Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 27 May 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr C complains about delay and other matters in connection with a request the Council provide adaptations to his home. We uphold the complaint finding significant delay in the Council agreeing to and providing the adaptations Mr C needs. This has caused injustice to Mr C resulting from a loss of provision, distress and some unnecessary frustration, time and trouble. The Council accepts these findings and at the end of this statement we set out the action it has agreed to remedy that injustice and provide wider improvements to its home adaptations service.
- I have called the complainant ‘Mr C’. He complains the Council has:
- delayed in arranging for adaptations needed for his home (needed because of disability);
- delayed in clarifying the scope of works to be undertaken as adaptations;
- failed to consider the relevance of the Armed Forces Covenant to his circumstances;
- failed to communicate effectively since he first asked for consideration of adaptations; and
- showed poor practice in its complaint handling by asking an officer whose actions were part of the subject of the complaint to investigate and respond to it.
- Mr C says as a result he has waited too long for adaptations in his home. He also says he has suffered unnecessary distress resulting from uncertainty and hurt to feelings caused by the Council’s consideration of these matters.
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)
- 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
- Before issuing this decision statement I considered the following:
- Mr C’s written complaint to the Ombudsman and supporting information he provided both by email and in telephone conversations;
- correspondence exchanged between Mr C and the Council relevant to his need for adaptations both before and during the investigation;
- information provided by the Council in reply to my written enquiries, including relevant comments, details of policy and case officer’s notes;
- relevant law and guidance; including the Ombudsman’s published approach to complaints about disabled facilities grants available on our website.
- Mr C and the Council were also given chance to comment on my findings in a draft decision statement. I took account of any comments received in response before completing my investigation.
What I found
Relevant Legal & Administrative Background
- Local housing authorities have a statutory duty to provide grant aid to disabled people for a range of adaptations to their home. A council must be satisfied that work is necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person and that work can be carried out.
- The Housing Adaptations Consortium is a group of national organisations such as charities and professional associations that champion quality provision of adaptations for disabled people. The Consortium has produced relevant guidance commissioned by Government. This is called ‘Delivering Housing Adaptations for Disabled People: a detailed guide to related legislation, guidance and good practice’. This recommends local authorities introduce target timescales for each stage when carrying out adaptations. There are three stages:
- Stage 1 is from the enquiry at first point of contact to referral to an Occupational Therapist. Most authorities use these specialist officers to assess if someone needs adaptations to their home in order to meet needs and recommend adaptations if appropriate.
- Stage 2 is from the OT recommendation to approval of a scheme. This will often involve surveying work, technical specifications and so on that will set out the scope, cost and time involved in carrying out the adaptations.
- Stage 3 is from the approval of the scheme to the completion of the works.
- The recommended timescales vary according to whether the work is ‘urgent’ or ‘non-urgent’. But for non-urgent cases the guidance says the whole process should ideally complete within 150 working days; comprised of up to 20 working days for Stage One, 50 working days for Stage Two and 80 working days for Stage Three. This equates to between six and seven months in total.
- The Council provides adaptations through its Accessible Homes service. This works with all residents of the City, regardless of whether they are tenants or owner occupiers. It works with tenants of Council properties and those renting in the private sector.
- The Council describes this service as a “specialised interdisciplinary service working across housing, health, adult social care and children’s services”. It employs its own Occupational Therapists to assess need for adaptations, surveyors to design layout plans and caseworkers to liaise with clients. It uses external contractors to carry out adaptations.
- The Council says the over-arching aim of this service is “to help people live independent and dignified lives and ensure that those who care for others can do this easily and safely”. It aims that any adaptations it provides should support at least one of the following:
- increased years of independence for the client;
- make the home safe and reduce the risk and fear of falling;
- prevent hospital or residential care admission;
- allow faster hospital discharge and make reablement after a hospital stay more effective;
- improve personal wellbeing and satisfaction with life.
- The service receives referrals either direct from residents of the City or via its adult social care or children’s social services. Cases are allocated to Occupational Therapists who then visit the client to consider if adaptations are appropriate to meet needs. If a therapist supports adaptations and the Council agrees in principle, then a surveyor will visit to “assess what options are possible [to carry out adaptations] and that it is reasonable and practicable to carry out relevant works”.
- The Council will prioritise assessment and works in some cases, on the basis of need. The four priority criteria are:
- people who are terminally ill and are not expected to live for more than a year;
- where care networks have broken down; i.e. existing carers are unable to continue in their role(s);
- where there is evidence of recent and rapid deterioration in the client’s condition;
- where there is a high and immediate risk of physical injury to the person or their carer if adaptations are not carried out.
- The Council draws no distinction on the priority of cases between council tenants and other users of the service. It says that it aims to complete adaptations in all cases “within six months of referral”. It counts the date of referral, as the date an Occupational Therapist agrees a client needs adaptations to meet needs.
- During consideration of cases the Council will sometimes refer to its Case Referral Panel. This has a membership of managers and technical officers from the Accessible Homes service as well as representatives from housing, health and children’s services. It meets monthly and considers cases referred by Occupational Therapists or surveyors. It considers cases that involve “either a substantial change of layout, additional space, complex options or family situation”. It will also consider “borderline eligibility cases”.
- In general comments on this complaint the Council has explained demand for its Accessible Homes service increased by around 20% between 2018 and 2019. This coincided with staffing shortages. In particular the Council has not had a full quota of Occupational Therapists working for the service since 2019. To address this the Council says it has recruited one extra full time and one part time Occupational Therapist and recruited agency staff. It has also improved pay for Occupational Therapy staff to incentivise recruitment. The Council says it will continue to use agency staff until the waiting list for assessments of adaptations has “significantly reduced”.
- The Council has commented the COVID-19 pandemic has added further pressure to the service. In particular, it reduced the number of home visits to protect both staff and users of the service and it has experienced delays with contractors.
Armed Forces Covenant
- The Government has published an Armed Forces Covenant. This has two core principles:
- that ex services personnel should suffer no disadvantage compared to others in receiving services;
- that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given the most, such as the injured and bereaved. The Government guidance gives the following example: "it could mean ensuring an injured service person is assessed quickly and compassionately so that their existing home is adapted quickly to meet their needs”.
- The Government expects local authorities to develop their own local guidance to take account of the covenant. Bristol City Council has its own ‘Armed Forces Community Covenant for Bristol’. This says there is a ‘armed forces champion’ within its housing service (a senior manager) whose role is to promote ‘appropriate services and support’.
- Until January 2021 there was no direct reference to the Armed Forces Covenant in the Council’s Accessible Homes policy. However, at that time the Council drafted the following statement for inclusion in the policy; that the Bristol Armed Forces Covenant applies:
- “to those who have served in the armed forces and their families. In Bristol we will ensure those that have served, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved. As part of your assessment please let us know if you feel this applies to you and we will consider this as part of your assessment and also sign post you to relevant organisations to get the support you need”.
- The Council says in practice this means that if an armed forces veteran requires adaptations it may disregard their war pension in assessing if they should contribute financially towards adaptations. Or it will take account if a veteran’s service history gives rise to a particular need. But it will not change the priority criteria for assessment or works as set out above (see paragraph 15).
Background & Chronology
- Mr C is in his sixties and is an armed forces veteran. He lives with his partner in a Council owned property. Mr C is disabled and suffers various chronic health conditions. Of particular relevance to this complaint, I note Mr C has a spinal injury sustained while in training with the armed forces over 40 years ago. He receives a war pension which takes account of his disability in service. Over time Mr C’s mobility has declined, to the point where he is now almost a full-time wheelchair user. Mr C also has a condition which causes episodes of bowel incontinence.
- Mr C relies on his partner for care but would like adaptations to aid his independence. Currently Mr C cannot prepare his own meals because work surfaces and kitchen cupboards are out of his reach in a wheelchair. Mr C does not have any care package provided by the Council and has declined assessments to consider if he could receive such a package (the most recent in March 2021).
- In March 2019 Mr C approached the Council’s adult social care service to ask about having adaptations to his kitchen. The Council’s adult care team referred Mr C to its Accessible Homes service. That service then told Mr C he could expect to wait around five months for one of its Occupational Therapists to assess his need.
- In July 2019 Mr C asked the Council to also consider if he could have a lowered threshold to his front door. Mr C reports that currently when he crosses the threshold in his wheelchair it jars his back causing considerable pain.
- By September 2019 Mr C had heard nothing further from the Council about potential adaptations. He contacted his MP and asked for their help. He said he had spoken to the Council but was told an occupational therapy assessment could still be a “few more months" away.
- A senior officer from the Council’s Accessible Homes service replied to Mr C’s MP. They explained the service had a shortage of occupational therapists. Consequently, it had a waiting list of “many months” and it could not assess Mr C’s needs for “several more months”.
- In November 2019, the service updated Mr C saying it would be “at least four months” before it could allocate his case to an Occupational Therapist.
