London Borough of Havering (18 012 994)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains about the way the Council handled her Disabled Facilities Grant. She says this caused inconvenience, distress, and cost her time and trouble. The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for asking Mrs X to get additional quotes from contractors on its approved list. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mrs X and make a payment to reflect the injustice caused by the fault. The Ombudsman is satisfied with the changes the Council has already made to its policy. The Ombudsman does not uphold the rest of Mrs X’s complaint because there is no fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mrs X, says the Council is at fault in how it handled her application for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). She complains that the Council:
      1. took too long to approve her DFG application;
      2. approved unsuitable works;
      3. pushed to her to obtain quotes from its approved contactor lists and to use such a contractor;
      4. delayed agreeing additional funding when an unstable wall was identified at her home; and,
      5. took too long to sign off the works which delayed payment to the contractor.
  2. Mrs X says these delays caused her inconvenience, distress and put her to the time and trouble of pursuing matters with the Council and other agencies.

Back to top

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. 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)
  3. 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I discussed the complaint with Mrs X and considered information she provided. I also made enquiries of the Council and considered its response. Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement. I considered all comments before I reached a final decision.
  2. I have considered the relevant legislation, outlined below.

Back to top

What I found

What should have happened: legislation

  1. Councils have a duty under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 to award a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to help meet the cost of adapting a property to meet the needs of a disabled person. The maximum amount of a mandatory DFG grant is £30,000.
  2. A DFG application should be decided within six months of a council receiving a completed, valid application and any additional information required. It is up to councils to decide what amounts to a valid application.
  3. A council may decide it is not ‘reasonable and practicable’ to provide major adaptations to a property. This could be because it is not cost effective or the layout of the property makes it impractical.
  4. A council may choose to operate a list of approved contractors for applicants to contact to arrange works. However, an applicant can choose to use a contractor not on the council’s list and, if they do, their application should not be treated any differently.
  5. A council can pay the grant after the work has finished or in instalments as the work progresses. Once the work has been completed, the council must pay the grant in full no later than 12 months from the date of the application.

What happened

  1. In January 2018, Mrs X requested a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to adapt her home to meet her daughter’s needs. She wanted to adapt an existing bathroom into a level access shower room and relocate the bathroom to the ground floor.
  2. An Occupational Therapist (OT) visited Mrs X’s home and set out a schedule of works for the adaptations required. The schedule said that a Saniflo waste system would be used. This was because installing a gravity-based discharge system would require digging up parts of Mrs X’s home.
  3. The schedule of works was completed on 31 January and agreed by Mrs X on 11 February. The OT signed off the works a few days later.
  4. In March, the Council told Mrs X she could now make a formal DFG application. It also told her to obtain two quotes from contractors for the works.
  5. Mrs X obtained two quotes: one for £25,096 and another for £28,306.
  6. In May, on Mrs X’s request, the Council’s OT amended the schedule of works so that the bathroom would be created in the existing kitchen area. This would allow a gravity-based waste discharge system to be used instead of a Saniflo system.
  7. Following the revision, Officer Y (from the Council) contacted Mrs X. She said Mrs X needed to obtain new quotes based on the revised schedule of works. She said that the previous quotes were higher than the Council would expect. She asked Mrs X to also obtain two quotes from contractors on the Council’s approved list for comparison.
  8. Mrs X raised concerns about the quality of the work from contractors on the Council’s approved list. Nevertheless, she obtained two quotes for £18,170 and £16,150 from contractors on the list. The quotes were based on the old schedule of works.
  9. Officer Y also received a quote directly from another contractor (Contractor Z) following an enquiry they made to the Council regarding the schedule of works. The quote was for £11,950.
  10. Mrs X contacted Officer Y to query why she had a third quote and said the contractor had not sent it to her. She asked for the quote to be disregarded but Officer Y did not do so.
  11. Officer Y told Mrs X that she had approved the grant based on Contractor Z’s quote of £11,950.
  12. Unhappy with Officer Y’s actions, Mrs X complained to the Council that:
  • Officer Y had refused quotes because they were too high yet could not tell her what price would be considered fair;
  • Officer Y obtained a third quote from a contractor Mrs X did not like and did not want to use. Officer Y should not have done so as Mrs X only needed to supply two quotes;
  • contractors from the Council’s approved list said they submit low quotes and then add extra items on later;
  • Officer Y was not impartial when considering quotes and that other officers at the Council had previously been reprimanded for behaviour of this nature;
  • contractors were surprised the Council had approved a gravity waste system when it usually only authorised Saniflo systems; and,
  • meanwhile, the Council noticed that the contractors who had quoted for the works had all done so on a different basis as they were confused about some elements of the schedule of works. For this reason, the Council had to amend the schedule of works and send it to the contractors for them to send revised quotes.
  1. The Council received revised quotes from the two contractors Mrs X preferred. She asked the Council to disregard one because the contractor would not be able to start work for some time. She provided a quote from another contractor. The two used quotes were for £18,170 and £16,500.
  2. Officer Y wrote to Mrs X on 20 June confirming that her grant had been approved using the lower quote.
  3. In July, the Council responded to Mrs X’s complaint. It said:
  • quotes were rejected because they had not been properly calculated;
  • all the quotes were sent to Mrs X including the one from Contractor Z;
  • Contractor Z sent their quote to the Council as they had previously asked for clarification on the schedule of works.
  • it had not received any complaints about the attitude of contractors before;
  • it conducts reviews of the work given to contractors so it can determine if there is any improper conduct by its officers; and,
  • it does not insist on grant recipients using Saniflo systems and other products can be used if they are fit for purpose. However, the Council will approve the cheapest option that is suitable.
  1. When work began, the contractor found the bathroom wall was unstable. Mrs X told the Council on 17 July. It advised her to wait until it was able to carry out a survey otherwise it would not be able to pay for any additional works.
  2. The Council was unable to arrange the survey immediately because it only had one surveyor in the relevant department, and he was on leave. Mrs X challenged the Council and said that she needed the work completed without delay as the disruption was impacting on her family. The Council approved the works on 20 July.
  3. On 13 August, Mrs X told the Council the works were nearing completion and she would like to arrange a visit so the works could be signed off.
  4. The works were signed off by building control on 17 August and by the OT on 23 August. The Council told Mrs X that payment to her contractor was being arranged on 5 September, but this did not happen until 20 September.
  5. In September, Mrs X escalated her complaint. She said:
  • the response wrongly said quotes were rejected because they were based on an older schedule of works. They were also rejected because they were too high;
  • she was not told she might have to pay an additional amount if works exceeded £30,000;
  • the Council should not have made her obtain quotes from its list of approved contractors;
  • Officer Y pressured her into accepting a quote from Contractor Z; and,
  • the Council should not use Saniflo systems as they are substandard.
  1. Mrs X also said the Council had not addressed her concerns about delays and errors in handling her grant.
  2. The Council replied, saying:
  • it does not reject quotes because they are too high. Quotes that are high are returned to the applicant for review;
  • it uses the lowest quote as the basis for the grant, but applicants can use other contractors if they are willing to pay the difference;
  • it is not appropriate for the Council to provide baseline figures for works as it could encourage quotations to be higher;
  • the Council did not discuss payment of an additional amount as none of the quotes received exceeded £30,000;
  • its surveyor appropriately recommended a Saniflo system initially as installing a gravity waste system would have required digging up part of Mrs X’s home. The revised schedule of works mitigated this;
  • it recognised there were errors with the schedule of works, but these were quickly resolved; and,
  • it did not consider there were unacceptable delays in approving additional work or signing off the works.
  1. Mrs X remained unhappy and approached the Ombudsman.


Approval of the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) application

  1. Mrs X complains that the Council took too long to approve her DFG application (part a of the complaint).
  2. The DFG process began in January and Mrs X’s application was completed in June. The Council accepts that part of the delay was because information in the original schedule about the Saniflo should have been deleted in the second schedule but was not.
  3. While there were delays, they were not extensive (three weeks). I do not find that this is fault. This is because ultimately the Council decided Mrs X’s application within six months, which is in line with the law.

Inappropriate waste system

  1. Mrs X complains that the Council initially recommended an inappropriate waste system (part b of the complaint).
  2. Although Mrs X expressed doubt about the Saniflo system, I can understand why the Council initially sought to avoid the need to dig up part of her home.
  3. Councils may decide it is not ‘reasonable and practicable’ to provide major adaptations to a property, because it is either not cost effective or it is impractical. In this case, it was neither cost effective nor practical to dig up Mrs X’s home to allow for a gravity flush.
  4. I do not find that the Council’s initial recommendation, to use the Saniflo system, was inappropriate. Councils must consider whether adaptations are reasonable and practicable, and this is what happened in this case. For this reason, I do not find the Council at fault.

Quotes from approved contractors and pressure to use such a contractor

  1. Mrs X complains that the Council pushed her to get quotes from contractors on its approved list and pressured her to use such a contractor (part c of the complaint).
  2. Officer Y told Mrs X she would need to obtain new quotes based on the revised schedule of works. Officer Y also asked Mrs X to obtain two quotes from contractors on the Council’s approved list for comparison.
  3. This is fault. A DFG applicant must provide at least two quotes but there is no requirement for either of these to be from the Council’s approved list. This caused Mrs X injustice because she was put to the time and trouble of getting unnecessary quotes.
  4. The Council says it had concerns that the two initial quotes were in excess of the average cost of the expected works and did not cover all of the works requested. It says it asked Mrs X to obtain two further quotes because the previous quotes were not considered reasonable.
  5. Mrs X obtained two quotes from her preferred contractors and at least one quote from a contractor from the Council’s approved list. Ultimately, the works were done by one of Mrs X’s preferred contractors.

Unstable wall

  1. Mrs X complains that the Council delayed agreeing additional funding when an unstable wall was identified at her home (part d of the complaint).
  2. The discovery of the unstable wall delayed works by three days while the Council found an officer able to approve the works. The Council told Mrs X it could not arrange the survey immediately because the surveyor was on leave.
  3. The Council says staff made pragmatic decisions in order to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. While I appreciate the Council has limited staff, it should have a process in place to ensure it can respond to urgent matters like this in a timely manner.
  4. I do not find the delay is significant enough to constitute fault. This is because a delay of three days is not extensive, and it is clear that the Council was taking action within that time to resolve the issue.
  5. While I do not find fault, the Council may wish to consider putting a process in place for dealing with requests for approval for unseen works when the usual surveyor is not available. DFG works often involve vulnerable people who are disproportionately impacted while works to their home are being undertaken. So, while the delay in this case was not extensive, I consider it could have been reduced if the Council had such arrangements in place.

Signing off the completed works

  1. Mrs X complains that the Council took too long to sign off the works which delayed payment to the contractor (part e of the complaint).
  2. Mrs X contacted the Council on 13 August advising that works were nearly complete. Building Control signed works off on 17 August and the OT signed works off on 23 August. I do not consider there was any delay in this matter.
  3. Councils have 12 months to pay the grant from the date of the application. In this case, the grant was paid within this timeframe. For this reason, I do not find the Council at fault.
  4. Although the contractor did not receive payment until 20 September, later than Mrs X was told, I do not consider the Council took too long as this was still within the 12 months. The payment was made within a month of the works being signed off by the OT. Furthermore, I do not consider this caused injustice to Mrs X as it was the contractor, not her, who was waiting for the payment.

Agreed action

  1. Within four weeks of this decision, the Council has agreed to apologise to Mrs X in writing for her time and trouble in obtaining unnecessary quotes from its approved list of contractors.
  2. Also within four weeks of this decision, the Council has agreed to make a payment to Mrs X of £100 for her time and trouble. This is in line with Ombudsman’s published guidance on remedies.
  3. The Ombudsman will need to see evidence that these actions have been completed.
  4. The Council has recently reviewed its guidance on Disabled Facilities Grants. I am satisfied that this makes it clear that people are free to get quotes from their preferred choice of contractor.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I uphold part c of Mrs X’s complaint because I have found fault causing Mrs X injustice. The Council has agreed to take action to remedy this.
  2. I do not uphold parts a, b, d or e of the complaint. This is because there is no fault.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Privacy settings