Coping with care costs – Northern Ireland

elderly couple

Like many people, you may be concerned about the potential impact of care costs on your finances and your children’s eventual inheritance. Many people seek advice on how their family home and any other savings and investments can be protected if they become unable to care for themselves in their own homes and require either a package of care at home or need to move into a residential or nursing home on a temporary or permanent basis.

Proposals to change care fees announced in the national press will only affect England, since health and social care varies across the UK. So what’s the position in Northern Ireland?

What are the rules around care costs?

The rules around care fees are complex. Broadly speaking, care provided in a person’s own home is not currently charged for but residential and nursing care is subject to a formal ‘means assessment’.

Put simply, if an individual has capital over £23,250 then they may be liable to pay for their care, although a limited number of exemptions do apply. For example, the main home would be disregarded if occupied by a spouse or one of a number of other relatives mentioned in the applicable regulations.

If a person’s capital falls to £14,250, then it will be fully disregarded and the relevant Health & Social Care Trust must meet any shortfall after the individual’s income has been exhausted.

How does the means assessment work in Northern Ireland?

The rules governing the means test procedure are contained in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s ‘Charging for Residential Accommodation Guide. A resident will be required to give full details of their income and capital as part of the means test. However, it should be noted that there is no power for a Health & Social Care Trust to assess the financial resources of a person’s spouse or any other third party in calculating their liability to pay for their own care.

Get advice on care fees

Anyone facing a possible liability to pay care fees should always take advice from a qualified professional before completing any formal means assessment or dealing directly with the Health & Social Care Trusts over their finances. It is important to be familiar with the rules, especially those relating to the various exemptions that apply, before submitting any financial information.

Michael Graham TEP is Head of the Private Client Department at Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Belfast, Northern Ireland