- In January 2020, the Council told Mr C the “situation has not changed”. It would be at least another four months before it could allocate his case to an Occupational Therapist. In between Mr C sent the Council more information about his medical condition. But it did not change the priority given to his case.
- In February 2020 the Council told Mr C his case would go to an Occupational Therapist in around six to eight weeks.
- Then in March 2020 an Occupational Therapist rang Mr C and told him there would be a further delay in assessment because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the note of their call, the Occupational Therapist also recorded that Mr C wanted consideration of a connecting door between his bedroom and bathroom. He said this would help enable him to get to the bathroom quicker when needing the toilet during the night, a need which could often come on urgently and unexpectedly.
- In June 2020, an Occupational Therapist carried out an assessment at Mr C’s home. They noted that Mr C could not use his kitchen to prepare meals and that he experienced pain crossing over both the front and rear thresholds to his home when using his wheelchair. The assessment recorded Mr C’s request for an interconnecting door also between his bedroom and bathroom.
- The Occupational Therapist presented a copy of their report to the Council’s Case Referral Panel. The Panel agreed Mr C needed adaptations to his kitchen and level access thresholds to the front and back door. But it did not agree the need for an interconnecting door. The Panel said this was because:
- it wanted to first consider if it could help Mr C transfer more quickly from his bed to his wheelchair;
- it questioned whether an interconnecting door would benefit Mr C given that he had described needing to use the bathroom urgently and that he would have to transfer first to a wheelchair in any event. So, it considered any time saving from an interconnecting door would be minimal.
- The Panel decided to seek advice from Mr C’s specialist consultant and ask its Occupational Therapist to see if they could provide equipment to aid Mr C’s wheelchair transfers. The Council has also commented in reply to our enquiries that Mr C’s request was unusual and not something its Occupational Therapists had considered before.
- Case notes say that it first told Mr C of the outcome of the Panel’s consideration by telephone. Then, around a week after the Panel considered the case, the Council recorded as a ‘referral’ Mr C’s need for major works on his home. It wrote to him a few days later to say he was now on the waiting list for adaptations. The Council said it had given Mr C’s case a ‘standard priority’ and this meant a waiting time of 12 months.
- On receiving this letter Mr C queried the priority given to these works. He referred to the pain he experienced crossing thresholds to the property. The Occupational Therapist said they would try and give more priority to the work on the thresholds and this was agreed the following day. But otherwise, it could only give priority to Mr C’s case in line with the priority set out above (see paragraph 15).
- In August 2020, the Council appointed a caseworker “to process the level thresholds”. Its note said the kitchen works would remain on the waiting list and would wait for a surveyor to be appointed to assess the detailed works needed.
- Around the same time the Council received a letter from a consultant supporting Mr C. They explained how Mr C’s condition severely affected his day to day life. The consultant said they would ‘strongly support’ any adaptations which would improve Mr C’s quality of life. Before the end of the month the Council also received a letter from a specialist nurse supporting Mr C. They said they wanted to “raise concerns” about Mr C’s ability to mobilise to his bathroom in time when needed at night.
- Later that month the Council updated Mr C on the progress of works. It said:
- a surveyor would give Mr C a timescale for the kitchen works as they oversaw liaison with contractors;
- that it had previously told Mr C to expect a 12 month wait for a surveyor; but that it had prioritised the works to the front and rear doors;
- that it would consider further the request for an interconnecting door in early September 2020.
- In late August 2020, unhappy at the length of time taken to agree or carry out adaptations, Mr C made a complaint. In this he drew attention to the time he spent waiting for adaptations. He also drew attention to the Armed Forces Covenant, both the national version and the Council’s local covenant. He suggested his status as an armed forces veteran could give his case a greater priority.
- A second visit from a different Occupational Therapist then followed in early September 2020 to look further at Mr C’s need for an interconnecting door. The Therapist told Mr C the case would return to the Panel with a recommendation the Council provide this.
- The Panel again deferred a decision on whether to support the request for an interconnecting door. A senior officer told Mr C “we needed to clarify a few points made in the letter you submitted with the nurse”. Notes of the panel meeting show the Council wanted more information from the specialist nurse about whether support from that service might reduce Mr C’s need for the bathroom at night.
- Next, Mr C received a reply to his complaint. This came from a senior officer who had written to him a few days earlier updating him on the panel’s considerations and who had communicated in 2019 updating Mr C on the progress of his case. Their response recapped the assessment undertaken in June. It said the Council wanted further information from the specialist nursing service before agreeing the need for the interconnecting door. It confirmed Mr C’s case was on its waiting list and warned COVID-19 created further delays with ‘contractor capacity’. It rejected a suggestion from Mr C it should give his case greater priority because of the Armed Forces covenant. It noted when the injury took place but wrongly referred to how it was sustained.
- The Council has commented that it does not believe it was inappropriate for this officer to reply to the complaint as her only involvement had been in gathering information while covering absent officers. It says there had been no complaint about her personal conduct. If so, then it would have asked another officer to reply to the complaint.
- In November 2020, the specialist nurse told Mr C she had spoken with someone from the Accessible Homes service about his case, although they did not know their exact role. Mr C got back in touch with the Council to find out what was happening with his request for an interconnecting door.
- Mr C had also escalated his complaint. And around this time the Council gave its reply to Mr C’s complaint at ‘Stage 2’ of its complaint response. This response came from one of its corporate complaint officers. They noted the reply Mr C had received from the Accessible Homes service. It recognised that service experienced delays but considered it had correctly prioritised his case. Consequently, the Council did not uphold the complaint.
- In January 2021 a surveyor visited Mr C to look at the layout of the kitchen only. By this time Mr C had also received a visit from a contractor to look at the rear door. The contractor said they could not make changes to the door and believed it may need widening and/or repositioning. The Council has commented this was inappropriate as the door already met Building Regulation standards for width.
- At the beginning of February 2021, the Council said it had decided not to support Mr C’s request for an interconnecting door “as he had successful treatment from the specialist nurse” regarding his condition. In response Mr C explained that while the nurse had tried to support, the measures recommended were not suitable as they worsened his back pain. In commenting on the time taken to notify Mr C of this decision the Council says that there was some confusion between officers, compounded by one being on leave.
- In mid-February 2021 the Council said it would reconsider the request for an interconnecting door again. It appointed another Occupational Therapist to work with Mr C, his caseworker and a surveyor. That Therapist went on to visit Mr C later in the month and in early March 2021 they told Mr C they had asked the surveyor to also now include a need for the interconnecting door as part of their planning for adaptations.
- By early April 2021 discussions were taking place between Mr C, the surveyor and Occupational Therapist on the details of the kitchen redesign. The surveyor also told Mr C he was seeking quotes on new front and rear doors which would have lower bespoke thresholds. The surveyor told Mr C “due to the COVID pandemic, it’s very difficult to comment on time scales, as the pandemic has had a profound impact on the delivery of building works”. But an enclosed work schedule indicated the Council hoped to get all quotes for work needed by the end of May and to have prepared contracts by June 2021. Building works could then take place in August and September 2021. Work on the interconnecting door will also take account of a structural engineering opinion the Council commissioned this month.
The complaint the Council delayed in arranging for adaptations needed for Mr C’s home
- I recognise the Council’s Accessible Homes service has faced considerable challenges during the events covered by this complaint. Increased demand, staffing shortages and then the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a situation where occupational therapy and surveyor assessments are delayed for months. I have sympathy for these pressures.
- But the delays experienced by Mr C are simply unacceptable. Because it is now over two years since Mr C first asked the Council to consider adapting the kitchen at his home. It is around 21 months since he asked it to consider if it could change the threshold to his front door (and I understand the need to consider the threshold on the rear door arose around the same time). And it is over 12 months since Mr C asked the Council to consider providing an interconnecting door to aid transfers between his bedroom and bathroom. It is, at best, likely to be another four months before any of this work completes.
- I have used as a benchmark the guidance set out by the Housing Adaptations Forum that such works should take around six months to complete. For complex and multiple adaptations such as Mr C needs then I consider it reasonable to make a further allowance of three months as a margin for error. I note also the unforeseen impact of COVID-19 which could reasonably add a further three months. But this still means the works are running 14 months behind a reasonable schedule. Allowing a further four months for completion then that is 18 months of unreasonable delay which I consider to be fault.
- I also consider this complaint highlights a potential weakness in the Council’s existing Accessible Homes policy. The policy itself contains no timescales from first contact with the service through to building work completing. But the Council has referred to having an aspirational target that those cases it has ‘registered’ as needing adaptations should complete within six months. It has no similar target for those cases awaiting registration, a process which depends first on the occupational therapist assessment.
- I understand why the distinction is made. Because the Council will have a legal as well as a policy duty towards those whose adaptations it has agreed are needed. But no such legal duty applies to those who are waiting assessment. However, such a distinction will mean nothing to those who find themselves in Mr C’s position. For Mr C his waiting time did not begin in June 2020 when the Occupational Therapist completed their initial assessment and the Council registered his case. For Mr C his waiting time began in March 2019 when he asked the Council to consider his need for adaptations to his home.
- Such distinctions are also meaningless when seen in the context of the aims of the Council’s Accessible Homes policy. The aims of increasing independence, making homes safe, preventing admission to hospital or residential care and improving wellbeing cannot just apply to ‘registered’ cases. They will be relevant to those requesting adaptations from the day their case becomes known to the service. They will be relevant even if the need is ultimately met in a different way, as consideration of alternatives to adaptations will also only follow an occupational therapy assessment.
- Any systemic weakness in policy does not add to the fault in this case. Nor does it add to Mr C’s injustice which I turn to in a separate section below. But I raise this issue as part of our role is to consider what wider lessons a Council may learn from a complaint. I consider an important lesson in this case may be the Council needs to give further thought to how it can prioritise all occupational therapy assessments its Accessible Homes undertake.
The complaint about the delay in clarifying the scope of works to be undertaken as adaptations
- I uphold this part of the complaint also. I make no criticism of the time taken between the initial occupational therapy assessment in June 2020 and the notice given to Mr C the Council had agreed adaptations to his kitchen and front and rear doors. I also consider it reasonable the Council could defer a decision on the interconnecting door at that time. The Case Referral Panel gave reasons why it felt the underlying need Mr C had for this adaptation – a need to get to the bathroom urgently – may be met another way or else not impacted by the change. I explained above it is not my role to question the judgement of decisions properly reached by the Council after evaluating evidence. I consider this an example of a reasonably exercised judgment.
- However, after June 2020 a drift set in with the Council not addressing the issues it had reasonably set itself to address. It would appear it spoke to the specialist nurse supporting Mr C in the months after the Panel’s discussion in June 2020. But I have seen no record of that discussion. The Council has also acknowledged some miscommunication between its officers. All of which contributed to Mr C not receiving any decision until February 2021. I consider this timescale of eight months could have been reasonably halved but for these faults.
- I note that decision in February 2021 refused Mr C’s request. I do not find any fault in the decision itself as while I would have preferred to see more reasoning, the Council clearly had some grounds for believing Mr C’s need for urgent trips to the bathroom could be alleviated a different way. In addition, even if I took a different view here, the Council soon reversed this decision. It considered new evidence from Mr C and revised its position within around a month, which was a reasonable time. So, there was no further fault here. But I address below the injustice caused by the earlier delay.
The complaint the Council failed to consider the relevance of the Armed Forces Covenant to his circumstances
- I have some concerns about how the Council has considered the potential relevance of this matter to Mr C’s circumstances. Mr C is an armed forces veteran and his primary disability arose because of his service. I do not see that it is relevant in this context to cite that he suffered the initial injury many years ago or that it occurred in training not combat.
- However, I agree with the view of the Council that the covenant is not something which in general terms would lend an application from an armed forces veteran greater priority than that of a non-veteran. The aims of the covenants are to ensure the Council does not provide a lesser service to armed forces personnel and that it takes account of any special circumstances arising from their service in the forces.
- I am satisfied therefore there is no fault in the current priority criteria used by the Accessible Homes service to decide which referrals and works it will treat as urgent. These do not need to contain explicit reference to the covenant. Although the Council needs to consider if the covenant is something which in an individual case may lend an application an urgent status or have relevance to particular adaptations agreed. I welcome the Council learning lessons from this complaint and ensuring its Accessible Homes policy now signposts this. But I do not find in this case it would have made a difference to the priority given to Mr C’s application had that advice been present before and nor do I find that it should have.
- So, while the Council’s communications about this issue could have shown more sensitivity to Mr C’s service I do not consider it was at fault.
Complaint the Council failed to communicate effectively after Mr C first asked for consideration of adaptations
- I have concerns about some aspects of the Council’s communications with Mr C. First, I find that in the period of March to September 2019 the Council does not appear to have kept in touch with Mr C to advise on the progress of his case while he waited for an occupational therapy assessment. It was Mr C who had to chase the Council to receive an update on likely timescales.
- Second, I find Mr C received a series of conflicting messages on how long he might wait for an occupational therapy assessment. In March 2019 he was told it would be in September 2019. Then in November 2019 he was told it would be in March 2020. But in January 2020 he was told it would be May 2020. All these notifications preceded the further disruption caused by COVID-19. As I noted above I am sympathetic to the pressures the service was under and recognise it may not have predicted changes in demand or resources between updates. But it may have been preferable for Mr C to receive regular updates and know his place in the queue and average interlude between case allocations.
