Reading through recent headlines, you might have got the idea that the Nursing Home Support Scheme (better known as the Fair Deal scheme) was closed to new business. Last year, it did temporarily freeze new applications and there are regular debates about how the scheme is being funded now and in the future.
But while there is a waiting list for funding approval, the Fair Deal scheme is still processing applications from people who need state assistance in paying for their nursing home care.
As of February this year, 22,054 people were receiving state support.
The bureaucracy of form filling and number crunching can be painful.
Larry Power, from Dublin, knows just what that process is like. He went through it two years ago when his brother Maurice had a stroke and it was decided that he needed to enter a nursing home.
“I must have visited 10 different nursing homes, just to get a feel for the different services they offer and then seeing what was available in terms of state support and subsidies.
“What shocked me was the cost of nursing home care – it varies on average from €1,000 to €1,500 a week – that was an eye opener for me.
“The Fair Deal scheme is all means tested so people pay according to their means. The maximum a person has to give is 80 per cent of their income, again subject to a threshold.”
Larry found out that there were two main things he had to get sorted to apply to Fair Deal on behalf of his brother.
“The hospital had to do a care needs assessment, which said that Maurice needed long term nursing care and was suitable to apply. So that part was done by the medical staff and the social worker in the hospital.”
The other aspect was the financial side.
“I found it very detailed, it’s like a detailed tax return but involves even more. You have to list all of the income, the assets and so on.
“I found it quite a time-consuming thing to do and I’m actually an accountant.”
In the meantime, Larry found a nursing home in Bray, Co Wicklow, for his brother.
Once the Fair Deal application was processed three weeks later (it now takes an average of three months), the State support portion was backdated to when Maurice entered the nursing home.
As part of this process, Larry had applied for Power of Attorney rights for his brother.
“I could see that Maurice was deteriorating and wasn’t able to write and wasn’t fully aware of what was happening. That’s something that I’d emphasise to people because if the person is unable to look after their own financial affairs or make decisions for themselves, it could mean they become a ward of court and then it’s difficult even to pay bills on their behalf.”
Two years on, Maurice is still living in the nursing home. Having gone through the process himself, Larry now offers a service to help others who are trying to figure out the bureaucracy around the Fair Deal scheme.
“In some cases, a family might need help with the whole application and don’t have a firm grasp of what their relative’s income or assets actually are. Other people have all that information and just want someone to check over the form and make sure everything is correct.”
Larry says that most of his clients so far have been in their 50s. That’s the age group which is now dealing with the nursing home scenario for their parents.
Mairead Hayes is CEO of the Senior Citizens’ Parliament.
“The person having to organise all of the paperwork and the application is usually the child or sibling of the person going into the nursing home,” she says.
“We do see a lot of what’s called the sandwich generation – people who may now be grandparents themselves and are looking after grandchildren but also looking after their elderly parents who might be in their 80s.”
So when it comes to getting financial assistance from the State towards nursing home care, what are the main things you need to know?
For a start, not everyone gets assistance through Fair Deal.
There are thresholds to the scheme – some people have enough income and assets that they can comfortably pay for their own nursing home care. In some cases, people will receive a small level of financial aid with their care.
Financial situations can change so just because a relative wasn’t accepted through the scheme, they may be in the future.
Somebody on a state pension is considered low income and will need to give 80 per cent of their weekly pension towards their nursing home care. The rest is covered by the Fair Deal scheme.
“That’s fine because if you’re in a nursing home, all your needs are catered for so you don’t really have expenses,” says Larry Power.
If the person has a small income but also has assets such as a house, these will need to be taken into account.
What if the person has a house? If the person entering nursing home care has a house, they don’t need to sell it straight away in order to finance part of their care.
The maximum that the State can take against the value of the house is 15 per cent – 5 per cent over three years.
“The State takes a charge against the house and that can be deferred until such a time as the house is sold,” says Larry Power. “Or the person can decide to pay it off as a lump sum at the start, if they have the means to do that.”
With fluctuating house prices, it can be tricky to value a house in the current market but it needs to be done as part of the financial assessment.
Several valuers are now advertising their services in valuing homes for the Fair Deal financial assessment.