I am pleased to introduce this Bill to the Seanad. Since I was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people last July, updating the fair deal legislation to enhance protections for family farms and business owners has been a priority for me. I thank Senators for the opportunity to present the provisions of the Bill in the House today.
The nursing homes support scheme, also known as the fair deal scheme, is a system of financial support for those requiring long-term nursing home care.
Participants contribute to the cost of their care according to their means while the State pays the rest. The scheme has a gross budget of approximately €1.4 billion in 2021 to support up to 22,500 people.
Although there is broad agreement that the fair deal scheme operates well, concerns have been raised about the impact of the annual financial contributions assessed under the scheme on the sustainability of family-owned farms or businesses. This amendment seeks to cap contributions based on farm and business assets at three years where a family successor commits to working the productive asset. The intention is to ensure that the viability of the family farm or business is protected when its income is relied upon as a principal livelihood and it is being handed down to the next generation.
I have also introduced an amendment to the Bill that effectively extends the existing three-year cap on contributions from a principal residence to the proceeds from the sale of that residence. As well as introducing further fairness by treating the home and its proceeds in a similar way, in the context of the housing crisis it removes a disincentive to selling a vacant home when someone moves to long-term care.
Other amendments were introduced in the Dáil to resolve technical issues with the Bill or to address concerns raised on Committee stage. This is a long and technical Bill, which comes to 60 pages in total. I will take the House through it section by section to clarify its provisions, including the amendments made on Report stage in the Dáil last night.
Section 1 is a standard provision to clarify the principal Act to which the amendment applies. Section 2 amends section 3 of the principal Act to provide definitions for certain key terms used.
Section 3 provides for the appointment of a family successor to a farm or business asset which the person in care, or his or her partner, owns or previously owned. Section 4 provides for the creation of a charge against a farm or business asset. This charge acts as security for relief advanced in case a recoupment has to take place.
Section 5 provides for the duties of the HSE when determining whether the three-year cap will apply in respect of farm or business assets. Section 6 mandates the HSE to calculate the revised state support that will be payable following a determination that the three-year cap applies. Section 7 provides for the review process for all appointed family successors.
Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, provide for certain circumstances that may occur with regard to the family successor, for example, if the family successor passes away before completing the six-year period during which he or she is required to work the asset.
Sections 11 and 12 provide for repayment events. This may occur where the family successor does not comply with his or her obligations.
Sections 13 to 15, inclusive, provide for certain situations that may arise in the case of a second partner entering care.
Section 16 makes it an offence for any relevant person to knowingly or recklessly give the HSE information that is false or misleading. Section 17 amends section 21 of the principal Act to extend the powers of a care representative if a person in care does not have full capacity to make decisions regarding an application to the scheme. Section 18 amends section 24 of the principal Act to require the appointed family successor to provide written notice of any material change in circumstances of the person in care to the HSE.
Section 19 mandates the person in care, his or her partner and the family successor to inform the HSE of any material change in circumstances of any family successor. Section 20 amends section 27 of the principal Act to allow the HSE to request that the assets of an estate are retained to repay any moneys owed as a result of a repayment event. Section 21 sets out the administrative process relating to the discharge or release of the charge made against an asset. Section 22 refers to a charge or charges to be made under section 14B against farm or business assets which are under joint ownership.
Section 23 amends section 32 of the principal Act to extend the circumstances under which appeals against certain decisions of the HSE can be made. Section 24 allows the Minister, by regulation, in respect of any difficulty which arises during the period of three years from the commencement of the Act to take any necessary action to bring the amendments to the principal Act into operation. Section 25 expands the HSE's duties with regard to the storage, retention and disposal of applications and notifications made under this Bill.
Section 26 requires the HSE to produce an annual report for the Minister for Health detailing the effects of the new provisions of the scheme. Section 27 provides for the Minister to carry out a review of the operation of the amendments to the principal Act not later than five years after the Act comes into operation. Section 28 amends section 47 of the principal Act to clarify that, in the context of the key provisions under this Bill, only a care representative can officially act on behalf of a person in care. Section 29 creates a right for any person, when attending an interview under the scheme, to be accompanied by another person over 18 years of age. This reflects the concerns of Deputies raised on Committee Stage.
Section 30 provides for the proceeds of sale deductible amount, as set out in section 31, to be accounted for in determining a person's contributions to care. Section 31 amends Schedule 1 to the principal Act to repeal the availability of the three-year cap on productive assets as a result of sudden illness or disability. This section introduces additional provisions that allow for the three-year cap to apply to farm and business assets following a positive determination under this Bill. This section also extends the three-year cap on the principal residence to the proceeds of its sale. Section 32 provides for transitional arrangements and amends certain paragraphs in Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the principal Act. Section 33 is a standard provision dealing with the Short Title and commencement arrangements. It also provides that the Act will come into operation 90 days after enactment, a measure which I agreed with Dáil colleagues.
I thank Senators for considering this Bill. I understand that it is complex with several highly technical provisions. I hope I have set these out with sufficient clarity and I look forward to hearing the contributions.