Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 02 Feb 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains about the Council’s handling of a disabled facilities grant for adaptations to their home to meet the needs of her son. Mrs X was given no choice but to use a Home Improvement Agency which cost over £3,000, despite Mrs X having to manage the work. The Council needs to pay Mrs X half the money paid to the Home Improvement Agency to remedy the injustice caused to her.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complains about the Council’s handling of a disabled facilities grant (DFG) for adaptations to their home to meet the needs of her son. She says the Council gave them no choice over the use of a Home Improvement Agency (HIA) to manage her son’s DFG. She also says the HIA:
- failed to deliver all the services they had expected, leaving them to manage the work themselves but still charging them 10% of the DFG plus VAT
- commissioned plans/specifications which were unnecessary, resulting in extra costs
- caused problems which significantly delayed completing the works, making her back problems much worse
What I have investigated
- I have investigated events since we closed Mrs X’s previous complaint about the handling of the DFG in June 2018.
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)
- 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, sections 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
- We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mrs X;
- discussed the complaint with Mrs X;
- considered the comments and documents the Council has provided in response to my enquiries; and
- shared a draft of this statement with Mrs X and the Council, and invited comments for me to consider before making my final decision.
What I found
- The events covered by this complaint happened before and after the reorganisation of local government in Dorset. I only refer to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (the Council), although other councils were involved before April 2019, as it has inherited responsibility for the earlier actions of the other councils. It is also accountable for the actions of the HIA which was commissioned by another council to process the application for a DFG.
- Mrs X has two adult sons with autism, Mr Y who has a learning disability, and Mr Z. Both sons live in the family home. Mr Y used to live in supported living accommodation but returned to the family home in May 2017.
- In June 2018, as a result of Mrs X’s previous complaint (17 011 449), the Council agreed to apologise for delays in dealing with the need for adaptations to the family home to meet Mr Y’s needs. It also agreed to reconsider the case, also taking account of Mr Z’s needs.
- In July an Occupational Therapist identified the need for an additional toilet in the home to better manage Mr Z’s anxieties around toileting. The Occupational Therapist provided advice “regarding outcomes from this assessment and care plan being factored in to existing DFG in respect of [Mr Z’s] brother at the same property”.
- In August the HIA produced plans which provided for:
- extending the bathroom to provide space for an extra toilet and for Mrs X to help Mr Y when using the bath and toilet
- moving the hot water cylinder into the loft
- extending Mr Y’s bedroom over the driveway
- an estimated cost of £25,939
- extending the current bathroom to allow for the addition of an extra toilet and the space needed for care
- moving the hot water cylinder to the loft space
- extending Mr Y’s bedroom to provide space for helping with care and activities of daily living
- get plans drawn up for the loft conversion and get planning permission and building regulation approval
- submit copies of the plans for approval by the Occupational Therapist and the Public Health Officer
- get at least two quotes for the works, some of which may be eligible for VAT exemption
- give the quotes, agreed plans and planning/building regulation approvals to the HIA, which would process the grant application
- get two quotes from contractors for works to the existing bathroom/bedroom to get best value from the grant amount
- complete the grant application form with Mrs X and submit it to the Council for approval
- an extension to the living space described as a “day room”
- reconfiguring two of the bedrooms to provide a second bathroom and a larger bedroom for Mr Y
- scheme 1 eligible for grant funding – alterations to bedroom 2, provision of accessible bathroom and construction of replacement lounge of the same size as the existing lounge
- scheme 2 partially eligible for grant funding - alterations to bedroom 2, provision of accessible bathroom and construction of a day room as shown on Mrs X’s plans
- the HIA to fully administer the works and get costs for all elements;
- Mrs X to fully administer the works and get costs for all elements; or
- a hybrid of the above.
- provide comparative costs for the bathroom and bedroom adaptation and the recognised cost per square metre for general building costs for the replacement of the loss of a living room which would be used as a bedroom;
- complete the application form for the DFG, obtain grant approval and provide this notice to Mrs X; and
- let the work to Mrs Y’s Builder under a Joint Contracts Tribunal minor works contract with an agreed stage payment mechanism, signing off each section of the works before releasing payment to the contractor as below:
- extension at damp proof course level and oversite and drainage completed;
- on completion of external walls and roof;
- on completion of extension internal works, plastering, flooring screed, wiring and plumbing fit for habitation pre-decoration;
- completion of the bathroom adaptation and bedroom alterations;
- on receipt of building control certificate of completion, and final electrical compliance certificate, a signed PCC showing the clients are content with the work.
- Mrs X to retain 2.5% of the contract value for 6 months to cover post-completion snagging works.
Mrs X says the HIA never provided the comparative costs [see bullet a) above].
- On 20 May the HIA told the Council it had met Mrs X and “agreed a resolution to the situation”. The document setting out what they had agreed says the £30,000 grant would be used as follows:
- £26,785.72 - building works
- £2,678.57- HIA’s fee
- £535.71 - VAT on the HIA’s fee
- the Builder’s quote of £31,430 plus VAT
- technical fee for the HIA £3,143 plus VAT £628.60
- the original cost of the works was £31,430;
- with a client contribution of £5,201.50 and invoices paid totalling £22,800, this left £3,428.40 to be paid
- the builder had invoiced £3,985.72, which reflected a potential overpayment of £557.32
- the cost of the grant approved works was £26,785.72
- the technical fee was £2,678.57
- VAT on the technical fee was £535.71
- they had not been able to reach an agreement on how to adapt the property to provide for a bathroom next to Mr Y’s bedroom, so closed the case in August 2017;
- the case was reopened in April 2018 when an Occupational Therapist reassessed Mr Y;
- Mrs X had to pay for her own plans because she wanted a scheme which went beyond the scope of grant funding;
- this also meant Mrs X had to manage the works herself;
- at a meeting on 17 May 2019 it had explained how the application would work, what it would do during the construction phase and how the payment process would work and the charge for these services.
Is there evidence of fault by the Council which caused injustice?
- It took several months to agree proposals for adapting the family home to meet both sons’ needs. The records are incomplete and almost all of those the Council has sent to me come from the HIA. Consequently, the sequence of events is not entirely clear. However, it is clear that the HIA proposed a scheme in August 2018, which Mrs X did not accept. She then made her own proposals, but they proved unworkable. So, she came up with further proposals, to which the Council agreed. I cannot put the time this took down to fault by the Council/HIA.
- On 2 November 2018, the Council clearly set out what Mrs X would need to do, what she would have to pay for and what the HIA would do. In April 2019 it told Mrs X the HIA would do more than that. However, in May Mrs X agreed “to fully administer the works and get costs for all elements”.
- The Council gave Mrs X no choice over using the HIA. That was fault. Everyone should have choice over whether to use an HIA or not. Being denied that choice caused injustice, as it resulted in £3,214.28 being paid to the HIA despite Mrs X agreeing to administer most of the work. This reduced the amount available to pay for the grant funded works. To remedy that injustice the Council needs to pay Mrs X £1,607.14 (half the cost of using the HIA).
- The HIA caused some unnecessary confusion by falsely claiming the Builder’s final invoice for grant funding was too high. This resulted in some avoidable distress to Mrs X. However, the Builder submitted his invoice before completing the work. The final invoice could not be paid until the work had been completed and signed off.
- When a council commissions another organisation to provide services on its behalf it remains responsible for those services and for the actions of the organisation providing them. So, although I found fault with the actions of the HIA, I have made recommendations to the Council.
- The Council has agreed to take these actions within four weeks:
- write to Mrs X apologising for the problems she has experienced; and
- refund half the cost of using the HIA, £1,607.14.
- I have completed my investigation, as the Council has agreed to take action to remedy the injustice caused to Mrs X.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman