Staffordshire County Council (20 005 443)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the complainant, Mrs X, complained the Council failed to properly consider adaptations for her family when it could not find her a four-bedroom home. The Council says it has offered suitable solutions which the family refused and could do no more when the family withdrew permission to engage with other professionals. We found the Council at fault. It agrees to apologise, pay Mrs X £200 and arrange a meeting to discuss reassessing the family.

The complaint

  1. The complainant whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complained the Council failed to properly consider adaptions to provide a safe space for Mrs X’s disabled child, Y. Mrs X also says the Council failed to follow the correct procedure when it decided not to comply with the recommendations of its own complaints’ panel.
  2. Mrs X says her family moved into their home on the understanding the Council would adapt it using a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). Mrs X says without adaptations the home cannot meet the family’s needs. The delay and refusal of the adaptations Mrs X says caused distress and anxiety. Mrs X wants the Council to review the decision not to adhere to the complaints’ panels’ recommendations.

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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. If 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. In considering this complaint I have:
    • Contacted Mrs X and read the information supplied with her complaint;
    • Put enquiries to the Council and reviewed its response;
    • Researched the relevant law, guidance, and policy.
  2. I shared my draft decision with Mrs X and the Council and reflected on comments received before reaching this my final decision.

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What I found

The law and guidance

  1. Under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, councils can award Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) to people whose disability means their home needs adaptation. If the person applying meets the qualifying criteria the council must award the grant.
  2. Councils only approve grants for work they decide is necessary. An occupational therapist usually assesses need.
  3. A council must decide if the proposed works are necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person. It must also be satisfied it is reasonable and practicable to carry out the works given the condition of the property to be adapted. In cases where major adaptations are required and it is difficult to provide a cost-effective solution, councils may consider the possibility of supporting a person to move to a more suitable home.
  4. In 2002, the government introduced the Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) Order. This provided councils with wide discretionary powers to give assistance for adaptations. Such assistance may be subject to conditions including repayments or contributing towards the cost of the work.
  5. Under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, councils with social services functions have a duty to arrange for adaptations to a person’s home to secure their safety, comfort, or convenience.
  6. Under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, councils with social services functions have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. A child with a disability meets the test for a child in need. Under the Act, councils can provide financial support to a child or family. Such financial support may be unconditional or subject to repayment in full or part. Before providing financial support, councils should consider the child or parents’ financial circumstances. The courts have said the functions of a council under Section 17 of the Act can extend to providing major adaptations to a child’s home.
  7. The Council says the role of its Occupational Therapists (OT) is to assess children with disabilities. They can recommend equipment or minor or major adaptations to meet those needs. The Council usually funds major adaptions through DFGs managed by the borough council. Where the OT recommends adaptations needing funding from a DFG the OT will assess the property. DFGs provide adaptations to help the disabled person access their home.

What happened

  1. Mrs X sought housing that would best meet the needs of her disabled son, Y. Mrs X’s social landlord assessed the family as needing a four-bedroom home but had limited supply. In April 2019 the social landlord told Mrs X the family faced a long wait before a four-bedroom home. So, it suggested she move to one of its three-bedroom homes, and it would create a fourth bedroom with DFG funding.
  2. Mrs X spoke to the Council’s OT service about adapting a three-bedroom home in April 2019. The Council says the OT told Mrs X the borough council could only grant a DFG to create a fourth bedroom if the Council assessed Y as needing the room. It would only recommend a DFG if it could not provide for his needs in any other way. The OT did not follow this up in a letter. However, the OT Service took up with the social landlord Mrs X’s report that it had told her the house would be extended through funding from a DFG. The social landlord agreed its staff had told Mrs X it would apply for a DFG to extend any three-bedroom home it offered her, but this reflected that officer’s lack of experience.
  3. The social landlord then contacted the Council again in November 2019 having found a three-bedroom home it intended offering to Mrs X. A senior OT assessed the property to see if it could meet Y’s needs. In their assessment the OT says Y could use the box room, but it needed works to ensure his safety. The assessment does not refer to an extension to provide a fourth bedroom or DFG funding for one. The assessment says the property could meet Y’s needs. It had a driveway with gates to provide a safe outside space and a ground floor toilet. Mrs X questioned how the OT assessed Y’s needs without meeting him.
  4. In February 2020 the records show Mrs X spoke with a new OT and told them she needed a fourth bedroom for her daughter Z to address her disability. The OT said that would need separate assessment.
  5. By April 2020 Mrs X reported to the OT service she now slept downstairs in the living room with Y because he could not use the box room. Another of Y’s siblings now used the box room. The Council responded by offering information on support and the loan of safe space equipment.
  6. The Council arranged a professionals meeting in July 2020 which included the family’s social worker, the social landlord and OTs from the Council, and from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS). An email from CAMHS dated 23 July 2020 said the service had told the family a safe space would not work in the family’s previous home because of the size of the room. However, in the new home CAHMS said a safe space would fit and it had confirmed this with the safe space provider.
  7. Following this meeting Mrs X withdrew consent for the Council to liaise with the social landlord. In September 2020 Mrs X told the Council she had spoken with the providers of the safe space who confirmed it would not fit in the box room. Therefore, the family needed a fourth bedroom.
  8. The Council decided it could not offer further help and closed the case on 1 October 2020. Mrs X provided further information from another healthcare professional. However, the Council says given she refused permission for its OT to discuss the family’s needs with that professional it could not re-open the case.
  9. Mrs X complained to the Council. At the final stage of the statutory complaints procedure the Council’s Complaints Panel found the Council at fault for closing the case while Y’s needs remained unmet. The Council did not accept the finding.
  10. In commenting on my draft decision Mrs X says she withdrew permission for officers to speak with her social landlord because she felt they were going around in circles. Mrs X says nobody listened to them or addressed the contradictory information being shared or the fact she moved on the understanding a DFG for a fourth bedroom would be granted.

Analysis – was there fault leading to injustice

  1. My role is to decide if the Council properly considered all its duties and powers to meet Y’s needs. If it did not, then I must decide what impact that had and what the Council should do to put that right.
  2. The OT service’s assessment has been consistent. Both OTs say the new three-bedroom home with a safe outside space could meet Y’s needs by using a safe space installation, wall padding and associated works. The social landlord mistakenly told Mrs X the three-bedroom home would be extended using a DFG. That did not bind the Council. The assessments do not mention an extension instead they concentrate on adapting the box room to meet Y’s needs. The Council should have written to Mrs X when it first discovered the social landlord had told Mrs X to expect this. It missed this opportunity to set out its view and prevent misunderstanding. I find the Council at fault for not doing so.
  3. Whether specialist equipment such as a safe space, wall padding, or other works meet Y’s needs is a matter of professional judgement. The OTs assessed Y. I cannot challenge the merits of the professional judgements.
  4. The Complaints Panel found the Council at fault for closing its OT service to the family without meeting Y’s needs. As a disabled child Y is a child in need. The Council only considered an extension funded by a DFG. Mrs X’s refusal to give permission to discuss Y’s needs with other professionals should not have prevented the Council considering if it had met its duty under Section 17 Children Act. It should have continued to engage rather than close the case. It should have considered its own funding powers. It should have examined what other possibilities might work and discuss those with the family. Mrs X might then have agreed to the Council engaging with the relevant professionals. The Council rightly says the family cannot insist on their preferred solution if there is an alternative solution professionals believe will meet the family’s needs. However, it should show it has properly considered all available powers to meet those needs and adopted a holistic approach. It has not done so. Therefore, I find the Council at fault for not fully considering alternatives and preventing its services being closed to Y without meeting his needs.
  5. This caused avoidable distress to the family and a delay in meeting Y’s needs. I accept the refusal by the family to allow the Council to speak with other professionals contributed to the delay. Where we find fault leading to an injustice, we try to place people in the position they would have been but for that fault. Where that is not possible, we recommend a symbolic payment in recognition of the distress caused. Our ‘Guidance on Remedies’ suggests a scale of between £100 and £300.

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Agreed action

  1. To address the avoidable distress and delay caused by the faults identified the Council agrees within four weeks of my final decision to:
    • Apologise to Mrs X and pays Mrs X £200 in recognition of the distress caused;
    • Arrange a meeting with Mrs X to discuss a new assessment of both Y and Z’s needs. The assessment to be completed within two months of that meeting subject to Mrs X agreeing to professionals discussing the family’s needs with other relevant professionals.

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Final decision

  1. In completing my investigation, I find the Council acted with fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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