Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council (20 002 685)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 08 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Fault by a Home Improvement Agency acting on behalf of the Council delayed Mr and Mrs X’s request for a Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt their home for their disabled son by at least 18 months. The Council has agreed to apologise, make a financial payment, and take action to improve its services.

The complaint

  1. Mr and Mrs X complain that the Council took over two years to approve their request for a Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt their home for their disabled son.
  2. As a result, the family has been without the facilities they need to properly care for their son. Mr and Mrs X say this has caused them unnecessary distress and anxiety.

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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. 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)
  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 spoke to Mr and Mrs X about the complaint.
  2. I considered information provided by the Council.
  3. I referred to the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies, a copy of which can be found on our website.
  4. Mr and Mrs X 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

Disabled Facilities Grants

  1. 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.
  2. Disabled Facilities Grants 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 certain adaptations. Before approving a grant a council must be satisfied the work is necessary and suitable to meet the disabled person’s needs and also reasonable and practicable.
  3. The work that is necessary and suitable but also reasonable and practicable will be called the ‘mandatory scheme’. If the applicant wants additional or different works, this will be the ‘preferred scheme’ and the applicant must fund the difference in cost between the schemes.
  4. A council should give the applicant a decision on a grant application as soon as reasonably practicable. This must be within six months of the grant application. If a council refuses a grant it must explain why. Once the work is complete the council must pay the grant in full before 12 months from the date of the grant application.


  1. Mr and Mrs X’s son, whom I shall call Mr Y, is an adult with severe disabilities.
    Mr Y needs 24-hour care. Mr and Mrs X provide this care.
  2. As Mr and Mrs X and Mr Y have grown older, it has become more difficult for them to manage some physical aspects of caring for their son. In particular, they were struggling to manoeuvre Mr Y from his bedroom to the shower in his shower chair.
  3. In August 2018, Mr and Mrs X applied for a Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt their home to better meet Mr Y’s needs.
  4. Millbrook Healthcare (Millbrook) administers DFGs on behalf of the Council through its Home Improvement Agency.
  5. Millbrook visited Mr and Mrs X at home and then drew up plans. The plans involved building a new extension.
  6. In November 2018, Mr and Mrs X approved the plans. Millbrook contacted various contractors for quotes. Millbrook had all the quotes by March 2019. The estimated cost of the works, including a ceiling-track hoist (CTH), were above the £30,000 threshold for DFG works.
  7. The Council suggested the hoist might not be necessary and suggested a manual hoist. Mr and Mrs X said they needed the CTH to safely move their son into the bathroom. Millbrook told Mr and Mrs X they needed a separate referral from the County Council identifying the need for a CTH.
  8. In May 2019, the County Council told Millbrook it wouldn’t make a referral since there was already one open.
  9. Millbrook referred Mr Y for an OT assessment to find out if he needed a CTH in May 2019. In June 2019, an OT confirmed the need for a CTH.
  10. In July 2019, Mr and Mrs X once again approved the plans.
  11. In September 2019, Millbrook contacted the Council to discuss the shortfall in funding. The Council queried the need for an extension and suggested a reconfiguration of the existing layout could meet Mr Y’s needs.
  12. As a result, Millbrook drew up new plans. It said the new plans were the ‘mandatory scheme’. Mr and Mrs X did not approve these plans. Mr and Mrs X said the kitchen in the new plans was even smaller than their current kitchen.
    Mr Y was already unable to access the kitchen.
  13. Mr and Mrs X said the purpose of the extension was to allow Mr Y to access the kitchen. Mr Y helps with meal preparation at his day centre and Mr and Mrs X wanted to continue this at home to improve Mr Y’s skills and independence.
  14. The referral only identified a need for bathroom access. The Council says neither OT assessment identified a need for kitchen access.
  15. Ultimately, the Council agreed to a DFG for the original plans, including the extension. It says this is in recognition of the fact that Mr and Mrs X’s expectations were raised at the start of the process.
  16. The works are now underway.

My findings

  1. Millbrook should have explained to Mr and Mrs X the difference between ‘mandatory’ and ‘preferred’ schemes at the start of the process. There is no evidence it did so. This is fault.
  2. As the Council has recognised, this failure meant Mr and Mrs X spent over a year expecting the scheme they had agreed. Therefore, they were understandably confused and dismayed to then be told this scheme was ‘preferred’ and so they would have to meet the additional costs. These raised expectations are an injustice to Mr and Mrs X.
  3. Millbrook should have considered all possible solutions to meet Mr Y’s needs from the start. Millbrook’s failure to do so is fault. Had it done so, it would have drawn up both sets of plans and sought quotes at the same time. Instead, Millbrook had to draw up new plans and seek updated quotes on both schemes. This caused a significant and avoidable delay.
  4. In April 2019, Millbrook told Mr and Mrs X they needed a new referral from the County Council to determine if Mr Y needed a CTH. Millbrook should have contacted the County Council, or the original referrer, for more information about Mr Y’s needs rather than expecting Mr and Mrs X to do so. This is fault, and added to the delay.
  5. I find that Millbrook’s failure to explore all the options from the start of the process and to explain the difference between mandatory and preferred schemes caused a delay of at least 18 months, from July 2019 until works began in January 2021.
  6. As well as the injustice to Mr and Mrs X from their raised expectations, there is also significant injustice to Mr Y. Mr Y needs the adaptations funded by the DFG to safely access a bathroom. For 18 avoidable months, Mr and Mrs X had to continue to manhandle Mr Y through the house in a shower chair, from which he is at risk of slipping. Mrs X explained to me that she thinks Mr Y is aware of the indignity of this procedure. Particularly after a shower when he is wet and naked or only partially clothed, being dragged through the house back to his bedroom.

Agreed action

  1. Although the fault is with Millbrook, the Council remains responsible and so it is the Council to which we make recommendations.
  2. The Council agreed to provide what it assesses is the preferred scheme as a remedy for the delays and raised expectations. I consider this a suitable remedy for the injustice to Mr and Mrs X. However, the Council has agreed to take the following action to remedy the injustice to Mr Y:
    • Apologise in writing to Mr and Mrs X and to Mr Y; and
    • Pay Mr and Mrs X £3,600 to be spent for the benefit of Mr Y. This is £200 for each month of delay.
  3. The Council should take this action within 4 weeks of my final decision.
  4. When we find fault causing injustice, the Ombudsman can also recommend the Council takes action to improve its services. In this case, the Council says it, along with the other councils which are part of the scheme, has already taken the following action:
    • Introduced a Service Improvement Plan for Millbrook
    • Funded a project manager from April 2020 to oversee the contract, which has resulted in greater oversight
  5. Following an audit Millbrook has made changes to its service including developing a process for mandatory and preferred schemes and increased supervision of staff.
  6. These improvements are welcome. However, the Council has also agreed to:
    • Ensure the Home Improvement Agency liaises with the County Council or referrer as well as the applicant to get a full understanding of the applicant’s needs.
  7. The Council should tell the Ombudsman about the action it has taken within eight weeks of my final decision.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There was fault by the provider acting on behalf of the Council. The action I have recommended is a suitable remedy for the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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