Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 07 Apr 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss X complained about the way the Council assessed her sister, Miss F, for a disabled facilities grant. The Council was not at fault.
- Miss X complains the Council:
- failed to consider her sister, Miss F’s, medical history and other relevant information when assessing her needs;
- recommended the installation of a stairlift:
- despite this being inappropriate on the grounds of safety and noise;
- without taking the needs of them both into account, particularly in relation to the reduced space on the stairs and the protruding rail at the top and bottom of the lift;
- wrongly advised her she could use the stairlift, despite this being unsafe;
- ignored other issues identified by the Occupational Therapist (OT), such as access to the property which also needed adaptations; and
- made a Disability Facilities Grant (DFG) decision which was discriminatory to Miss X and Miss F.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 spoke to Miss X and considered her view of the complaint.
- I made enquiries to the Council and considered the information it provided. This included a copy of its disabled facilities grant policy, the specialist stairlift company’s assessment, the assessment of Miss F by the Occupational Therapist (OT) and the complaints correspondence.
- I considered the relevant legislation. This included the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996.
- Miss X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before I made a final decision.
What I found
- Local housing authorities have a duty under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 to award a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to help meet the cost of adapting a property to meet the specific needs of a disabled person.
- Owner-occupiers, council tenants and private tenants, among others, can apply to the council for a DFG to make their home more accessible.
- DFGs must be used to meet the cost of adapting a property to meet specific needs, for example providing ramps, installing a stairlift, or adapting/providing accessible washing facilities.
Section 24(3) of the Act says a council must be satisfied the relevant works are “necessary and appropriate” to meet the needs of the disabled occupant, and it is “reasonable and practicable to carry them out having regard to the age and condition of the dwelling”.
- Local housing authorities should seek agreement from the person for an adaptation, and properly consider the needs of the person, their carer(s), and their family to avoid difficulties and disruption to their support networks.
- Miss X and Miss F are sisters. They live with their mother, Mrs R, in a two storey privately owned property.
- Miss X, Miss F and Mrs R all have mobility issues. In the 1990s, the Council awarded a DFG to Mrs R and carried out work to the property to provide her with a ground floor bedroom. It also put in a ground floor bathroom with a level access shower.
- Miss X and Miss F have bedrooms on the first floor. There is also a family bathroom on the first floor with a bath which has an overhead shower and a toilet and basin.
- In summer 2020, Miss X contacted the Council to state Miss F wanted to apply under the DFG scheme to have the first floor bath removed and to install a walk in shower instead.
- A Council OT requested medical information from Miss F’s GP. The GP responded but provided minimal information.
- Because of the situation with the Covid19 pandemic, the OT carried out a virtual assessment with Miss F. This recorded Miss F said she could not use the ground floor shower as she was physically unfit to lift and carry clothing and items like hairdryers up and down the stairs. She could only manage the stairs once a day. She was also concerned about using the shower and disturbing her mother when she was sleeping. Miss F also said she struggled at times to access the house because it had a number of steps to the front door.
- Following the assessment, the OT requested a stairlift feasibility assessment with a national stairlift company (Company C). Company C carried out a visit and emailed the Council with its advice. It said "I have visited the site and found it is possible to fit a stairlift on this staircase. However concerns were raised regarding the reduced width on the stairs where the stairlift is parked, the retractable rail protruding past the wall at the bottom possibly causing a tripping hazard though it was explained a warning sounder would be audible until the rail has been retracted, and the guard rail at the top of the stair reducing the width on the landing. Concerns were also raised about getting furniture past the stairlift once it has been installed".
- After discussing the matter with a senior OT and the Council DFG department, the OT recommended a stairlift was installed.
- Miss F declined this recommendation and Miss X complained to the Council on her behalf. She said:
- the GP request for information was not completed by Miss F’s GP but a different doctor who did not know Miss F;
- the OT had focused on a stairlift even though Miss F did not want one;
- they had been told in 1994 that the stairs were too narrow for a stairlift;
- the Council had failed to take safety considerations and Miss X’s disabilities into account because if a stairlift was installed, Miss X’s conditions would prevent her from using the stairs because they would be too narrow;
- the stairlift would be fitted onto a party wall which would cause their neighbour a noise nuisance; and
- the Council did not have the legal right to insist others in the house used the ground floor shower because it had been installed under the DFG scheme for another person.
- In response to my enquiries the Council stated it considered a stair lift was a feasible option for the following reasons:
- both Miss X and Miss F had expressed a wish to remain in their current property. If they were to become unable to access their upstairs bedrooms, this would potentially mean they could not continue to live in the property because there was insufficient space downstairs to provide sleeping facilities;
- the operating noise for the stairlift was around 70dB and it would not be located on a partition wall. Therefore, this and the fact it would only be used for short periods of time meant it was unlikely to cause a noise nuisance for anyone in the household or neighbours;
- although the stairlift would result in a narrowing of the stair space, this would not be an issue for Miss X because she could use the stairlift;
- the rail at the bottom of the stairs would fold back on itself when not in use and so would not protrude. The rail at the top of the stairs would have a guard rail to reduce the risk of someone knocking into it; and
- the stairlift could be used safely by both sisters as the seat could be set to a height level which could accommodate both of them.
- It is not for the Ombudsman to say what adaptations are required to a property. Our role is to determine whether the Council followed the correct procedures during the DFG process.
- When the Council received Miss F’s referral for a DFG, the OT assessed Miss F and the property. They considered the current situation as well as potential future requirements. After receiving information from Miss F’s GP and a specialist stairlift company, the Council considered it had sufficient information to make a decision and recommended a stairlift. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.
- Miss X made the Council aware of her concerns with the stairlift. The Council responded to each of the points she raised and explained why the installation of a stairlift would meet the sisters’ current and future needs. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.
- Miss X is unhappy about the amount of medical evidence provided by the GP; however, the Council was satisfied it was sufficient when taken with the other evidence. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.
- The Council has said it will consider any requests for help in relation to access to the property. It is open to Miss X to take the Council up on this offer if she wishes.
- There was no fault in the Council’s actions. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman