Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 16 Jan 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs X complain the Council delayed in providing adaptations using a disabled facilities grant at three different properties. The Council delayed in completing the grant process at the third property but there is no fault in how it dealt with applications at two previous properties. The Council has already taken some action to remedy its fault but a further payment is required to remedy the injustice caused.
- Mr & Mrs X complain the Council has failed to provide a suitable remedy to recognise faults in its management of a disabled facilities grant.
- Mr and Mrs X says the delay in providing suitable accommodation has caused stress and frustration.
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 the complainant;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with the complainant;
- sent my draft decision to both the Council and the complainant and taken account of their comments before making my final decision.
What I found
- Mr X has disabilities. He first contacted the Council in 2012 to apply for a disabled facilities grant (DFG). In 2012, Mr and Mrs X lived in property A with their children.
- The Council visited property A to make the DFG application. In March 2013 the Council said the adaptations were estimated at a cost of £40,000 to £45,000. The DFG maximum allowance is £30,000.
- The application was considered by the Council’s Equipment and Minor Adaptions Resource Panel in April 2013. It did not give approval and recommended the landlord, a housing association, fund the costs over the maximum DFG allowance of £30,000.
- While the Council was considering different options, Mr and Mrs X informed it they were moving to a new property. The Council suggested they contact the adaptations team before moving so it could check if property B would be suitable for adaptation. There is no evidence to suggest Mr and Mrs X sought further advice on the suitability of property B.
- An assessment of property B started in August 2013. The Council decided property B was not suitable for adaptation. Information provided by Mr X’s GP indicated he was able to use the stairs which meant he was not eligible for the assessed ground floor bedroom and shower room. The Council notified Mr and Mrs X it had cancelled the DFG application.
- Mr and Mrs X moved into property C in 2014. On 28 August 2014 the occupational therapist carried out an assessment for a ground floor bedroom and bathroom. The Council’s adaptations team received the referral on 16 September but took no action until April 2015 when an officer visited property C.
- The council prepared plans and sought permission from the housing association to carry out the adaptations. In November 2015 the Council drew up plans for the works. In January 2016 the Council informed Mr and Mrs X it had invited tenders from specific contractors.
- In March 2016 the Council appointed a new adaptations officer. She decided the previous plans were not appropriate for Mr X’s needs so she drew up new plans. By 4 April the new officer informed Mr X of his nil financial contribution and that she had appointed a firm to project manage the work.
- The works at property C were above the DFG limit of £30,000. The Council approved the full cost of the works in June 2016. The Council says it approved the additional costs of £10,351.70 because of delays in providing the adaptations.
- The works were completed on 17 October. The adaptations officer inspected the works signed them off as satisfactory on 4 November 2016.
- Mr and Mrs X complain the Council delayed in approving and completed a DFG. The information provided shows the process began in 2012 and finished in November 2016. The process should not take this long and so I have considered whether the time taken to completion due to fault by the Council.
- Mr and Mrs X have lived in three different properties since 2012. I will deal with each in turn.
- The Council completed an assessment for this property and drew up plans. The cost of the works was above the DFG limit of £30,000 and so alternatives were considered which took time. The housing association which owned the property was not prepared to fund the additional costs. Cheaper schemes were considered but due to the size of the property and Mr and Mrs X’s family these were not considered appropriate.
- At that time, any requests for additional funding were considered by a panel. A report was prepared for consideration by the panel. However, this never took place because Mr and Mrs X informed the Council they were moving so the case was closed.
- I find no fault by the Council on this point. The application was closed because of the action of Mr and Mrs X in moving to a new property. I am satisfied this was their decision alone. The Council was still considering the DFG application when Mr and Mrs X informed it of the move.
- There is no evidence to suggest Mr and Mrs X sought advice on the suitability of property B to be adapted before they moved to it. The DFG process started at this property and ended when the Council made the decision the property was not suitable and Mr X’s needs were not sufficient to require adaptations.
- I appreciate Mr and Mrs X may disagree with the decision made about his needs. However, I am satisfied this was a professional judgement based on medical information provided at that time. The Ombudsman is concerned with administrative process and not the merits of decisions properly made. I therefore find no fault in how the Council considered adaptations at property B.
- There was delay in how the Council dealt with the DFG application at property C. The process started in September 2014 and the works were completed in October 2016. The Council accepts there were unacceptable delays in respect of property C.
- After appointing a new adaptations officer in March 2016, the process moved swiftly and was completed within five months. Which means 20 months of unacceptable delay in this case which is fault.
- I have to now consider how Mr and Mrs X were affected and what remedy is appropriate. The Council says it awarded the additional costs of over £10,000 to recognise the delays in this case. It said the extra money would not have been awarded if the faults had not occurred.
- Mr X now has the adaptations he requires. This was only possible because the Council agreed to pay the additional £10,000. It is my understanding Mr and Mrs X were not in a position to find this additional money themselves.
- In August 2017 I made enquiries to the Council about the number of DFG’s made over £30,000 in the last three years. The Council provided information saying eight awards (including the award to Mr and Mrs X) were made over £30,000. It said the two other awards made of over £40,000 were paid in the same year as Mr and Mrs X’s award. It says the extra money was paid in those cases because of similar delays in finalising the works.
- The Council did not provide any evidence such as case notes or emails which show the extra money was approved because of its failings. I have evidence it was considered in April 2016 and approved in June 2016. The Council should ensure decisions are properly recorded. I would expect it to keep records when it involves such a large amount of public money.
- Based on the information I had in 2017, I decided the Council had made the extra payment because of the delays. I made a decision on Mr and Mrs X complaint that the Council should pay them a further £500. The Council had already taken action to improve its procedures.
- In July 2018 Mr and Mrs X provided new information about the number of DFG’s awarded over £30,000. The Council had provided this information in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request by Mrs X.
- The FOI response said the Council had made 16 awards of over £30,000 since 2014. It showed that in each of the three years awards had been made of over £40,000 amounting to a total of eight awards.
- As this information was completely different to the information provided in August 2017 on which I based my previous decision, I opened this new complaint and carried out further investigations.
- I interviewed officers involved in providing the two sets of information in order to determine which was correct. I am satisfied there was no intention to mislead the Ombudsman when producing the different responses to essentially the same request. My investigation found that two different officers had responded to the two requests. The two officers used different databases to compile the information.
- Officer A, when responding to the FOI request by Mrs X, used the DFG records. She showed me how she had generated the information. Some DFG applications had two different records and so she showed me how she had added the figures together. This resulted in more grants totally over £30,000.
- Officer B, when responding to my enquiries in August 2017, had used a database provided by the Council’s accounts department. This showed the amounts paid by the Council on each case. Officer B had not added together figures when two separate payments had been made for the same address. This resulted in an under reporting of the number of grants over £30,000.
- On the basis of my investigation I consider the information provided in response to Mrs X’s FOI request to be the more accurate and reliable information.
- This means my previous decision was made based on incorrect information. I also interviewed officers how decisions are made to award over the £30,000 DFG limit. The figures provided show this happens more frequently than I originally believed. The evidence does not support the Council’s previous assertion that the extra money was only given to Mr and Mrs X because of the faults in the process. When interviewed, Officer B, who made the decision in June 2016 to award the additional money, said she could not remember the reasons why the extra money was granted.
- As a result of the Council’s delay in carrying out the property adaptations, Mr and Mrs X were in unsuitable living conditions for 20 months longer than they should have been. I am therefore recommending the Council make a further payment to Mr and Mrs X to recognise the fault and to remedy the injustice this caused to Mr and Mrs X.
- To remedy the remaining injustice in this case the Council should, within one month:
- In addition to the £500 already paid to Mr X, make a payment of £5500. This is based on a payment of £300 per month for the 20 months identified delay when Mr X did not have access to bathing and toileting facilities; and
- pay Mrs X £500 to acknowledge the impact on her in having to provide care for her husband during the period of delay.
- I intend to complete my investigation as a suitable remedy is agreed.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman