Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 22 Jul 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council delayed completing major adaptations necessary for his wife’s safety, causing them both distress and resulting in her untimely death. The Ombudsman does not find fault in the Council’s handling of adaptations but finds the Council failed to communicate properly with Mr X. The Ombudsman recommends the Council provides an apology and payment to Mr X.
- Mr X complains the Council delayed completing major adaptations as necessary for his wife’s safety. He believes his wife fell and subsequently died as a result. While awaiting adaptations he had to carry his wife up and downstairs. He also reduced his working hours to help her move around the home.
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)
- 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 spoke to Mr X and I reviewed documents provided by Mr X and the Council. I gave Mr X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and I considered the comments provided.
What I found
- Disabled Facilities Grants (“DFG”) are for people with a qualifying disability who need adaptations in their home to help them remain in their home. They are mandatory and must be awarded if the applicant meets the qualifying conditions.
- The maximum amount of a grant is £30,000. A council can award other discretionary help if it thinks it is necessary. The amount a council will pay for a mandatory grant is subject to a means test.
- A council will only approve a grant it if accepts the work is necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person. An occupational therapist (“OT”) usually completes the assessment of need. The council will also take into account the age and condition of the property.
- The statutory time limit for assessing a formal application is six months.
- The work must usually be completed within twelve months of the council approving the application. If the council has told the applicant it will defer the payment then the work must be finished within 12 months of the date specified on the notice. The council can extend the time limit.
- In March 2016 Mr X applied for a DFG for adaptations to his home for his wife.
- In April the Council told Mr X how much he would have to contribute towards any works based on its financial assessment. It explained it next had to arrange an assessment.
- In July an Occupational Therapist (“OT”) visited Mr and Mrs X to assess Mrs X’s needs.
- The OT report says Mr and Mrs X own a 3 bedroom home with all bedroom and wash facilities upstairs. There is a toilet downstairs. Mrs X has difficulty using the stairs to access the bedroom and bathroom. She needs two people to support her on the stairs. Her needs are currently met by her husband and a carer. The OT will make a referral to look at the feasibility of downstairs washing and sleeping facilities. A stairlift is not appropriate. The report notes Mrs X’s medical conditions, including asthma. It does not record any allergies or any environmental factors which may provoke an allergic reaction or asthma attack.
- On 4 July the OT completed a recommendation for major adaptations for downstairs washing and sleeping facilities.
- The Council’s records show it did not progress the case until 2 September due to an internal miscommunication.
- On 2 September the Council told Mr X its contractor would arrange to visit to carry out a survey and draw up plans within the next two weeks.
- In early October a contractor visited Mr and Mrs X. Mr X then emailed the Council to say Mrs X was happy with the proposal except for the location of the lift. She had concerns about the lift being in the bedroom and asked for it to be moved elsewhere.
- The Council told Mr X to liaise with its contractor who later reassured Mr X about the lift.
- In late October a lift company visited Mr X and provided further information. Mr X then emailed the Council with concerns. He explained Mrs X could not operate her wheelchair to access the lift alone and was unable to see the buttons. However, there was not enough room in the lift for him to accompany her or operate the lift. There was also little space to safely move her wheelchair across the landing to the bathroom. Mr X asked for an alternative solution.
- I have not seen any response by the Council.
- In early December Mr X queried why the Council was installing a lift when the OT had recommended downstairs living. He noted:
- The Council first suggested using the front living room but he uses that for work and prayer. And, it would not allow his wife privacy and dignity as the front door entered into the room.
- Considering his wife’s health continued to deteriorate he felt a downstairs bedroom and level access shower was needed. He suggested the Council use the rear reception room for this.
- He repeated why the lift was unsuitable.
- I cannot say the Council’s decision on adaptations was wrong, simply because Mr X disagrees. I also cannot say the judgement of the Council’s OT is wrong, simply because another OT has a different opinion. I must consider whether there was fault in the way the Council reached its decision.
- An OT assessed Mrs X’s needs with input from Mr X. I note the assessment reports Mrs X has asthma. A contractor considered the OT assessment, spoke to Mr X and surveyed the property before drawing up plans for a lift. I am therefore satisfied the Council took relevant information into account when it first proposed installing a lift. I find no fault in this regard.
- When Mr X raised concerns about his wife’s ability to operate the lift, there is no evidence the Council considered or addressed these specific concerns. This amounts to fault. However, I note there was only a short period from the date Mr X raised concerns to the date the Council proposed an alternative solution.
- The Council then proposed to adapt the central reception room. I note this was in line with the OT assessment, the contractor was satisfied this was viable and the Council’s OT felt this met Mrs X’s needs. I am therefore satisfied the Council took relevant information into account when it proposed adapting the central room. I find no fault in its decision making process.
- In October 2017 Mr X told the Council his wife would be at risk in the central room as she had severe allergies to cooking and cleaning odours that would trigger her asthma. I consider the Council reasonably asked for evidence of this however Mr X declined to provide this. I do not find the Council at fault in that respect. Once the Council considered the medical evidence available, it found no evidence Mrs X would react badly to cooking or cleaning nearby. I note Mr X disagrees with the Council’s view, however, I cannot say the Council is wrong when it has followed a proper decision making process.
- The Council had offered two schemes to Mr X, one of which was fully considered as necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of Mrs X. Although Mr X did not like this option and did not accept the adaptations, I find this was through no fault of the Council.
- Having reviewed the Council’s records I find there was a poor level of communication with Mr X and some avoidable delay because the Council:
- initially failed to progress the OT recommendation of July 2016;
- did not respond when Mr X first raised concerns about the lift;
- did not recognise Mr X only agreed to adapt the central room in conjunction with the rear room, resulting in unnecessary protracted discussion until this was clarified;
- did not directly address all of Mr X’s concerns about the central room;
- delayed in responding to Mr X’s comments of July 2017 until October 2017.
- To remedy the injustice identified above I recommend the Council complete the following actions within one month of the date of my decision:
- Provide Mr X with a written apology for its poor level of communication and avoidable delay;
- Pay Mr X £300 for time and trouble;
- Pay Mr X £300 in recognition of the uncertainty and distress he suffered.
- I find the Council failed to communicate properly with Mr X, causing injustice. The Council has accepted my recommendations and I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman