Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 05 Jan 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: the Council’s communication with Ms B about changes to the plans for a door between a bathroom and bedroom agreed under a Disabled Facilities Grant was inadequate. The Council also unacceptably delayed carrying out other remedial works from August 2020. These faults have caused injustice in the form of avoidable frustration and the Council will apologise and make a payment to recognise this. It will also complete the outstanding and remedial works now.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to Ms B, says that the Council failed to properly manage the construction of a ground floor bathroom in an existing extension and a ramped access to the property for which she received a grant in the form of a Disabled Facilities Grant. The Grant was provided to assist Ms B's disabled adult daughter, Ms C. Specifically she complains it:
- fitted a Saniflow system having originally agreed to connect the bathroom waste to the existing drainage system without properly considering and consulting her about alternative ways to resolve this;
- made another change to the agreed works by replacing a sliding door with a door that opens into her daughter's bedroom and which now inhibits her daughter's wheelchair access;
- delayed in completing the work until February 2020 when it should have been completed before Christmas 2019; and
- has not yet taken action to resolve difficulties with the extractor fan, electricity supply to her shed and refitting of a window which it has agreed to.
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, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I discussed the complaint with Ms B and considered the written evidence she provided with her complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and considered all the information before reaching a draft decision on the complaint.
- Ms B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
What should have happened
- 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. DFGs are paid to help towards the cost of adaptations to the home of a disabled person. Examples of the work a DFG can fund include installing ramps and adapting the kitchen or bathroom for example.
- The maximum amount of a grant is £30,000. Grants are only approved if the council accepts the work is necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person. The assessment of need is usually completed by an occupational therapist.
- Salford City Council says it has a number of contractors that it has approved and uses to carry out approved DFG building works. It says the contractor used for Ms B’s building work is very experienced.
- In 2016 the Council integrated health and social care provision for adults with Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. This joint service is responsible for managing and delivering adaptations for disabled adults including Disabled Facilities Grants. The agreement on Ms B’s DFG works was therefore made between her and the Trust.
- Saniflow is a pump system that may be used in bathrooms to remove waste instead of connecting into the main drainage system. It is often used where the main drainage system cannot be accessed.
- Ms B cares for Ms C who is her adult daughter. Ms C has a number of physical disabilities and uses a wheelchair.
- Ms B applied for a DFG to carry out adaptations to her home so that Ms C could access the property and have use of a suitably adapted bathroom. An Occupational Therapist (OT) from the Council’s Learning Disabilities Team completed an assessment in March 2019. She recommended a range of adaptations including ramped access to the property and the conversion of an existing room behind Ms C’s bedroom into a bathroom. She stated that the door to this new bathroom would require repositioning and “ideally a sliding door of appropriate width to allow for wheelchair access”. She also said “Drainage for toilet/bath may require a Saniflow system, or access to a joint drain which is in neighbouring garden”. She noted that the feasibility of these adaptations had been completed with a surveyor from the Council’s Accessible Accommodation team.
- The DFG was agreed and in March 2019 Ms B signed an agreement with Salford Royal Foundation Trust to provide a ramped access and bathroom with height adjustable bath and wheelchair access for Ms C at Ms B’s home address. This confirmed that the Foundation Trust would undertake a number of tasks connected to the DFG process including g completion of the grant application, surveys, drawing up plans, commissioning the work, obtaining any planning and building control approval, managing and paying the contractor and ensuring the work was completed to an acceptable standard and quality, in a timely way and meeting cost requirements.
- The proposed drawings dated June 2019 show a hinged door from Ms C’s bedroom opening into the bathroom. These plans were approved in early July 2019.
- The agreed schedule of works for the DFG was broadly to convert a storeroom into a bathroom that had a suitably adapted bath for Ms C. It included a floor drain to connect to the main drainage system and specified that this drain would not be connected to other waste pipes (specified to be the hand basin). In relation to the fitting of a toilet the schedule of works stated “Allow for excavating externally to pick up an assumed drain within the garden”. It also states that it will include “Supply and fit new flush ply full height door with casings”.
The Saniflow system
- The Council says that during the early stages of the process the feasibility visit revealed that there was no evidence of drainage at the rear of the property which meant that bathroom waste could not be connected into the main drainage system and that a Saniflow system may therefore be required to remove waste from the new bathroom. The Council says that when it sought to price the cost of the adaptations it further investigated the possibility of connecting into the existing main drainage system but then definitely found that the main drainage system only extended as far as an already existing extension and so a further extension could not be attached to this.
- Ms C says the final decision to use the Saniflow was not made properly clear to her. The Council’s view on this was that it had made clear to Ms B that a Saniflow may need to be used before the works were undertaken so she was fully aware of this possibility. The Council has not suggested however that any conversations took place with Ms B to confirm that a Saniflow system would be needed when it became clear this was the case. Ms B also denies that she was told initially that a Saniflow may be needed if a connection to the main drainage system could not be made.
- Ms B says the Saniflow system does not work and that the reason for this is that it is not adequate for her daughter’s needs. In response to this the Council says that it routinely uses this system in adaptations of the type used in Ms B’s properly for Ms C. It also says that it contacted the bath manufacturer who confirmed that Saniflow was a suitable system to drain the bath used in Ms B’s adaptation.
- The Council says that Ms B contacted the Trust in February to report a problem with the Saniflow system but after arranging for the contractor to visit to look at this, she said the problem had resolved itself. It also says that in September, Ms B told the Council that the problem with the Saniflow system becoming blocked was due to her daughter losing hair as a result of medication she takes. To resolve this the Council suggested a hair filter could be used to stop the hair draining into the bath and potentially causing a blockage.
- An OT visit in March 2020 noted that Ms B reported she was unhappy with the Saniflow system and other matters including “the layout of the adaptation”. The OT noted that further assessments of the adaptations at the property did not go ahead at that point due to vulnerability of both Ms B and Ms C in relation to Covid 19.
- Ms B says that had she been properly consulted about the final decision that a Saniflow was the only way to deal with bathroom waste she would have asked for the bathroom to be relocated to the front of the house instead in order to use the main drainage system. In its response to Ms B’s complaint in February the Council addressed the feasibility of this. It said that locating a bathroom at the front of the property would have meant that the level access would need to have been relocated from the rear to the front of the property and that this in turn would have meant that a mechanical lift would have to be installed as there would not be enough space to accommodate the external ramp. The Council also said that there was a significant difference in floor levels between the main property and the pre-existing extension which would have required the whole ground floor being raised to give suitable access to the extension. It argued that the work completed met the original recommendation by the OT and the relevant legislation which requires councils to consider practicalities and cost effectiveness.
The door to Ms C’s bedroom
- The Council confirms that the OT’s original recommendation was for a sliding door to be fitted. However, the Council says it prefers to not use sliding doors as they tend to come off their rails and this would present a risk of injury to Ms C. For this reason, it says it changed the specification on this and says that a sliding door was never included in the agreed schedule of works. The Council says its records show that a copy of the is schedule of works and of the drawings were sent to Ms B on 2 July 2019 and that it was clear on this that a sliding door was not part of the agreed works. Ms B says she did not receive this and the Council says it apologises if Ms B did not receive this but this was not due to it not being sent.
- The Council says it then put forward use of a hinged door opening in to the bathroom but this was later changed as a result of an agreement between Ms B and the contractor to a hinged door opening into Ms C’s bedroom. Ms B denies she agreed to this. The Council says that a later visit by an OT who was in fact looking at a different adaptation in the bathroom noted that there were no concerns about Ms C’s wheelchair access to the bathroom as a result of the hinged door opening into the bedroom. Ms B says it resulted in changes having to be made to the layout of Ms C’s bedroom in order to accommodate the two carers that provide daily care to Ms C.
- The Council says that it discussed the door with Ms B in December 2019. It has provided a copy of a statement provided by the surveyor in September 2020 who confirms that he inspected the door in early December 2019 which had to open outwards into the bedroom because of pipework boxing for the handbasin. The surveyor says that Ms B was present during his conversation with the builder about this and that his recollection was that she made no comment about it at the time. He states that he believes that furniture in the bedroom may be preventing the door from fully opening. The Council says it recognises that Ms B felt she was not given an option about the door so did not feel consulted about it. The Council has apologised for this.
- In its comments to me the Council says the reason for altering the door from a sliding to a hinged door was not related to cost as Ms B considers likely,but was due to safety.
Delay between December 2019 and February 2020
- The Council says the date for commencement of building work is agreed between the occupier and the contractor and that the work to Ms B’s properly was scheduled to take six to seven weeks and commenced in mid-November. The Council says the bath was fitted in mid-January and the window very shortly after and seems to imply this was the final part of the adaptation work and this meant the work was completed in around nine weeks. It also says that the builders stopped work for a two week period of Christmas.
- Ms B understood that the entire works would be completed in three weeks and this would have meant that they would have been completed before Christmas 2019 as she wanted. I note from the Council’s records that it was only the external works that would be completed in three works and that in addition to this the internal works would then take a further four weeks or so.
Resolution of issues with extractor fan, electricity to shed and window
- The Council agreed to complete these works in August 2020 as a result of Ms B’s complaint to the Council.
- The Council says it originally intended that this would be completed in early September but a delay in the contractor obtaining the window pushed back the date to fit this until late October after the window was due to be delivered to the contractor in mid-October. The work to the electricity and the extractor fan were also due to be completed in late October together with the window replacement.
- The Council says that the final inspection of the work to the bathroom has not been completed as a query was raised around the time the works were completed about the functioning of a pump which was part of the works. The Council says a visual check was completed in February and nothing obvious was seen as requiring action. It says a further visit will be arranged when the fan, window and electrical works are completed.
