Fair deal or ‘lousy’ deal? Rural TDs push motion on Fair Deal Scheme

A motion calling for the immediate reform of the Fair Deal Scheme, brought forward by the Rural Independent Group, is set to be discussed in the Dail later today (May 31).

The motion calls on the government to implement an “immediate reform” of how the Fair Deal Scheme is applied to farming families and the self-employed across the state.

At the moment there is clear inequality and discrimination in how the Fair Deal Scheme is applied and that simply cannot be allowed to continue, according to the Rural Independent Group.

Key issues

Brought forward by TDs Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Noel Grealish, Michael Harty, Danny Healy Rae and Michael Healy Rae, the motion calls on the government to address a number of key issues.

Some of the key issues include:
  • To immediately publish the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Fair Deal Scheme;
  • To honour the commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government to remove discrimination against small businesses and family farms;
  • To introduce a reduced charge on the farm/business assets that removes the uncertainty for farm families and the self-employed;
  • Reduce the time an asset needs to be transferred prior to entering a nursing home from five to three years;
  • To provide immediate clarification on the definition of “sudden illness or disability” which provides for a three-year gap to be applied to non-residential assets.

Speaking outside Leinster House yesterday, May 30, Independent TD Michael Harty stated that there was an anomaly in the assessment of the scheme for farmers and small business owners, in that their farm or their business is assessed in its entirety and in its complete value.

“That puts farmers and those who have small businesses at a substantial disadvantage, when they are being assessed for the Fair Deal Nursing Home Scheme,” he said.

Following the report from the Interdepartmental Group, the government has committed, in the Programme for Partnership Government, to introduce legislation to address that anomaly, he added.

A family farm is an asset, but it is an asset that generates income for the next generation, Harty said.

“By having to pay large amounts of money for a nursing home subsidy, it is going to diminish the value of that asset. It is going to put the farm at a financial disadvantage for the next generation,” the Independent TD for Clare said.

Rural farmers

Meanwhile, the Rural Independent Group is interested in ordinary farmers, who want to be able to use their land to make it a productive asset and to help the state help everybody else, Mattie McGrath said.

“You also have to balance that with the care needs of the farmer themselves, or their parents who are retiring and may need nursing home help.

We are not looking for preferential treatment; we are looking for fair and equal treatment of farmers.

“If they are going to diminish the assets to such an extent that [the farm] won’t be viable anymore, that’s [going to be] damaging.

“Farmers want to pay their way; but they want to have a balance with a working farm [as well as having] access to nursing homes like anybody else,” McGrath said.

‘Fair deal or lousy deal?’

Many farmers say that instead of this scheme being called a ‘fair deal’, to many it is a ‘lousy deal’, claimed Danny Healy Rae.

“It will actually take away their asset and their ability to generate income.

Farmers are more likely to have an accident and to finish up in hospital or finish up in a nursing home. The farm is then left there – for the family to work it.

“What’s actually happening is that if a farmer is in a nursing home, they can keep taking his asset away for as long as he’s in the home.

“Whereas, [for] any other person that qualifies for the Fair Deal Scheme it is 7.5% of their house, generally, for three years. This finishes up at €22,500, at least as a limit.

“But the sky is the limit in relation to the poor farmer and it’s not fair,” the Kerry TD said.

Many small, rural farmers are worried that if they end up in a home there will be nothing left of their farm, which they inherited, to hand down to the next generation, he added.

“In the farmer’s case it goes on and goes on and goes on until there is nothing left. The farmers are prepared to pay an amount, but a fair amount.”

Illness

In relation to the Fair Deal Scheme, if a person becomes acutely ill, or becomes acutely disabled, there is a limit on the length of time – up to three years – that their asset is assessed, Michael Harty said.

“But if you are chronically ill, say if [you] developed dementia, and when you reach an age where you have to go into a nursing home that limit of three years doesn’t apply – because you didn’t become acutely ill, you were chronically ill. It applies to many other illnesses.

The other anomaly is that if you have transferred your farm five years or more before you need nursing home care there is no assessment of the farm.

“But if the farm is transferred within five years, then the full assessment of your farm is taken into account. Farmers would like to have that reduced to three years,” Harty said.

Farmers are willing to have their farms assessed, but not at 100% of its value, he added.

“If it was assessed at 75% of its value or 50% of its value or 25% of its value, at least then it would be recognised as an asset that is generating an income for the next generation.

“If the asset is removed, the farm isn’t there for the next generation. So it is very important for farming communities that there is certainty in relation to the inheritance and transferring of farms,” he said.