Bedford Borough Council (18 007 251)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 16 Jul 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains on behalf of his mother, Mrs Y about the way the Council handled the Disabled Facilities Grant process which funded adaptations to her home. He says the work to carry out the adaptations was delayed and completed to a poor standard. The Council has already admitted it was at fault for the way it handled this process, but the Ombudsman has found the extent of the injustice that Mr X and Mrs Y were caused is unclear. Consequently, we recommend the Council commissions an independent surveyor to assess the work that has been undertaken, in order to determine whether any remedial work needs to be carried out. We also recommend that it assesses the injustice caused once this inspection is complete and considers whether to make a payment to Mr X and Mrs Y for any distress and inconvenience they were caused. The Council has agreed to carry out these recommendations.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains on behalf of his mother, Mrs Y about the way the Council handled the Disabled Facilities Grant process which funded adaptations to her home. He says the work to carry out the adaptations was delayed and completed to a poor standard.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • Read the complaint and the documents that Mr X submitted in support of it.
    • Considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
    • Provided both parties with an opportunity to comment on the draft decision.

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What I found

  1. This piece of legislation says councils are under a duty to provide grant aid to disabled people who need certain home adaptations. Before it approves a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), a council must be satisfied the work is necessary and suitable to meet the needs of the disabled person and is reasonable and practicable. An Occupational Therapist (OT) will assess the disabled person’s needs and the best way of meeting them. A grants surveyor will assess the feasibility of carrying out adaptations to the person’s home and design a suitable scheme.
  2. A DFG can be awarded to fund adaptations to meet a disabled person’s bathing, showering and toileting needs.

Best practice guidance issued by the Home Adaptations Consortium

  1. This guidance, first published in 2013 and revised in 2015, identifies three key stages in the home adaptations process. Stage one starts with the initial enquiry at the first point of contact to the date when the OT sends a recommendation to the adaptation service. Stage two runs from the OT’s recommendation to the approval of the scheme. Stage three is from approval of the scheme to the completion of adaptation works.
  2. The guidance gives target timescales for dealing with cases at each of the three stages. For Stage two, it recommends 95% of urgent cases are completed within 30 working days and 95% of non-urgent cases within 50 working days. A case is defined as non-urgent if the person cannot use the home fully but can access the toilet and bathing facilities.
  3. The guidance recommends the total time to complete all three stages should be no more than 150 working days for non-urgent cases.

What happened

  1. Mrs Y owns her home and lives with her son, Mr X in a bungalow.
  2. At the end of November 2016, an OT assistant visited Mrs Y at home to assess her needs. He found she encountered some difficulty when transferring from the bath and recommended she be given a bath lift in the short-term to address this. In the long-term, he recommended that a wet room with level access shower be provided.
  3. In December 2016, the OT assistant submitted a request for the wet room and level access shower. One of his colleagues then wrote to Mrs Y stating she would be monitoring the recommended adaptations. She asked that Mrs Y notify her when the adaptations were due to start so she could arrange a review of them, once complete.
  4. In mid-December 2017, Mrs Y submitted an application for a DFG.
  5. At the end of January and beginning of February 2018, the Council asked three contractors to submit bids for the proposed work. It outlined the scope and specification of the work to be undertaken and the conditions of the contract, noting contractors were advised to visit Mrs Y’s home before submitting bids.
  6. In the middle of February 2018, the Council wrote to Contractor B stating it had been awarded the contract. The next day, its Home Improvement Team wrote to Mrs Y to notify her the DFG application she submitted had been approved and Contractor B would carry out the work. It noted the Contractor would contact her to arrange a start date for the work and highlighting the following:

“Please note the Council can only oversee the grant process on your behalf and does not have a formal contract or responsibility for the Contractor. You may wish to formalise an agreement or arrangement between you and the Contractor prior to the works commencing in your home. In the unfortunate circumstance that a dispute arises between yourself and the Contractor, the council can only assist in helping you resolve any such matters.”

  1. It also advised Mrs Y to jointly inspect the completed work with the Contractor then contact the Council to produce a “final account”. It said it would then pay the Contractor on behalf of Mrs Y, unless she had informed it previously of any reason why the payment should not be made.
  2. In mid-March 2018, Contractor B started work on the wet room and level access shower.
  3. Just over a week later, an officer from Building Control emailed his colleague in the Home Improvement Team after he had inspected the ongoing work on three separate occasions. He raised concerns about the quality of work being undertaken by the Contractor and provided details of his visits.
  4. The next day, the officer emailed the Home Improvement Team after conducting another visit. He raised further concerns about the work being undertaken and the competence of the Contractor, highlighting he was not a clerk of works and should not be providing the advice and supervision that was being requested of him.
  5. At the beginning of May 2018, the Contractor sent an invoice to the Council for the work it had completed. It billed for extra work that was not in the contract which included the installation of a new door and radiator, the renewal of a drainage stud wall, and a cooker cable. It also charged for “standing time” to cover the cost of being unable to access the site and complete any work when Mr X and Mrs Y were not present.
  6. At the beginning of June 2018, Mrs Y was visited at home by a member of the OT Team. It was noted she was happy with the shower adaptation but had not had a chance to use it. Consequently, the officer who visited agreed to contact her again in two weeks after she had the opportunity to use the shower, to check if she needed any further minor adaptations.
  7. In the middle of the month, the Home Improvements and Contracts Team Leader visited Mr X and Mrs Y at home to discuss the work that had been undertaken.
  8. At the end of the month, the Council paid the contractor for the work it had completed. Two days later, the OT Team spoke with Mrs Y and confirmed she needed a grab rail installed in the shower.
  9. At the beginning of July 2018, the Home Improvements and Contracts Team Leader wrote to Mr X following her visit the previous month. She noted a list of “snagging items” that needed to be addressed which included the application of silicone on the shower wall, the installation of a new extractor fan, and the removal of a board from the driveway. She said she had asked a new contractor to carry out this work and acknowledged the dissatisfaction that Mr X had expressed about the work undertaken by Contractor B. She also clarified that payments to contactors were made once all information pertaining to the work had been completed, which included electrical certification and the building control completion certificate.
  10. A few days later, the Home Improvements and Contracts Team Leader signed off the certificate of completion of works to provide a DFG.
  11. In the middle of the month, Mr X wrote to the Council on behalf of his mother to complain about the way the DFG process had been handled. He said Contractor B had never visited his mother’s home before bidding for the contract and its builders were unprofessional, incompetent and poorly skilled. He said a lot of the work had to be redone and the project took seven weeks rather than the two weeks that was promised. He added he and his mother had no access to the bathroom sink for around three weeks, the bath or shower for approximately four weeks, and they could not use the side door on the house for the duration of the project. He also highlighted the work had still not been completed or signed off. Consequently, he requested compensation for the inconvenience and asked that improvements be made to ensure the failures did not reoccur.
  12. At the end of the month, the Manager for Building Services responded to the complaint at stage one of the Council’s corporate procedure. She said the terms of the contract did not require Contractor B to visit Mrs Y’s home prior to bidding but this was advised. Similarly, she stated it had previously carried out similar work in other projects and was deemed competent, adding the Home Improvement Team regularly monitored the performance of contractors. She outlined the work that had been undertaken and the costings, noting additional charges were incurred after an excavation had revealed drainage issues which required further work.
  13. She stated a new contractor was appointed because Mr X had raised concerns about Contractor B, even though the Council’s Technical Officer was unable to corroborate his concerns. She partially upheld the part of the complaint relating to the tendering process and costings, noting she had requested some service improvements to rectify the matter. She also acknowledged the work was yet to be signed off by Building Control as a water test was required and upheld this part of the complaint, adding the test would be scheduled at a suitable time. However, she did not uphold the part of the complaint relating to the disruption caused after discussing the matter with the Contractor. She also suggested that Mr X raised his concerns with the Contractor, given the contract was between it and Mrs Y.
  14. Toward the end of August 2018, the Manager for Building Services, a representative from Building Control, and a Senior Building Surveyor visited Mrs Y’s home. Mr X discussed his concerns about the work undertaken and the impact on him and his mother. It was also noted the payment to Contractor B should not have been made until the work had been signed off. After inspecting the work, the representative from Building Control issued a competition certificate.
  15. A few days later, Mr X wrote to the Council to escalate his mother’s complaint. He raised concerns about the stage one complaint response and said the Manager for Building Services had admitted she should have visited his mother’s home to gather evidence before providing the response. He repeated his concerns about Contractor B failing to visit before bidding for the contract and again questioned its competence. He documented its mistakes and stated much of the additional work that was undertaken and billed for was included in the original tender, meaning no extra expense should have been incurred. He added officers from the Council had visited on several occasions and instructed the Contractor to rectify the poor work they had discovered. He also said the Home Improvements and Contracts Team Leader had committed to visiting the site daily until the project was finished, but only did so twice in seven weeks.
  16. Regarding the disruption, he provided pictures as evidence and requested that this part of the complaint be upheld. He also requested a thorough investigation into the complaint, that the work undertaken be inspected to ensure it conformed with the specifications in the DFG contract, and several service improvements.
  17. In mid-October 2018, the Manager for Older People and Physical Disabilities responded to the complaint at stage two of the Council’s corporate procedure. She outlined the scope of her investigation, noting she had visited Mrs Y’s home and spoken with her and Mr X. She outlined the background to the case and noted the Council did not have a copy of the proposed works signed by Mrs Y, nor did she receive a copy of the specification of works. She apologised for this then concluded that Contractor B had been approved without any confirmation from Mr X or Mrs Y, adding the Home Improvement Team could have been more proactive in providing support. Consequently, she upheld this part of the complaint.
  18. She also upheld the part of the complaint about the length of time taken to undertake the work and noted the Contractor had admitted the first set of builders it employed did not perform at the level expected and may not have possessed the level of knowledge and skill required for the project. She explained the reasons for the delay and stated the Home Improvements and Contracts Team Leader had agreed to visit the site on a daily basis but felt on hindsight she should not have committed to doing this.
  19. In addition, she upheld the parts of the complaint about the work not being to specification, the way the additional work was agreed and costed, and the Contractor being paid before the work was signed off. Regarding the first matter, she listed the work that was not to specification and asked whether Mrs Y would like any remedial work carried out so this could be arranged. She also noted she was unable to confirm whether the drainage was built according to the specification as the works had been completed.
  20. She did not uphold the parts of the complaint about the Contractor not visiting before bidding for the contract, and it returning to complete some work despite being told that it should not. Nevertheless, she apologised for the parts that were upheld and outlined the service improvements the Council would make to ensure the failures she had identified did not reoccur.
  21. After receiving the stage two complaint response, Mr X started communicating with the Chief Officer for Economic Growth and Property. In mid-December 2018, the former asked the latter to arrange remedial work which included the replacement of the extractor fan and putting loft installation back in place. He also asked that the Technical Officer visited to issue a completion certificate. In response, the Council arranged for a contractor to carry out the work.
  22. In January 2019, Mr X complained to the Ombudsman on behalf of his mother. In addition to the points already raised, he says the works were delayed because of contractor error and are yet to be completed according to the technical specifications, noting that defects that were caused are yet to be properly rectified. In addition, he says the contractor was paid before a completion certificate was issued or the work was inspected and certified by Building Control. Moreover, he says it was paid for extra work caused by its own mistakes when it should have incurred the additional costs and states a completion certificate for the work is still to be issued by the Council’s Technical Officer.
  23. He says the Council’s faults caused both him and his mother distress and inconvenience. He also says he incurred a lot of time and trouble when raising their concerns about these matters with the Council. Furthermore, he says there is now a foul stench in the bathroom and notes that in the last three to four weeks, some of the tiles around the shower have become unbonded whereas others have cracked. In addition, he says an area of flooring has come unbonded from the concrete sub-base and is bubbling up.
  24. To rectify this injustice, he wants the Council to apologise and provide his mother a payment that will allow her to commission an independent, private contractor to start the work again, so it is completed to the required standard. He also wants it to make payments to them both in recognition of the distress and inconvenience they were caused, as well as make service improvements to ensure the faults that have occurred in this case do not happen again.

Analysis

  1. The Council’s stage two investigation has already highlighted several areas where it was at fault and upheld most of Mrs Y’s complaint. Therefore, I have considered whether to make any further findings of fault and whether it has taken sufficient action to remedy the injustice it caused.
  2. I note the OT assistant requested the wet room and level access shower in December 2016, after which the Home Improvement Team placed the request on a waiting list. The Council’s stage two complaint response states it did this because of the volume of DFG recommendations it received. A DFG application was then submitted in December 2017 and approved in February 2018.
  3. I understand the Council has limited resources, but the best practice guidance issued by the Home Adaptations Consortium states it should take no more than 50 working days for a grant to be approved after an OT recommendation is received in non-urgent cases. Clearly, this did not happen and it took around 260 working days instead. Therefore, I have found the Council was at fault for taking too long to action the OT recommendations. However, I understand it has since reduced the size of its waiting list and grant applications are being processed more quickly, which is encouraging.
  4. I have not made any further findings of fault therefore it is important to consider the injustice caused by all the faults that have been identified. To clarify, the Council was at fault for:
    • Taking too long to action the OT recommendations.
    • Approving Contractor B without any input from Mr X or Mrs Y and failing to provide them with enough support or the requisite information during this part of the process.
    • The way it agreed to costings for additional work.
    • Paying the Contractor when the work had not been signed off or carried out according to the specifications.
  5. It also acknowledges the project was delayed but has attributed some of this delay to unforeseen issues, such as the drainage being encased in concrete which required replacing.
  6. I note Mr X has stated his mother wants the Council to make a payment to her that will allow her to commission an independent, private contractor to start the work again. I cannot recommend this as it is unclear whether the standard of the completed work requires it to be completely redone.
  7. Nevertheless, it is clear that Building Control raised concerns about the quality of the work throughout the project, some of which indicated that problems might only appear after some time had passed. An email sent by one of its officers in late August 2018 provides evidence of this:

“I would not normally be that concerned but with the lack of building knowledge and foresight shown to date by the operatives on site it would not surprise me if they had screwed through the pipes and as the wall is tiled and the other side has tiles and kitchen units it might be some time for any leak to be noticed by which time a lot of damage would have been caused.”

  1. Consequently, the concerns that Mr X has raised recently about the smell in the wet room, the tiles, and the flooring indicates these issues may have been caused by poor workmanship. This is supported by the fact the Contractor acknowledged it initially employed builders who may not have possessed the skill or knowledge to do the job. Moreover, there is lack of clarity about whether the drainage was built to specification.
  2. Considering these points, I have recommended the work that has been undertaken be inspected by an independent building surveyor with specialist knowledge and expertise in major adaptations, specifically wet rooms. This person can then advise whether there are any problems with the work and recommend what remedial work needs to be carried out. If remedial work is required, the Council should make funds available to Mr X and Mrs Y so they can commission their own contractor, subject to the legislation and guidance on DFGs.
  3. I have not recommended that the Council makes a payment to Mr X and Mrs Y for the distress and inconvenience they were caused, as the extent of this injustice will only become clear after the independent surveyor has conducted an inspection of the work. However, I have recommended that the Council considers whether a payment should be made after the inspection and the injustice is clearer. It should consult the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies when doing so, to calculate what level of payment should be made. At the same time, it should also apologise to Mr X and Mrs Y for the extent of the injustice that was caused.
  4. I have considered whether to make any service improvement recommendations to prevent the faults that have been identified from reoccurring. However, I have decided not to as it is clear the Council has already undertaken several actions in response to this complaint, which I fully welcome. It has:
    • Provided staff training on the DFG process.
    • Reviewed and amended its own policies and procedures.
    • Implemented a new case management system to make the DFG process more efficient.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to commission an independent building surveyor with specialist knowledge and expertise in major adaptations, specifically wet rooms, to inspect the work undertaken on Mrs Y’s property and advise whether any remedial work needs to be carried out. It will ensure this person is not connected in any way to either party and that Mr X and Mrs Y agree with their appointment.
  2. The surveyor should:
    • Be given access to the plans, drawings and case records for the original DFG works and all subsequent works carried out on the wet room;
    • Inspect the work that was undertaken to identify any defects;
    • Carry out any tests or investigations that may be necessary to establish the underlying cause of any defects found;
    • State whether any defects they find are due to poor quality work by Contractor B at the time of the original works, or caused by something else, such as unrelated structural defects or failings in the property;
    • Recommend what remedial work needs to be carried out to rectify any defects found to have been caused by Contractor B.
  3. If remedial work is required, the Council will make funds available to Mr X and Mrs Y so they can commission their own contractor, subject to the legislation and guidance on DFGs.
  4. The Council will also consider whether a payment for distress and inconvenience should be made to Mr X and Mrs Y after the inspection has been completed. It should consult the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies when doing so to calculate what level of payment should be made. At the same time, it will also apologise to Mr X and Mrs Y for the extent of the injustice that was caused.
  5. The Council has agreed to complete these actions within two months of the date of this final decision.

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Final decision

  1. The Council has already admitted it was at fault but the extent of the injustice that it caused Mr X and Mrs Y is unclear. Therefore, I propose the Council commissions an independent surveyor to assess the work that has been undertaken, in order to determine whether any remedial work needs to be carried out. I also recommend that it assesses the injustice caused once this inspection is complete and considers whether to make a payment to Mr X and Mrs Y for any distress and inconvenience they were caused. It has agreed to carry out these recommendations.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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