- The Council says that an OT inspection is not routinely carried out following works but says that an OT did visit Mr B about another matter in February and that s/he noted the works completed “looked spacious and she did not flag any concerns in relation to space or wheelchair access”.
Ms B’s complaints to the Council
- Ms B complained to the council in February 2020 about differences between the agreed works under the DFG and those that had actually been completed. These were included the use of the Saniflow system and the replacement of the sliding door with a hinged door. The Council provided a response to this complaint in February.
- Ms B was dissatisfied with the Council’s response and complained to this office and submitted a further complaint to the Council in July 2020.
- The council provided its response to Ms B’s July complaint in August 2020. In its reply it:
- said a contractor had visited the property in July to inspect a leak in the Saniflow system that Ms B had reported in April but which was not followed up at that time due to Covid 19 restrictions. However, the Council said that no leak was detectable at that inspection. A further visit by the contractor in July identified a blockage in the Saniflow system that he said was attributable to wipes in the system and these were removed and clarification that these should not be disposed of in the toilet were repeated. Ms B denies that it was wipes that caused this blockage. No leaks in the bath were identified;
- confirmed that the bath fitted in the bathroom was compatible with the Saniflow system;
- agreed to make alterations to the ducting for the extractor fan which had been relocated during the building process out of necessity in recognition that the relocated position meant the extractor fan was by then extracting into a room where Ms B was storing items;
- agreed to investigate and resolve any issues about Ms B’s reporting that the contractor had cut mistakenly cut off the electricity supply to her outbuilding; and
- it would replace a window that had been fitted because it was of the wrong colour. It apologised for this error.
Was the Council at fault and did this cause injustice
- In relation to the Saniflow system, it seems clear from the documents that this was identified as a possibility from March 2019 as there was a lack of clarity at that stage as to whether the main drainage system would be accessible. There are no grounds for me to conclude therefore that the Saniflow system was introduced late in the process without there having been any earlier consideration or reference to this. Ms B says this was not discussed with her at that time though the Council says it was. However, the Council does not claim that it spoke to Ms B or confirmed to her that it would have to use the Saniflow system when it became clear about this. I consider that it would have been better had the Council properly told her about this final decision when it reached it. However, I do not consider that any fault in this respect caused injustice as the Council has disputed Ms B’s assertion that she would have successfully pursued an alternative extension to the front of the property as it has made a convincing argument as to why it would not have agreed this: essentially that the scale of such a piece of work would have been considerably greater and so not justifiable under a DFG.
- The account of the decision to replace the sliding door with a hinged door that opened outwards seems to confirm that Ms B was not actually consulted about this but was simply told it would have to be changed. The Council has already apologised to Ms B about this poor communication. The Council says its records show that a copy of the schedule of works and of the drawings were sent to Ms B on 2 July 2019 and that it was clear on this that a sliding door was not part of the agreed works. Ms B says she did not receive this. There seems to be no evidence that there was discussion about the need for the hinged door to also be changed from one opening into the bathroom to one opening out and I consider this was something that should have been discussed with Ms B. I consider Ms B was not properly informed about this during the building works and this resulted in avoidable frustration for her and some degree of disruption by having to rearrange her daughter’s room to accommodate furniture, carers needs etc.
- There are no grounds for me to conclude that the works were unduly delayed as they were completed in around nine weeks which included a two week Christmas break and the works were always estimated to take six to seven weeks. I recognise that this covered the Christmas period and this caused Ms B and Ms C additional disruption over this period but when the works started in mid-November it seems this was always likely to be the case.
- The Council agreed to rectify the window, the fan and the electricity supply in August. As far as I am aware, the Council did not know of these issues until July. It agreed to complete this work but did not specify when it would do so part from stating that it would ensure resolving the issues with the power connection to the shed would be completed in a timely manner. It has apologised for the delay in replacing the window and completed this work in late October 2020. The fan was remedied in mid-November and the electricity supply to the shed has not yet been resolved. I consider the delay in completing these works from the agreement in August is sufficient to amount to fault that has caused Ms B injustice in the form of avoidable frustration.
- To recognise the injustice in the form of avoidable frustration caused by the poor communication about the changes to the door and the delay in completing the remedial works to the window, fan and electricity supply, the Council will make a payment of £250 to Ms B. The Council will also formally apologise to Ms B. The Council will complete this within one month of the final decision on the complaint.
- In addition the Council will complete the outstanding and remedial works to an agreed timetable and in not more than three months of the date of the final decision on this complaint.
- The Council’s communication with Ms B about changes to the door between the bedroom and the bathroom were inadequate and it unacceptably delayed carrying our remedial works from August. These caused injustice in the form of avoidable frustration. The Council will now take action to remedy this including making an apology, payment and completing the outstanding works.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman