Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 30 Aug 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complained about delay by the Council in deciding his application for a Disabled Facilities Grant. The Ombudsman finds the Council acted appropriately to progress matters associated with the grant application in order to reach a properly considered decision, after queries arose about what was necessary and appropriate to meet Mr B’s needs.
- The complaint, whom I shall call Mr B, complains the Council delayed in dealing with an application for a Disabled Facilities Grant and ultimately was unable to propose a suitable solution.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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
- I considered all the information provided by Mr B about his complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and took account of the information it provided in response. I provided Mr B and the Council with a draft of this decision, giving them the opportunity to comment.
What I found
- Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) are provided under the terms of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. The legal framework for DFGs is set out in the Housing Grants, Constructions and Regeneration Act 1996.
- Mandatory DFGs are available, subject to a means test, for essential adaptations to give disabled people better freedom of movement into and around their homes and to give access to essential facilities within the home. A council should give the applicant for a DFG a decision as soon as reasonably practicable and within six months of the date of the full grant application. However, before it can process an application, the Council as housing authority needs to confirm adaptations are necessary and appropriate to meet a disabled person’s needs. The law says housing authorities shall consult with social services authorities to decide this, and information may come from an assessment of need by an occupational therapist (OT) or by private contractors.
- The adaptations must also be reasonable and practicable. The Council may decide it is not reasonable and practicable to provide major adaptations to a person’s home, for example because it is not cost effective or it is impractical due to the layout of the property. In such cases the Council may consider the possibility of moving the person elsewhere, for example to a social or private housing tenancy.
What happened in this case
- Mr B is the owner-occupier of a three-storey house occupied by him and his wife. He is disabled, having sustained injuries to his back in 2010 and 2012. He also has arthritis in his knees and hip. Mr B’s wife also has health needs as she suffers from brittle asthma and mental ill health.
- Mr B contacted the County Council at the end of November 2017. He considered the difficulties he was having in his home with everyday tasks such as washing and toileting could only be remedied through major adaptations to his home, and he wished to apply for a DFG. An assessment visit was made by an OT in January 2018, as well as a joint visit by the OT and an officer from the District Council as housing authority to consider the most appropriate adaptation for moving between the floors of Mr B’s home. The OT then prepared a Statement of Need to support the grant application to the District Council. The Statement said that equipment or minor adaptations would not remove risks present in the current bathroom or on the stairs. It noted Mr B was dependent on walking sticks for all mobility and was awaiting a health service assessment for an electric wheelchair. It said, “He felt he was at risk of falls on the stairs, cannot manage essential personal hygiene and struggles with the dimensions and design of the current shower cubicle”. The proposed adaptation deemed necessary and appropriate by the OT to meet Mr B’s needs was a level entry shower, auto toilet, and through-floor lift, plus the widening of doorways.
- The Council confirmed receipt of the Statement as an application for a DFG on 22 January and then sent Mr B a DFG grant authority form to complete. The Council received the completed form on 26 January 2018. The Council agreed a schedule of works for the adaptations deemed reasonable and practicable to meet Mr B’s needs on 5 March 2018. The specification at this time was for a ‘standing’ lift which Mr B would walk into, which would allow him access the first floor.
- At the beginning of May 2018 Mr B advised that his mobility had deteriorated greatly since the initial OT assessment and he had suffered several falls. Since assessment he had also had a new diagnosis of aggressive osteo-arthritis in his left hand, an inability to weight-bear, and an increase in his weight. Mr B told the Council he now had a wheelchair on order, but its weight meant that the lift which has been specified would not be adequate. He had spoken with the lift supplier and what was now being mooted was a larger lift, which would also give access all three floors of the property. He said that this was a better longer-term option, anticipating future needs.
- Because of this reported change, the Council had to consider whether a reassessment of Mr B’s needs was necessary and so it liaised with the County Council about this. Officers from the two councils met on 11 May, and there were then meetings with the proposed lift company and the submission of a quote for the revised works. The Council says the change in lift specification had a significant impact on determining whether the works were reasonable and practicable. The lift was significantly larger, and this had practical implications due to the construction and layout of Mr B’s property.
- On 20 June a revised schedule of works was agreed for new works that were deemed reasonable and practical and this was forwarded to Mr B to obtain quotes. Mr B was unhappy with what was proposed. He felt the Council’s proposal in respect of siting of the lift would not work for the family, because of the siting of the air conditioning system installed for his wife’s asthma, the loss of study space, and loss of light. He said he would not be dictated to by the Council, and he sent in plans he would accept. Mr B said that what needed to be agreed, to meet his family’s needs, was a three floor lift to provide access to a first floor wet-room (which should have the auto-toilet and seat lifter) and access to the second floor bedroom; level access to the garden from the kitchen; and a lift in the garden for drive access.
- There were concerns that the larger lift would not give enough circulation and access space within the home. At the end of June, the OT at the County Council made a further visit, with a senior OT. Mr B told the officers that he would not be reliant on the wheelchair and could ‘hobble’ to the wet room etc as required. The matter appeared to be at an impasse as no agreement was reached on what was acceptable to both Mr B and the Council. As an interim measure the County Council liaised with the District Council to arrange the installation of the auto-toilet ahead of any wet-room to relieve some of the difficulties Mr B was experiencing.
The OT then set about attempting to gather medical evidence from Mr B’s GP about his mobility now and in the foreseeable future, to inform decisions about appropriate adaptations. Liaison between the two councils continued, and there were conference calls which included Mr B and officers from both councils.
- Concerns were raised about the structural suitability of the property for the installation of a through-floor lift. It was agreed on 26 July the Council would pay for an architect, to be appointed by Mr B, to architect to explore an external lift shaft and associated works and to apply for planning consent. This was to try to progress matters while the County Council continued its enquiries with Mr B’s GP.
- The Council met the architect on 23 August, and it was agreed plans could be drawn up for an external lift and submitted for planning permission. The planning application was made on 3 October 2018, but permission was refused on design grounds 27 November.
- On 3 December, the Council refused Mr B’s application for a DFG on the grounds that the works applied for were not necessary and appropriate, nor reasonable and practicable. In reaching this view the Council took into consideration that ongoing enquiries of medical professionals at this point had not satisfied the County Council that a wheelchair lift was needed, and given the uncertainty about what was required to meet needs, and the property involved, the estimated cost of works in excess of £80,000 was excessive.
- The Council advised Mr B that it would accept and consider a Statement of Need for a further application once the County Council had determined what was necessary and appropriate to meet his needs. He was advised to explore other housing options with the Council.
- The schedule of works originally agreed in March 2018 for Mr B’s DFG application was not progressed because Mr B reported changes in his condition which required a re-consideration of his needs. That was entirely appropriate in the circumstances. A revised schedule of works was drawn up in June 2018, but this was not progressed either because Mr B did not agree with what was proposed. The Council then sought to keep matters moving forwards by agreeing to fund an architect to look at a possible external lift solution, while further investigations in respect of his needs were undertaken by the County Council to inform any new schedule of works which might be agreed.
- Before issuing a DFG it is right that the Council consider whether the works proposed would meet, as far as possible, the assessed needs of the disabled person taking into account both their medical and physical needs and distinguishes between what are aspirations of the disabled person in terms of what is desirable, and what is actually needed and for which grant support is fully justified.
- In the circumstances of this case I do not criticise the Council for not deciding the grant application until December 2018.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman