Consumer Champion: More of us need elder care but it can be very expensive ... so are you aware of the options?
The care of our elderly has reached crisis point. We're living longer lives and addressing the extra care older people need is pressing.
Such care is enormously expensive to provide and, although the Government has made great strides with the Nursing Home Support Scheme (commonly referred to as the 'Fair Deal' scheme), the truth is that it requires more funding to continue working, which Ministers have acknowledged.
This week it was reported that 705 bed blockers were in acute hospitals, ready to leave but with nowhere to go. Some 73pc of these require long-term nursing home care. Over 200 are having applications processed while another 193 haven't yet applied.
Lest you believe there aren't enough beds, that's not the case.
There are more than 2,500 places in nursing homes, ready and willing to take these people, but with average weekly costs tipping €900, it's a huge financial decision for families, and indeed, the State, to take on.
The Fair Deal scheme was introduced in 2009 to ensure long-term care was available when needed (it must be medically assessed), for whatever nursing home a person wanted (State or private) for as long as they need it.
For that, the individual contributes 80pc of their income (e.g. pension) plus 7.5pc of their assets every year, less the first €36,000, but including the family home (this is capped at 3 years' value i.e. no more than 22.5pc, irrespective of how long they stay in nursing home care).
Those with a spouse still living at home don't need to pay it until they both pass on.
It really is a no-brainer, except for the very wealthy who want to keep their assets intact and prefer to pay the €50,000+ pa to fund their own care (for which there is full tax relief available - see table).
Over 50pc of new entrants to the scheme last year were transfers from acute hospitals and 22,162 have already benefited from it.
With private and public homes all now regulated by HIQA there is no inherent difference in care, although public nursing homes have a higher ratio of staff simply due to the fact that they have more high-dependency residents.
Of course, many people's preference is to stay in their own home and if this is they case, they should apply for a home care package. This provides 'hours' of care for say, physio, nursing or home help provided by the HSE or a private operator.
It is not means-tested but there is no automatic right to it. As a general rule, if you need more than five hours help a week for your daily living, you should apply. There is no direct cost or contribution from the elderly person required, but it is hard to get.
If you have the means to pay a private carer from one of the approved companies who do this very well, you can get full tax relief on the amount paid, up to €75,000 pa at the marginal rate (20pc or 40pc) of the person who pays the bill.
This bit is important because, if the patient themselves is footing it, they might be on a lower tax bracket, while a higher-earning son or daughter, or even a non-relative can claim much higher tax relief by paying the bill.
Time to treat mum, so here's some hints
Mother's Day is next Sunday so what better way to treat the person who loves you most in the world, and without whom you couldn't manage? (That's enough hints, right kids?)
Whilst my own personal favourite surprise is to have the housework taken care of (fat chance), there are more traditional gifts on offer which won't break the bank.
Here's some I like:
Aldi has a bunch of 30 spring tulips for €7.49. Tesco's Hidden Centre Rose cake looks delish at €7.99 while Lidl's Prosecco, also at €7.99 will bring a bubbly start to the day. And you can add in their Deluxe Pralines for €3.99.
Eason has a buy-one-get-one-half-price on selected books, including favourites Mary Berry and Patricia Scanlan. If mum's a little racier, the '50 Shades' trilogy is priced at €36.50.
Waiting for himself to do jobs around the house can be never-ending, so handyman service www.wifeslist.ie is offering two hours of putting up shelves, painting, fixing niggling switches etc for €55.
If mum's a gardener she might like a new product from Irish company The Cutting Globe - it helps propagate cuttings from roses, trees, climbers while they're still attached to the mother plant (geddit?). You can get six for €5 at www.thecuttingglobe.com, or from garden centres.
Or, you could simply treat mum to an indulgent afternoon tea. The Merrion Hotel has one for €36 per person, or €50 with a glass of champagne.
Five Sky channels give e-Vision sporting boost
I'm not the world's biggest sporting fan but I know many of you are.
That's why cable companies vie with each other to get the best output and that generally means all the Sky sports channels.
Eircom's e-Vision is the latest to up the ante, by adding the five Sky sports channels for €36pm, bringing its offering up to 120 channels in total. Throw in movies and it will cost you €46 pm from 16 April. You do have to check availability of efibre in your area but there's three months at half price when you sign up.
The move comes just in time for golf lovers with the Masters in April, and sports fans will also get even more time to veg on the sofa with UEFA Champions League, Guinness Pro12, tennis, NFL action and snooker.
But nobody's answered the key question for me: Who's going to wash the dishes?