Northampton Borough Council (19 007 481)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 25 Sep 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr Y complains on behalf of his tenant, Mr X about the way the Council handled the Disabled Facilities Grant process which funded adaptations to his home. Mr Y says the work was completed to a poor standard. The Council accepts the contractor did not complete the work to a satisfactory standard. The Ombudsman has found fault in the process followed by the Council and delay responding to Mr X’s complaint and agreeing the remedial work. To remedy the injustice the Council should make a payment to Mr X and Mr Y, agree a way forward to carry out remedial work within specified timescales and put in place an action plan to address the issues raised in this complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mr Y complains on behalf Mr X, about the Council’s handling of poor quality and delay of works carried out under a Disabled Facilities Grant. Mr Y says this has left Mr X continuing to have difficulty accessing the shower. Mr Y said he has also incurred extra expense and had to go to time and trouble to pursue the complaint.

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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 spoke to Mr Y and considered the information he provided. I made enquiries of the Council and assessed its response. Mr Y and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) are provided under the terms of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Councils have a statutory duty to provide grant aid to disabled people for adaptations. Before approving a grant, the Council must be satisfied the work is necessary and appropriate to meet the disabled person’s needs and is reasonable and practicable
  2. An occupational therapist (OT) carries out the needs assessment. The Council also carries out a means test of the disabled person to work out how much it can award. The maximum amount of a grant is £30,000.
  3. Some councils will carry out work under a DFG on behalf of an applicant. In these cases, the authority will manage contractors and is responsible for making sure work is carried out correctly.
  4. ‘Home adaptations for disabled people: a detailed guide to related legislation, guidance and good practice’ is non-statutory guidance, published by the Homes Adaptations Consortium. It says all major adaption work needs to be visited by a supervising officer at least once whilst they are in progress and, where work continues beyond a week, more often. In all visits, the disabled person and carer should be involved and given the opportunity to comment on the progress of the work and raise difficulties or queries.
  5. The work must usually be completed within twelve months of the Council approving the application.

What happened in this case

  1. This chronology includes key events in this case and does not cover everything that happened.
  2. Mr X lives in rented accommodation and Mr Y is his landlord. An Occupational Therapist visited the property and made a referral to the Council for a DFG for a level access shower for Mr X.
  3. In August 2017 a technical officer from the Council visited the property and set out a schedule of work for the replacement of the bath with a level access shower. Due to the condition of the existing facilities in the bathroom it was necessary for the work to include replacement of the ceiling, WC and hand basin. The Council added this to the schedule of work, noting Mr Y was responsible for ensuring the facilities were in good condition.
  4. The Council awarded the DFG in October 2017. The Council appointed Contractor A to complete the schedule of work. In early November, Contractor A started work on the bathroom and level access shower. During completion of the works Contractor A contacted the Council and said when it removed the wallpaper to redecorate and retile, the existing plaster had perished and fell off the wall. The Council accepted a quote from Contractor A to replace the perished plaster and damaged plaster wall. The Council added that to the cost of the DFG work.
  5. The Council carried out two inspections at the property on 13 November 2017 and 29 November 2017. The Council paid Contractor A £5,650 on 4 December 2017 for completion of the work.
  6. On 26 February 2018 Mr Y complained to the Council about the quality of the work undertaken. Two days later the Council visited Mr Y’s property. Mr Y told the officer:
      1. The WC and hand basin fitted were not “equivalent” to the Armitage Shanks Sandringham and Portman 550 fittings specified.

b) The Mira Advance shower fitted was not the latest model and there was an untidy silicone seal at the junction between the feed pipe and the shower unit.

c) The WC cistern was fixed to roughly finished battens that space it away from the wall so the WC waste did not clash with the low-level ducting. This was unnecessary because there were no pipes to enclose in this location.

d) Water on occasions escaped from the shower area and migrated through the adjacent door.

e) Water spilt outside the shower area did not flow back into the shower area and he did not think the plywood base was thick as it should be.

f) The grouting, tile beading and wall opposite the shower area were not finished as neatly as he would like.

  1. At the inspection Mr Y showed the officer another room in the property which he had recently refurbished. Mr Y said this was the quality of work he expected for the work undertaken to the bathroom. The officer explained the DFG is provided to facilitate the needs of Mr X and not to refurbish the bathroom to a higher standard.
  2. On 7 March 2018 the Council wrote to Mr Y and explained it considered the fittings provided suitable and serviceable and the tiling satisfactory. It said that:

a) The WC and hand basin were of a similar type and size to the Armitage Shanks fittings referred to in the schedule and were perfectly serviceable.

b) The shower was the correct make and model and provided the necessary thermostatic control for use by vulnerable clients. The sealant was clumsily applied and would appear unnecessary so can be removed if Mr X wished.

c) The fitting of the WC cistern was unacceptable and should have been dealt with prior to payment of the contractor.

d) Water easily escaped from the shower area. The location of the shower immediately adjacent to the door was not ideal but was the result of the constraints of the existing room and drainage system.

e) It was not realistic to expect water throughout a 7m² room to drain into the shower area and it is recommended by Community Occupational Therapy that disabled users should have a safe, level nonslip surface to walk on outside the shower area.

f) The standard of finish to the walls in the shower room was satisfactory.

  1. The Council said it would address the issues identified in c) and d) above, although it could not guarantee its proposals would meet Mr Y’s aspirations. The Council said if Mr Y agreed, it would tell Contractor A to refit the cistern on a properly finished wooden batten and secure the shower curtain to the wall next to the door.
  2. Mr Y responded the Council’s letter in July 2018. He said the Council’s offer was unacceptable and the shower continued to be a problem. A senior adaptions officer spoke to Mr Y on the telephone and then sent him an email. The officer said the Council was willing to address the issue of the mounting of the cisterns and water escaping from the shower area. The officer said if the shower curtain did not solve the problem the Council would consider further remedial work.
  3. On 5 September 2018 the Council received an email enquiry from an MP about Mr Y’s complaint .The Council responded to the MP and explained it had offered to carry out the repair work as outlined in the letter sent to Mr Y on the 7 March 2018.
  4. There is no evidence of communication from September 2018 to April 2019. The evidence available shows Mr Y spoke with to the adaptations team on 17 April and reported water leaking from the shower. Mr Y said he would install a new level access shower with flooring, WC and hand basin and charge the Council for the work.
  5. The Council sent Mr Y a “without prejudice” letter the same day. It confirmed it had provided a DFG for the adaptations at a cost of £6,497.50. The Council said Mr Y had agreed the facility would continue to be available for Mr X’s use for five years following completion of the work. The letter stated “the Council totally refutes the need to carry out this work and will by no means make any payments towards the destruction of grant works carried out at public expense or pay for the wasteful re-instalment of the works”
  6. Mr Y responded to the letter on 23 April 2019. He said nobody could use the shower because water was leaking from the bathroom onto the electrics in the hallway. Mr Y said the shower had been disconnected for safety. Mr Y agreed to the repairs previously offered by the Council and allowed access to the property.
  7. The Council cannot locate any further correspondence until 11 June when Mr Y contacted the Council and raised a further complaint. Mr Y said an extra shower screen had been installed but this had not resolved the issue of water escaping from the shower area into the hallway. He said Mr X had suffered an injury due to this. Mr Y said he had complained several times about the poor workmanship, but the issues remained unresolved.
  8. The Council’s records show it took no further action until 2 October when Mr Y contacted the Council again. On 7 October a Council officer from the Governance and Risk Team met with Mr Y to discuss his complaint. It was agreed an independent surveyor would visit Mr Y’s property to evaluate the work carried out against the original work specification.
  9. Mr X complained to the Ombudsman. He said the Council had ignored his complaints and left the work in a dangerous condition. In response to the Ombudsman’s enquiries the Council said an independent survey had been completed. The Council said a senior officer from the private sector housing team would arrange to meet with Mr Y to seek a mutually agreeable remedy for his complaint. This meeting took place on 20 December.
  10. The Council wrote to Mr Y on 14 January 2020 and accepted the work did not meet the Council’s expectations and therefore further remedial works were required. The Council made several recommendations and invited Mr Y’s comments on the following proposals:
      1. To rake out sealant where the incoming water main joins the shower unit and at the wall junction. Ensure water-tightness of the connections in the absence of excessive amounts of sealant.
      2. To take up the vinyl flooring, establish reasons for the back fall adjacent to the door and bathroom areas. Make necessary alterations to substructure and GRP shower pro former as necessary to ensure back falls from the shower area to the waste outlet. Work to be inspected at each stage of process including strip out and refit.
      3. To refit vinyl flooring ensuring it formed covered skirting to the whole of the floor perimeter in line with manufacturers approved detail. Work to be inspected at each stage of process including strip out and refit. Ensure the WC and wash hand basin are removed prior to fitting to eliminate detrimental cutting.
      4. Review fixing arrangements for the WC and cistern, either move back to the tilled wall surface or provide suitable boxing to provide more appropriate and better finished spacer block.
      5. Remove existing drop down handle adjacent to WC. Provide two suitable drop-down rails with support legs either side of the WC, fitted to a height approximately 200mm above the toilet seat, final height to be agreed on site. Ensure suitability of new fixing provision.
  11. The Council met with Mr Y again on 7 February 2020 to discuss the proposals and his expectations. Following the visit the Council should have sent a letter to Mr Y. On 11 March the Council told the Ombudsman it had not sent a letter to Mr Y.

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  1. The Council commissioned a Contractor to complete the work on Mr Y’s bathroom for his tenant Mr X. The Council was responsible for overseeing the work and ensuring it was of a good standard. The work started in November and the Council carried out two inspections and signed off the work as satisfactory. There is no evidence the Council asked Mr X or Mr Y if they were satisfied with the work. The Council’s process says on completion of the work a ‘completion agreement’ form is completed with the client and/or owner of the property. The Council did not do this and is at fault. Further, the Council paid the Contractor when the work had not been carried out according to the specifications. That is also fault.
  2. The Council should also have issued Mr Y with a technical completion certificate. The Council says it has no information about this and cannot comment any further. I therefore conclude the Council did not issue a final certificate. This is further fault.
  3. There are gaps in the Council’s records and therefore it is not clear what action, if any, the Council took to address Mr Y’s complaint including the needs of Mr X. The lack of consistent record keeping is fault. I have not seen any evidence the Council communicated with Mr X nor Mr Y between September 2018 and April 2019. Also the Council failed to log Mr X’s complaint as a formal complaint and failed to provide him with a response at stage one and two of its process. Mr Y has had to chase the Council for a response to his concerns. These faults have caused Mr X and Mr Y avoidable uncertainty and frustration.
  4. Mr X required adaptations to make the bathroom more accessible however Mr X has not been able to use the shower room since April 2019 without help from his sister. The delay completing the remedial work has had a significant impact on his life. Mr X had fallen, and the Council was aware of this, but the Council failed to take any follow up action. This caused Mr X avoidable distress and inconvenience.
  5. The Council’s records are clearly limited on this case. The Council accepts the work has not met it expectations and remedial work is required but it has now not contacted Mr Y since February 2020, despite telling the Ombudsman it would send him a letter. There has been notable delay in this case as Mr Y first raised his concerns about the quality of the workmanship and standard of the facilities in February 2018.

Agreed action

  1. Within four weeks of my final decision the Council should write to Mr X and Mr Y with proposals of the remedial work required. The proposals should include timescales for completion of the work.
  2. Within one month the Council should:
      1. Provide an apology to Mr X and Mr Y.
      2. Pay Mr Y £500 to recognise his distress and time and trouble taken to pursue the complaint; and
      3. Pay Mr X £950 to reflect his distress and inconvenience.
  3. Within two months of my final decision on this complaint the Council should draw up an action plan to learn lessons from this complaint. I will not be prescriptive about what those lessons are, but they must include:
      1. Improving record keeping including reasons for delay in taking action and agreeing remedial work.
      2. Consideration of how the Council can ensure it meets the requirements of the DFG process including inspections, signing off work and providing completion certificates.
      3. Reviewing its complaint handling procedures with regards to DFG applications and process.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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