Stoke-on-Trent City Council (19 007 876)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 10 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the complainant says the Council failed to properly manage work covered by a disabled facilities grant, ensure the contractors completed the work in good time and to an acceptable standard. The Council says it inspected the works, issued instructions to complete snagging but delays resulted from the complainant’s illness preventing access to inspect and carry out remedial works. The Ombudsman finds the Council acted without fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant whom I shall refer to as Mrs X complains the Council failed to:
    • Properly manage adaptations for which the Council granted a disabled facilities grant;
    • Ensure the contractor resolved snagging or faults in the works in a timely manner.
  2. Mrs X says this has led to inconvenience, distress and discomfort. Mrs X wants the Council to bring the bathroom to the right standard so she can use her bathroom safely and in comfort.

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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 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. In considering this complaint I have:
    • Spoken with Mrs X and read the information presented with her complaint;
    • Put enquiries to the Council and reviewed its response and information presented in support of that response including case notes and photographs;
    • Researched the relevant law, guidance and policy
    • Shared with Mrs X and the Council my draft decision and reflected on any comments received.

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What I found

  1. The Care Act 2014 sets out councils’ primary duty to meet the assessed eligible needs of a disabled person within their area. This duty is only discharged once any approved disabled adaptations have been completed to the Council’s satisfaction.
  2. Councils provide Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Councils grant DFGs to people with a qualifying disability who need adaptations in their home to help them remain in their home. They are mandatory and councils must award them if the applicant meets the qualifying conditions
  3. Grants depend on the council approving the work as necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person. Occupational therapists usually assess the applicant’s need for the work. The council will also consider the age and condition of the property.
  4. Work funded by a DFG must be complete within twelve months of the Council approving the application. The Council may extend the time limit.

What happened

  1. In May 2017 Mrs X asked the Council for help as she found it difficult to use her bathroom as then configured. On 25 May 2017 Mrs X signed an application to use the Council’s Grant Agency service which supervises works funded by a DFG as Clerk of Works. Mrs X received a form explaining what the Grant Agency service would provide for the fee charged for the service. Included in the list are:
    • Technical surveys where applicable;
    • Preparation of schedules of relevant work;
    • Preparation of plans where applicable;
    • Help in completing forms;
    • Advice on financing works not met by the disabled facilities grant;
    • Help in ordering equipment;
    • Arranging building regulations approval and planning permission where applicable;
    • Obtaining estimates from the contractor the property owner chooses from the Council’s list of home improvement contractors;
    • Advice on contracts;
    • Supervision of the grant-aided works;
    • Payment of the contractors.
  2. The Council arranged a survey and for drawings to be drawn up of the proposed adaptations. On 16 August 2017 Mrs X signed the Proposed Schedule Acceptance forms accepting the drawings and schedule as the design for the adaptations. The schedule includes a commitment to supply and fit two grab rails in a position to suit Mrs X’s needs. The acceptance form contained a box ticked by Mrs X signalling no preference about which of the contractors listed on the form should provide quotations. Therefore, the Council asked the next contractors on its list to provide quotations for the work.
  3. Mrs X put forward suggestions and expressed preferences about the proposed work. The Council explained it must provide a non-slip environment so it could not use floor tiles for the bathroom. It would provide funding for wall tiling but if Mrs X wanted coloured tiles or borders, she must meet the cost herself, the grant would not fund it. The Council also explained it could only provide a pedestal wash basin without vanity unit because Mrs X needed to use it while sat in a chair. Mrs X asked the Council to replace the radiator with a towel radiator, but the Council explained it could only offer funding for the radiator shown in the specification. The contractor could supply a towel radiator at added cost to Mrs X.
  4. On 9 October 2017 the Council received two quotes from the contractors it invited to send in quotations for the works. On 11 October 2017 the Council approved the grant for the works. On 9 November 2017 Mrs X signed the contract with the contractor awarded the work. Under the contract work should start on 14 November 2017 and reach completion by 14 December 2017.
  5. The Council visited on 6 January 2018 to inspect the completed work. The officer identified snagging issues such as the shower did not work properly and passed the snagging list to the contractor. Mrs X raised concerns about several issues including not wishing the extractor fan and light to come on at the same time.
  6. The contractor told the Council Mrs X had asked him not to fit the grab rails and to replace the WC with a model like that on the ground floor.
  7. Following a further inspection, the Council wrote to the contractor in March 2018 outlining further snagging work including correcting the water gathering in corners and behind the WC. The Council sent an email to Mrs X explaining the issues it wanted corrected by the contractor.
  8. The Council says the contractor could not gain access between March and April 2018. Mrs X allowed access on 11 April and the Council says the contractor carried out remedial works. The Council wrote by email on 20 April 2018 asking Mrs X to allow staff access to sign off the works. The Council says Mrs X refused access to inspect and sign off the works until August 2018. Mrs X wrote to the Council in June 2018 in response to its email of 20 April 2018 saying she found the work unsatisfactory and would contact the Council when in better health. The Council responded on 26 June 2018 saying the contractor had completed the major works and so it proposed paying the contractor for the work. The Council said it would keep a small sum to cover any further snagging issues.
  9. Mrs X contacted the Council on 11 August 2018 saying the works did not meet the standard she expected. Mrs X allowed the Council to inspect the works on 30 August 2018.
  10. At the completion inspection the Council noted two items needed attention. Otherwise the Council found the work satisfactory and complete. The Council emailed the contractor that same day asking him to correct the faults but telling him Mrs X did not want the works carried out for two to four weeks.
  11. On 4 September 2018 the Council signed the Grant Final Inspection Certificate and kept a small part of the grant funding to cover the two remaining items.
  12. In October 2018 Mrs X complained to the Council about the failure by the contractor to complete the remedial works. The Council followed this up with the contractor. The contractor said he tried to arrange works but he said Mrs X would not allow access without the surveyor present at the same time. The Council told Mrs X the surveyor had already told the contractor what needed doing and asking the surveyor to be present during the repairs is not a good use of his time. However, Mrs X refused in an email of 23 October 2018 to allow access without the surveyor’s presence.
  13. Mrs X complained about the lack of remedial work through the Council’s complaints procedure on 13 November 2018. The Council arranged for the surveyor and contractor to visit Mrs X’s home on 12 December 2018. On 13 December 2018 the contractor emailed the surveyor a list of remedial works and said one did not need any action.
  14. On 17 December 2018 Mrs X suffered a fall and contacted the Council saying the contractor should complete all works by the end of that week. That day the Council contacted the contractor who contacted Mrs X on 18 December 2018 to gain access. Mrs X said she could not allow access or works at such short notice or without a schedule of the works the contractor intended to carry out.
  15. The Council says it emailed a list of works and photographs to Mrs X on 18 December 2018 and arranged for the contractor to attend at 1.00pm.
  16. The contractor emailed the Council on 19 December 2018 saying Mrs X was happy with the completed works, and he sent in photographs. The contractor reported Mrs X wanted a new shower curtain (because the present one drags in the water). He reported Mrs X wanted the water pressure in the shower adjusted because she found it too low. The contractor said Mrs X also wanted the Council to replace the flooring and gulley. The Council says the shower room did not need new flooring and it considered the request unreasonable.
  17. Mrs X contacted the Council in January 2019 asking it to address the issues and inspect the bathroom. The Council asked the contractor ‘as a gesture of goodwill’ to replace the shower curtain and toilet seat. The Council chased up progress on 5 February 2019 and arranged an appointment for the contractor to complete the work on 6 March 2019.
  18. Before those works took place, the Council arranged for a visit by the Social Care Occupational Therapist team to check the toilet seat. The Occupational Therapist observed Mrs X transferring onto the toilet seat and said Mrs X held on to the seat (there being no grab rails) and this may be the reason it came loose. The Occupational Therapist spoke with Mrs X about installing grab rails to reduce this risk, but Mrs X refused the rails. The original works included grab rails but the contractor says Mrs X refused to have them. The Occupational Therapist observed Mrs X transfer onto the ground floor toilet seat and noted in that room she had grab rails and therefore did not experience the same problem. Mrs X complained the toilet bowl hampered her use, but the Occupational Therapist measured both toilets and found both had similar measurements. The Occupational Therapist did not recommend the toilet be replaced.
  19. At the final visit on 6 March 2019 the contractor repaired the toilet seat and replaced the shower curtain. Mrs X however, felt the contractor should replace the toilet with a higher, wider, longer model.
  20. On 2 May 2019 Mrs X asked the Council to arrange for the contractor to put up a bathroom mirror. The Council refused saying the mirror is not on the schedule of works for the grant aided work and so it could not arrange that work. On 28 May 2019 Mrs X made a public liability claim which the Council’s insurers refused.
  21. Mrs X continues to be dissatisfied with the work undertaken in her home. She contacted the Council in October 2019 asking for repairs, the Council passed these to the contractor on 18 November 2019. The contractor refused to carry out any further repairs because the works are now out of warranty and he says he has not been fully paid for the work undertaken.
  22. The Council says it could not agree to any further repairs or replacements because it had conducted a full inspection with the contractor and Mrs X present and arranged the necessary replacements and repairs. In the Council’s view the work undertaken is satisfactory and meets the objective of the grant. The work and equipment are now out of warranty and so the contactor is not under any duty to replace or repair them.

Analysis – was there fault leading to injustice?

  1. My role is to examine how the Council carried out its duties to manage and inspect the works funded by the Disabled Facilities Grant. Questions of liability for any injury or damage are matters for the court and not part of my investigation. The Council’s insurers have rejected a liability claim and Mrs X may follow that up through a claim in the courts.
  2. Mrs X signed the schedule of works showing she approved of the proposed layout of her bathroom and the equipment the Council and contractor proposed to install. Mrs X entered a contract with the contractor for the completion of the works with the Council acting as Clerk of Works to oversee them. The works proposed installation of standard models of washbasin and toilet. At additional cost Mrs X could ask for a different model of toilet. The grant funded works cover what the Council believes is necessary to provide the basic facility.
  3. The works schedule included grab rails. Mrs X refused them. That is her right. However, in the professional view of the Occupational Therapists who watched Mrs X execute a transfer from the toilet the absence of grab rails meant she placed further pressure on the toilet seat. When Mrs X transfers from the toilet on the ground floor she uses grab rails. The Occupational Therapists decided therefore the toilet seat became loose because of the way Mrs X transfers not because of any inherent fault in the seat or toilet design. To combat this the Occupational Therapists offered installation of grab rails They and the surveyor say the bathroom is big enough for rails. I understand Mrs X prefers not to have grab rails. However, the Council inspected the completed works, arranged for an assessment by Occupational Therapists and decided having considered their professional findings not to replace the equipment. I find the Council acted without fault in gathering all relevant information including Mrs X’s wishes and the views of the Occupational Therapist when deciding whether the works met her needs and not to carry out further work. I cannot take a view on whether the equipment meets Mrs X’s needs that is for the professional officers such as Occupational Therapists to decide.
  4. The Council inspected the grant funded work in January 2018 and says the contractor had substantially completed it but needed to carry out some snagging work. Mrs X complains the Council allowed completing the snagging work to drag on resulting in inconvenience and continued discomfort in using the bathroom. I find the Council ensured substantial completion of the grant aided work within twelve months of the grant.
  5. I note that between March and April, and then again between April (following an inspection) until August 2018 Mrs X did not allow access. Mrs X says she could not allow access due to ill health. Mrs X’s reasons are understandable. The Council accepted her reasoning and did not press the matter. However, I cannot criticise the Council for not ensuring speedy completion of the works when Mrs X refused access to its staff and her contractor. The Council carried out its completion inspection on 30 August 2018 and issued its certificate of completion on 4 September 2018. Given the access issues I find the Council acted without avoidable delay in arranging for inspections of the work.
  6. The Council recognised two snagging items remained and kept money from the grant payment to cover those. The contractor says he could not gain access to complete the work because Mrs X wanted the Council’s surveyor present as well as a schedule of the works needed. The Council explained the surveyor did not need to be present, does not usually undertake such a visit and that resources do not allow the Council to offer that service. Mrs X’s insistence led to some delay in having the snagging list followed up. The contractor completed the final works in December 2018, four months after the final certificate. That is a long time. However, Mrs X asked the contractor not to carry out work for several weeks, and then refused access without the Council’s surveyor. So, I find the time taken did not result from any fault on the Council’s part.
  7. When Mrs X experienced her unfortunate fall in December 2018, she had been using the bathroom for some months. Mrs X found issues with the equipment and flooring having experience of using the bathroom. Whether the flooring needed replacement or met the grant’s objective is a matter of judgement by the professional officers, not the Ombudsman. The standard applied may not be the same as the homeowner or occupier would apply.
  8. The Council arranged for the Occupational Therapists to review the works carried out and to view Mrs X demonstrating how she would use the appliances. I find the Council properly responded to Mrs X’s concerns about the standard of the work and therefore acted without fault.
  9. It has taken time to review the work partly due to Mrs X’s health preventing her from allowing access. I find the Council ensured substantial completion of the grant aided work within the usual twelve-month time limit. I also find the Council ensured the contractor carried out the snagging work as soon as possible.

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Final decision

  1. In completing my investigation, I find the Council acted without fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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