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Fitzmaurice welcomes Cabinet approval of Fair Deal reform in principle, but awaits further details

The Cabinet’s approval of proposed reforms to the Fair Deal scheme have been welcomed by independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, but he is keen for some clauses to be clarified.

Approval from Cabinet for the proposed Fair Deal Scheme reforms was announced earlier this evening by the Minister of Health, Simon Harris, along with the department’s Minister of State, Jim Daly.

At the moment, people availing of the scheme have to contribute up to 80% of their income and up to 7.5% of the value of any assets held towards their cost of care.

The 7.5% only applies to a person’s home for the first three years of their care as part of the Nursing Homes Support – aka Fair Deal – Scheme. Until now, this three-year cap did not apply to farms or businesses.

The extension of the cap, should it get the green light, to farms and businesses will only apply where a family successor continues to farm the land – or operate the business – for a period of six years.

Commenting on the developments, Fitzmaurice said: “These proposed changes are a welcome boost to the many farm families who are struggling to cover nursing home costs for their loved ones. In some instances, families have had to consider selling off land to cover the costs – which could make the farm unviable for future generations.

“While it has been disappointing that the Government has dragged its heels over this reform, it is now imperative that the extension of the three-year cap to farms and businesses is formalised as quickly as possible.

“This is an issue which the farming community has been relentlessly campaigning on for some time. In particular, I feel the work and lobbying undertaken by Maura Canning from Co. Galway over the last number of years needs to be acknowledged.

“These changes will level the playing field between those who own a home in Dublin, and those running a small family farm or business in rural Ireland.

“The fact that the changes will apply retrospectively to those already in care as well as those who may go into care in the coming months is also a huge boost to farm families.”

‘The devil will be in the detail’

However, the Roscommon-Galway TD is keen for the minister to clarify details surrounding clauses to allow the three-year cap to be extended.

The arrangement of heads published this evening by the department outline that in order for a family farm to be eligible for the three-year cap, the person requiring care services or their partner or their family successor must have been “regularly and consistently applied to the farming of the farm or carrying on of the relevant business for at least three years of the five years prior to the person receiving care services”.

Along with this it is stipulated that the person receiving care must nominate a family successor to take over the farm or business.

The successor must then “on a consistent and regular basis apply a substantial part of his or her working day to the farming of the farm or carrying on of the relevant business for a period of not less” from the day that they are nominated.

Commenting on the clauses, Fitzmaurice said: “I have already asked Minister of State Jim Daly to clarify how the department intends to determine if an applicant or their family were ‘regularly and consistently applied to the farming of the farm’ for three of the previous five years.

“As well as this, I have requested clarity on the six-year clause for the nominated successor and the requirement for them to spend a ‘substantial part’ of their working day farming.

“Many farms in rural Ireland are not large enough to fully support a family, so an off-farm income is often required. I would hate to think that small family farms – which are the fabric of rural Ireland – wouldn’t be eligible to benefit from the changes revealed today, due to the successor requiring a job away from the farm.

“I look forward to hearing more from the minister in relation to how they will define active farming. But it is worth underlining the many benefits – and relief – today’s proposed changes will bring to farm families once the relevant legislation is passed,” he concluded.

Michael Fitzmaurice TD – 0861914565