Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 31 Jul 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is no fault by the Council in relation to this complaint about a decision to pay only part of an agreed Disabled Facilities Grant following the death of the applicant before the work was completed.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr F, complains that Blaby District Council wrongly refused to abide by an agreement to pay a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) of around £7000 for adaptations to a bathroom in the house in which he and his family lived with his grandfather. The family was contributing to the total cost as the family wanted to complete works that were more extensive than those agreed under the DFG. The grant was to meet identified mobility needs for Mr F’s grandfather. The works started but were not completed before Mr F’s grandfather died and so Mr F argues he now has a partially constructed bathroom which he cannot afford to complete.
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 the written information Mr F provided with his complaint and discussed the complaint with him. I made written enquiries of the Council and considered all the information before reaching a draft decision on the complaint.
- I gave the Council and Mr F the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. Mr F provided comments on the draft decision and I have taken account of these before reaching my final decision on the complaint.
What I found
What should have happened
- Local housing authorities have been under a statutory duty to provide help for major adaptations to disabled people’s homes since 1990. This is usually done by a housing authority providing a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).
- Section 56 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 addresses what happens regarding Disabled Facilities Grants where the applicant dies. It states “Where the applicant dies after the relevant works have been begun and before the certified date, the local housing authority may, if they think fit, pay grant in respect of some or all of the works already carried out and other relevant works covered by the application.”
- The works agreed under a DFG should be completed within 12 months of the approval.
- In October 2017 the Council transferred responsibility for managing DFGs to an organisation it set up with other local councils. The organisation was called Lightbulb.
- The DFG agreed by Lightbulb when it extended the expired approval in May 2018 was subject to a number of conditions that were outlined and provided to Mr F in a document. Part 11 of these conditions states “The local housing authority may take such action as listed below… in the following cases:
- the works cease to be necessary or appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled occupant, or
- the disabled occupant ceases to occupy the dwelling or flat concerned, or
- it ceases to be the intention that he should occupy it, or
- the disabled occupant dies
that no grant shall be paid or, as the case may be, no further instalments shall be paid, that the relevant works or some of them should be completed and the grant or an appropriate proportion of it paid, or that the application should be re-determined in the light of the new circumstances”.
- In 2013 an Occupational Therapist (OT) assessed Mr F’s grandfather, Mr Y, as needing adaptations to his property. The OT completed a form to this effect and to investigate whether Mr Y would qualify for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). A Grants Officer and the OT drew up a scheme of recommended works. This did not proceed. The Council says it has no records of the reason for this.
- In Spring 2016 a new OT assessment was completed. It identified a need for a level access shower within the existing property. The Grants Officer wrote to Mr Y in July 2016 confirming that following a visit by the Grants Officer and an OT, Mr Y had decided to go ahead with a scheme of works that differed to that which the Council had put forward, ie it was different to the proposed installation of a level access shower within the existing property. The Grants Officer confirmed that the Council would offer a DFG of the amount that it considered the originally recommended work would have cost (around £7000) which it could offset against the higher cost of the works that Mr Y wanted to do instead. The Grants officer said that Mr Y would need to get his own plans drawn up which he would need to submit to the Council for approval by the Grants Officer and the OT in order to qualify for the grant.
- Mr Y’s family submitted the plans of the works they wished to complete to the Council in early 2017. Instead of simply partitioning off part of an existing living space to form a bathroom, the family decided to adapt other existing unused space within the property to incorporate the new bathroom in order to not lose space inside the existing building. The Council says that the family then provided estimates for this work in February 2017 and the full approval for the DFG was given to Mr Y by letter in March 2017. The letter states that a copy of the conditions for this was provided. The full approval notice stated that in addition to the DFG of around £7000 the Council would also pay around £700 for associated costs. It confirmed that either the whole payment would be issued on completion of all works or it may be paid in instalments as the work progressed as long as the conditions attached to the approval were complied with. The cost of the additional work that was not covered by the grant was assessed by a builder to be around £3000.
- When the Council agreed to the grant it listed what the DFG payment was to cover. This was:
- Shower curtain (£120)
- Rails (£80)
- Replacing glass in window (£200)
- Shower screen (£500)
- Toilet (£600)
- Wash basin (£300)
- Shower unit (£800)
- Partitioning (£1100)
- Doors (£350)
- Plastering (£200)
- Floor (£650)
- Floor covering (£600)
- Wall tiling (£325)
- Ventilation (£150)
- Electrics (£120)
- Heating (£200)
- Decoration (£350)
- Outside works – clearing (£180)
Was the Council at fault and did this cause injustice?
- The legislation says that councils may use their discretion to pay a proportion of the DFG in circumstances where the applicant has died but the works had begun. Lightbulb’s conditions for Mr Y’s DFG stated that where an applicant dies before works are completed, it may decide not to pay any of the DFG, or that it will pay no further instalments or that the relevant works or some of them should be completed and the grant or an appropriate proportion of it paid, or that the application should be determined again.
- In this case, after Mr Y died, the Council agreed to pay that part of the agreed DFG which covered the works that had been completed. The family was getting additional work completed that was not covered by the DGF and so the family was responsible for meeting the costs of this additional work. As the Council has discretion on what to do in circumstances where the applicant dies before the work is completed, and this included not paying any of the grant or paying some of it, there are no grounds for me to conclude that the decision to pay for only those parts of the work completed which formed part of the agreed work under the DFG as detailed was wrong. It does not seem to me that there is fault by the Council in taking this approach.
- In response to my draft decision on the complaint Mr F said that a Council officer told him verbally, before responsibility was passed to Lightbulb, that the DFG would be paid in full if Mr Y died before the work was completed. I have seen no written evidence to confirm such an undertaking but, even if an officer had made such a verbal undertaking, the law and the conditions attached to the grant approval in place at the time of Mr Y’s death were clear in stating that the council had discretion on what payments would be made in such a situation and these would have taken precedence over any verbal agreement that was discussed.
- There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered whether it should pay any of the agreed DFG following the death of the applicant, Mr Y.
Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman