Staffordshire County Council (19 020 535)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Feb 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss W says the Council failed to arrange for an occupational therapist to assess her son, which was necessary before they could ask the Council to provide an adaption to their home with a Disabled Facilities Grant. The Council is not at fault for this although it should have kept the situation under review as it received information from professionals. Miss W did not know what evidence the Council needed, which caused her time, trouble and distress. The Council is also at fault for failing to properly address Miss W’s complaints.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Miss W, says the Council failed to carry out an occupational therapy report on her son, which meant the family was unable to get an adaption to their home that they needed with a Disabled Facilities Grant. This caused the family a great deal of distress and time and trouble.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
  2. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
  3. 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 considered the information supplied by Miss W with her complaint and spoke to her on the telephone. I made enquiries of the Council and assessed its response. I refer to guidance on Disabled Facilities Grants and the Children Act 1989. I sent Miss W and the Council a copy of my draft decision in order to take any comments they made into account before issuing a decision.

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What I found

Disabled Facilities Grants

  1. A Disabled Facilities Grant is awarded by a housing authority to make adaptations to a home which are, in accordance with guidance, ‘necessary and appropriate’ to meet the disabled occupant’s needs, where it is ‘reasonable and practicable’ to carry out such adaptations.
  2. When the household includes a disabled child, the child’s social worker may identify the need for adaptations during an assessment of the child’s needs. But the need for adaptations may be identified by the parents. Usually parents contact their social worker to discuss this, but they may contact their housing officer instead. The local protocol should be clear about what the first point of contact (whether it is social worker or housing officer) does next. At the next stage, an occupational therapist is involved to assess what adaptions need to be made.
  3. Disabled Facilities grants do not just fund adaptations to overcome mobility difficulties. Adaptations may be necessary to prevent a child injuring itself.

Background

  1. Miss W’s son, V, is on the autistic spectrum. He is registered disabled, has a blue badge and is in receipt of disability living allowance. He has no sense of danger. If he is upset or overwhelmed he is likely to either run off or fall to the ground. He has a younger sibling who needs to be taken care of as if V runs away, a parent has to follow him and this could leave his sibling in danger. V is carried to and from the car.
  2. In Miss W’s previous house, there was a driveway. An off-road parking area close to the house meant it was easier for her to carry V for a short distance and minimised the time he was outside.
  3. Miss W then moved house because it had been agreed, by a medical professional, V needed a different bedroom to his sibling.
  4. The house the family moved to did not have a driveway. Miss W contacted the Council to ask for an assessment from an occupational therapist (OT) for a Disabled Facilities Grant so one could be put in.
  5. When Miss W called the Council. The officer asked her questions and put her through to OT to conduct a screening.
  6. Miss W says OT would not assess V. As well as its refusal to assess, she says a councillor told her autism was ‘not a physical disability’ so V would not be assessed.

What happened

Assessment by an OT

  1. The Council’s note of Miss W’s conversation with the OT says; “the family had recently moved to a new property with support from (an Autism Service funded by health) who identified V as needing his own room but did not specify that he required specific adaptations to the front of the property such as a driveway”. Miss W says the family did not have support from an Autism Service at this point.
  2. Miss W says housing had asked for a letter from a medical professional about them needing to have three bedrooms (so they could bid on a property) but had not asked for any other information. Therefore, the letter did not say parking was necessary. Miss W says the house they moved from had parking so it was not picked up.
  3. Nevertheless, they were moving to a new house and if a driveway was necessary the Council would have had a reasonable expectation this would have been written into the letter about the need for an extra bedroom. This may have set up a timescale of work to be completed once the family moved in. This failure is not Council fault. Furthermore, Miss W bid on the house, which did not have a driveway. She says this was because it was in the village where the family already lived and there was a shortage of housing stock. She did not want V to experience too much change as this was very difficult for him.
  4. The Council says it felt that making the adaptation might not be ‘necessary and appropriate’ in the longer term. As the sibling got older, and more mobile, they would not need the supervision that they needed at this point. There is nothing in guidance to suggest adaptions have to be fit for the long term but the Council should have explained its view to Miss W.
  5. To support her claim, Miss W sent the Council a great deal of information about V’s sensory needs. She acknowledged it would have been easier if the letter enabling them to bid on a three bed property had said V had needed a driveway. As it didn’t, though, she felt it was appropriate for OT to assess him. The Council had information from the Autism Team and the National Health Service (NHS) showing they were working with V and the family. This shows the family was engaging with professionals.
  6. Although the Council did not offer an OT assessment, it did offer a social work assessment on 30 January. I do not find the Council at fault for failing to offer V an OT assessment at that point. A social work assessment may have achieved the outcome Miss W wanted as it could have looked at both long and short term needs.
  7. The Council should have kept its position under review. Once it received a copy of a letter from the NHS written on 13 February that V needed a driveway ‘because of his sensory needs’, it would have been appropriate for the Council to reconsider or re-offer the social care assessment and inform Miss W of its view. That it did not do this was fault and it caused Miss W distress. Miss W was put in a position where she did not know whether the Council would only offer a social care assessment or if there was further information she could submit so an OT assessment could be conducted. She says the letter from the councillor suggesting she would not have an OT assessment because V had autism rather than physical needs, might prevent his needs being met. The Council is clear, just as the guidance is clear, that this is not the case.

Complaints handling

  1. When the OT service decided not to be involved with the family it sent Miss W a letter on 5 February to say V’s ‘case is not appropriate to our team at the present time’. Miss W then had to contact the Council to get further information as to why the case was ‘not appropriate’. It wrote to her in more depth (and offered meetings) but Miss W was still dissatisfied with the response. She was pointed towards the Council’s complaints process.
  2. When Miss W made a formal complaint to the Council it said it would not investigate because it could not achieve a new assessment for V. It may, though, have been able to explain to Miss W what had happened and the reasoning for it. It also had an opportunity to re-offer a social care assessment at that point. Miss W should not have felt she had to come to the Ombudsman. I consider this is fault and Miss W has been put to time and trouble trying to get answers to her questions relating to why V was turned down for a service from OT through the Council’s complaints process.

Agreed action

  1. For the Council to apologise to Miss W for the fault identified in this statement. It should also make a payment of £400 to acknowledge her time, trouble, and distress, in obtaining responses from the Council to try to understand its position in not arranging an OT assessment for a DFG for V. It should do this within three months of the date of my decision.

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Final decision

  1. Fault leading to injustice and a remedy to that injustice has been agreed.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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