Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 18 Dec 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council failed to consider discretionary funding to top up a Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt their house for his disabled son. Mr X states they have had to accept a reduced scheme which does not fully meet his son’s needs. Based on the information available there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council dealt with this application for a DFG.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council failed to consider discretionary funding to top up a Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt their house for his disabled son. Mr X states they have had to accept a reduced scheme which does not fully meet his son’s needs.
- Mr X also complains the DFG officer was unhelpful and unsympathetic.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with Mr X;
- sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and invited their comments. I have considered Mr X’s response.
What I found
- Disabled Facilities Grants are provided under the terms of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Councils have a statutory duty to provide grant aid to disabled people for certain adaptations. Before approving a grant a council must be satisfied the work is necessary and suitable to meet the disabled person’s needs and is also reasonable and practicable. The maximum amount of a grant payable by a council is £30,000.
- The Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002 gives councils greater powers to provide discretionary assistance. Councils may give discretionary assistance in addition to mandatory disabled facilities grants.
- The Council’s policy sets out the application process. It requires all applicants to complete an initial assessment form to determine their eligibility for assistance. If the applicant is eligible the Council will make a referral to social services so that an occupational therapist (OT) may make assessment of the disabled person’s needs. Following this a grant officer will carry out a survey. If the grant officer determines that the works required are eligible for assistance, the applicant will be sent a schedule of works together with the relevant application forms for assistance.
- The policy notes that the maximum amount of for a mandatory grant payable by a council is £30,000. But there is no limit on the amount of discretionary assistance that can be given for adaptations in addition to or instead of a mandatory DFG. The policy states that where the Council determines a discretionary DFG is appropriate it will determine the type of and the amount of assistance depending on the circumstances of each case.
- Mr X’s son Y has a number of medical conditions which impact on his physical abilities. When Mr X and his family moved to their new home an OT from the county council carried out a risk assessment. The OT contacted the Council about possible adaptations to the home.
- The OT recommended adaptations to provide a wheelchair accessible bedroom, and a wheelchair accessible bathroom for Y. The Council wrote to Mr X advising that the proposed works would exceed the maximum grant, and they would need to find additional funds to proceed. An Officer, Officer 1 subsequently visited Mr X’s home with the OT to discuss the options. The Council has not provided a record of this meeting. Mr X states Officer 1’s manner was abrupt, and rather than offer options or solutions, Officer 1 only told them what they wanted could not be achieved within the maximum grant. Mr X states they were left to come up with a solution themselves and came up with a plan of moving the rooms around.
- Officer 1 and the OT agreed with this plan and Officer 1 instructed an architect to design the scheme. The scheme involved converting the utility room, reconfiguring the ground floor, and an extension to provide a bathroom. When Mr X and Ms Z (Y’s mother), and the OT had agreed the plans the Council obtained planning permission. Officer 1 then invited building contractors to tender for the work.
- The Council received two tenders, both of which were significantly over the £30,000 maximum grant award. The Council wrote to Mr X and Ms Z advising there would be a shortfall in funds of around £15,000. The Council did not advise Mr X about discretionary grants, but advised that if they wanted to proceed they would have to meet the shortfall.
- Mr X states Officer 1 did not offer any advice or help in revising the scheme. They discussed the scheme with the OT who considered the bathroom needed to remain as planned to meet Y’s needs. The OT suggested the family consider internal adjustments to combine the kitchen/ living areas. The OT also advised that as Y was now 18 the case would be transferred to an OT in the adult services.
- Mr X and Ms Z agreed to a reduced scheme limited to a ground floor bathroom extension. Officer 1 instructed an architect to design the reduced scheme. The Council’s records state Mr X and Ms Z agreed these plans, but there was a delay in obtaining the OT’s comments because of the change from children to adult services.
- The new OT considered the revised plans and visited Mr X, Ms Z and Y. The OT was concerned Y would need support from more than one person while bathing and suggested possible amendments. Officer 1 met with the OT and their manager and agreed to amend the plans for the bathroom. The Council provided two options for the bathroom layout. Mr X states they asked for the toilet to be moved, but the OT did not agree. Mr X, Ms Z and the OT agreed to plan 2, with the sink moved into the corner. Mr X states that although the OT agreed the sink could be moved it was installed in the original position.
- The Council received a quotation for the reduced scheme and approved the grant. Work began in November 2017 and was completed in February 2018. Officer 1 inspected the works and Ms Z confirmed she was satisfied with the work.
- Once the work was completed, Mr X made a formal complaint to the Council. He complained that Y did not have a specified room of his own, but was living in the family room. Mr X asserted this was a breach of Y’s human rights. Mr X referred to the Council’s housing grants assistance policy which provides for discretionary assistance on top of the DFG. He complained that the Council had not informed them of this option or offered discretionary assistance.
- In addition, Mr X asserts that as Y was a child when the DFG process began, children’s services (the county council) should have met the additional costs. Mr X asked the Council to provide the remaining adaptations as set out in the original proposal.
- The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint and advised demand for adaptations through DFGs was very high and the Council exhausted the budget completing mandatory works. This made it very difficult to agree to discretionary works. The Council said it does not generally tell applicants about discretionary works as it creates false hope when the Council knows it is unlikely to approve a request. Had Officer 1 considered discretionary funding was an option, he would have discussed it with them.
- Rather than refuse the application the Council states it tried to find a compromise. The Council did not accept that officers had discriminated or victimised against Mr X, and did not consider it had breached Y’s human rights. The Council would not agree to any further works as it had already exceeded the maximum grant. It also noted the DFG had significantly improved the suitability of Mr X’s property and minimised the risks of Y coming to harm.
- The Council was satisfied Mr X was kept informed throughout the process and that Officer 1 had managed the process well.
- Mr X was not satisfied by the Council’s response and asked for his complaint to be considered further. Mr X asserted the Council was fettering its discretion by not offering discretionary funding. He also disputed that the adaptations meet Y’s needs as there is not enough room to turn the wheelchair in the bathroom and Y does not have a bedroom.
- Mr X also maintained the way Officer 1 first dealt with them was unprofessional, uncaring and unsupportive.
- The Council acknowledged it should have told Mr X about discretionary funding, but maintained there were insufficient funds to consider doing any works other than mandatory works. The option was not therefore available at the time.
- The Council also noted the OT had approved the works which were necessary and appropriate to meet Y’s needs. These works were carried out within the maximum grant limit so discretionary funding was not necessary.
- In relation to Officer 1’s conduct the Council noted there was nothing in the communication between Officer 1 and Mr X which would raise concerns about discrimination or unprofessionalism. Officer 1 states he was seeking to be open with Mr X and manage his expectations about what was realistically achievable within the grant. Officer 1 denies he was unprofessional, uncaring or unsupportive.
- As Mr X remains unhappy with the Council’s response, he has asked the Ombudsman to investigate.
- In response to my enquiries the Council states the high demand for mandatory grants makes it very difficult for it to grant more than the £30,000 maximum using discretionary funds. The Council tries to find a solution within the grant maximum which still meets the disabled person’s needs. The Council does not routinely advise applicants of the discretionary works policy as the demand for mandatory works has always taken priority.
- The Council states it did not fetter its discretion in relation to discretionary funding. Had the overall demand for mandatory works been lower at the time and there been an underspend in the budget the Council could have considered awarding discretionary funding if it was needed.
- The DFG legislation requires the Council to consult with the social services authority to ensure the works are necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person. The OT was consulted throughout the process and approved the plans. As far as the Council was aware the room was large enough to turn Y’s wheelchair.
- The Council states that even though there were delays and numerous changes to the plans to meet Y’s needs, Mr X did not, at any point complain about Officer 1. It states there is no evidence Officer 1 was unhelpful or unsympathetic.
- In response to the draft decision Mr X has reiterated his disappointment that the Council did not consider discretionary grant funding. He asserts the Council and the OT should have worked with the family to find a creative solution to overcome the financial obstacles.
- Mr X is also concerned about the tone of correspondence between Officer 1 and the OT. Mr X believes this shows they were influenced by the fact Y had received DFG at previous properties, and affected the way Officer 1 and the OT treated them.
- While it would have been better if the Council had told Mr X about discretionary funding, I do not consider its failure to do so amounts to fault, or that it has caused Mr X an injustice. The Council has a statutory duty to provide mandatory grants, but only the power to make discretionary awards. Council’s are not under a duty to help applicants meet costs above the amount of grant they are entitled to. Mandatory grants therefore take priority over discretionary awards. Where a council exhausts its budget each year on mandatory grants it will be unable to consider making discretionary awards.
- Even if Mr X had been aware of, and made an application for a discretionary award, it is likely this would have been declined as the Council did not have the funds to make discretionary awards.
- The documentation provided shows that the Council has sought appropriate advice from the county council’s OTs regarding the need for the adaptations and whether they will meet Y’s needs. The initial proposal was to extend the property to provide Y with a bedroom and a bathroom. I recognise this would have been Mr X’s preferred option, but as this could not be achieved within the grant limit the proposal was revised. The OT confirmed that Y needed a ground floor bathroom and that alterations to the internal arrangements of the ground floor would meet Y’s needs. We would not criticise the Council for accepting the OTs’ views.
- Mr X considers Officer 1 was unprofessional, uncaring and unsupportive. Our investigations are evidence based and I am unable to accept one person’s word against another’s. There are no records of Mr X’s meeting with Officer 1 and there is no reference to Mr X’s concerns about Officer 1’s manner in any correspondence immediately following the meeting. I am therefore unable to confirm what was said or the tone used. I do not consider I would be able to achieve any more by investigating this issue further. The tone of email communication between Officer 1 and Mr X is appropriate.
- Based on the information available there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council dealt with this application for a DFG.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman