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Changes allowing nursing home residents to keep rent could see older people 'forced to move out'

Journal.ie logo Journal.ie 23/03/2023 Eimer McAuley
A nursing home resident with vascular dementia. © Alamy Stock Photo A nursing home resident with vascular dementia.

THE COUNTRY’S LEADING advocacy organisations for older people have said that changes made to the Fair Deal Scheme to allow nursing home residents to keep their rental income could see older people put “at risk of financial abuse”, particularly by family members. 

A key concern held by Age Action is that the rental scheme change could see some older people being pressured to move out of their homes “prematurely” and “against their will”, in cases of financial abuse. 

The legislative changes were secured by the Regional Independent Group during negotiations with the Government prior to the vote on the eviction ban being lifted. 

Age Action and Sage Advocacy have both said that proper safeguarding measures need to be put in place to make sure older people are protected, as in 2021 the HSE recorded reports of over 800 cases of financial abuse affecting older persons. 

Sage Advocacy voiced fears that the legislative change has come about as a result of vulnerable older people and their care being used as a “political football” as part of the wider debate on “freeing up houses in response to the ongoing housing crisis”. 

“There seems to be a view among some public representatives that there is a large stock of empty housing out there belonging to older people entering the Nursing Home Support Scheme which can be immediately made available if there are incentives to rent them out or to sell them,” a spokesperson said. 

Both organisations fear that without steps being taken to mitigate the risk of financial abuse, the changes made to the Fair Deal Scheme could be counter-productive. 

Before the announcement that rental income will not be charged to the HSE, nursing home residents were able to keep 60% of rental income from their previous residences. 

Before changes were made by Minister for Older People Mary Butler, they were able to keep only 20%. 

Today Age Action said that “insufficient consideration had been given to ensure the rights of older people” as the majority of people living in nursing homes “need acute care with many suffering from cognitive impairment or dementia, which creates an opportunity for financial abuse”. 

The organisation has recommended that three key safeguarding measures be brought in to prevent this kind of abuse happening, including an adult safeguarding law being brought in, a broadening of the definition of coercive control to show that it also happens to older people, and more investment in home care, to allow people who are well enough to stay in their homes to do so. 

“Age Action knows of people who experience pressure to enter a nursing home because they cannot get enough or any home care hours. 

“The proposed rental scheme will cause more pressure on those people to move out of their home prematurely, against their will and in a situation where they would be capable of living at home with adequate home care,” an Age Action spokesperson said. 

Nat O’ Connor, a policy specialist at Age Action, said that the organisation welcomes the idea that older persons should have more choice and control over their income, but he added that this must include “putting in place robust measures to prevent financial abuse that unfortunately occurs hundreds of times every year”. 

He also pointed out that the Fair Deal Scheme only includes bed and board, and that many residents already have to pay extra for haircuts, activities, and basic medical supplies and equipment. 

“So giving people an option to generate extra income could be a lifeline for those who cannot currently afford these extra charges. But without safeguards in place, there is a risk that some older persons won’t see any benefit from their homes being rented out,” he concluded,” he added. 

Sage Advocacy pointed out that some older people face being “shoehorned” into nursing homes after a period in acute care in hospital.

This happens, a spokesperson said, because a “key family member providing an element of care at home, usually an adult child and sometimes a spouse, refuses to take a relative home, can effectively take possession of a property, dispose of their belongings and then rent it to their advantage”. 

‘It is not unknown for Sage Advocacy to have to support a client who has found that the locks on their home have been changed while they were in hospital or in a nursing home for a temporary period,” a spokesperson added. 

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