
If we have to wait a further 5 years before we see reforms to means assessment for the treatment of income from rental properties, then I fear there will be whole streets which will have become derelict.
I am therefore requesting that the Committee recommend that the current reform of the Fair Deal means assessment be extended to release vacant homes across our cities, towns and rural areas which are falling into disrepair at a time when we have a housing shortage.
Surely it makes sense to join up the dots, help older people, give a home to young families and stop properties becoming derelict. A win win situation for everybody.
I hope that members of the Committee can look favourably upon this request.
Denis Naughten TD
Thursday, 14 January 2016
Department of Health
Nursing Homes Support Scheme Administration
Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
- To ask the Minister for Health to fast-track the fair deal nursing home scheme working group review of family farm and family business assets, given that residents are paying on the double, through the capital value and the income generated from the asset; if he is aware of the financial hardship which this causes to families, when these are working assets; the membership of the working group; when it held its first meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1651/16]
Kathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
The Review of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme included a general examination of the operation of the Scheme, as well as the balance between residential care and care in the community. A number of key issues have been identified for more detailed consideration across Departments and Agencies, including the treatment of business and farm assets for the purposes of the financial assessment element of the Scheme.
An Interdepartmental/Agency Working Group has been established to progress the recommendations contained in the Report. This Group is chaired by the Department of Health and includes representatives from the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners. The Working Group held its initial meeting on 1 December, 2015 and is due to report to on progress to the Cabinet Committee on Health in June 2016.
Any significant changes deemed necessary to the Scheme, including any changes to the treatment of business and farm assets, will require legislation and will accordingly be addressed together at the conclusion of the Review implementation process.