- Third, following the assessment in June and Mr C questioning the priority of works the Council agreed to give more priority to the door threshold works. I consider this changed following a contractor’s visit. But there is no record of the Council coming back to Mr C after the contractor’s visit to say how this affected the priority of that work or what it would it do next. The work now appears subsumed into the overall package of adaptations being planned by the Council. But nowhere can I see when or how the Council communicated this change of approach to Mr C.
- I consider these concerns cumulatively are sufficient to justify a further finding of fault. However, I note also some examples of good recent communications with Mr C. In particular, I find his current Occupational Therapist has kept in regular contact with Mr C and kept him updated on progress. A good working relationship also appears to have been established with the surveyor. I see no need to comment further on the evolving detail of the works.
Complaint the Council showed poor practice in its complaint handling by asking an officer whose actions were part of the subject of the complaint to investigate and respond to it
- I do not uphold this part of the complaint. As a general rule we would discourage officers who have been personally involved in the events complained about from replying to a complaint. Because this may give the appearance of pre-determination or bias even if this is not the case. That may still apply even where an officer’s role is minimal. I would therefore have preferred the Council allocate Mr C’s complaint to a different officer to reply.
- However, this is a point about best practice which is not the same as fault. I do not find it was fault for the Council to have asked the officer to reply in this particular case for three reasons. First, because their personal conduct was not the subject of the complaint or central to any issues complained about. Second, they were also senior within the service and so would have necessary oversight to reply to the complaint. Third, I also note the reply offered referral to Stage 2 of the Council’s complaint procedure which allowed for a review carried out by a complaints officer working from a separate Council service.
The injustice caused to Mr C
- In summary therefore I find the Council at fault for:
- delay in assessing Mr C’s need for adaptations and for delay in then providing those adaptations;
- delay in deciding whether to include the interconnecting door between bedroom and bathroom as part of the works;
- some poor communications around timescales for works and work needed to front and rear doors.
- The injustice of this first fault is that Mr C will experience around 18 months unnecessary delay living without adaptations needed in his home. This is the loss of a non-monetary benefit to him.
- The injustice of the second fault is that Mr C experienced some distress as uncertainty in not knowing for at least four months, the Council’s position on the interconnecting door. He was also put to some time and trouble in chasing an answer on this matter.
- The injustice of the third fault is also that Mr C experienced some unnecessary time and trouble and avoidable frustration.
- The Council accepts these findings. To remedy the injustice set out above it has agreed measures set out below which take account of the Ombudsman’s published guidance on remedies. In deciding on a fair financial remedy for Mr C’s injustice, I considered the following factors relevant when deciding on how the Council should recognise Mr C's loss of a non-monetary benefit.
- First that Mr C has been deprived of modifications which would have improved his daily life.
- Second, that the adaptations needed will have a fairly significant impact on Mr C as until they are provided, he remains dependent on his partner and carer for all meal preparation. He experiences pain and distress on a frequent basis from crossing door thresholds and the need to use the toilet urgently at night which he cannot access quickly. I am satisfied both the pain and distress are likely to be at least partially alleviated by the adaptations.
- Third, I note the Council has offered to provide a direct care service to Mr C. This would help to alleviate some of the pressure on his partner and carer with meal preparation. I consider this would lessen slightly, but not significantly, the current impact of living without the adaptations on Mr C.
- The guidance on remedies suggests a payment to recognise the loss of adaptations should be between £150 and £350 a month for each month of avoidable delay. Taking account of the factors listed above I considered a fair remedy in this case would work from the low range of this figure. I have calculated the delay to be 18 months which takes account of the current anticipated delivery date for the adaptations (see paragraph 55).
- Within 20 working days of a decision on this complaint the Council will therefore:
- apologise to Mr C accepting the findings of this investigation;
- pay Mr C £2700 for the delay in completing the adaptations to his home;
- pay Mr C an additional £300 to recognise his distress, time and trouble making a payment of £3000 in total.
- In addition, within three months of a decision on this complaint the Council has agreed to undertake a review of its existing policy and procedures in respect of the following:
- it will review the current Accessible Homes policy to include reference to aspirational timescales to carry out occupational therapy assessments and works subsequent to ‘registering’ those works as agreed in principle;
- it will introduce a procedure for keeping in regular contact with all those awaiting occupational therapy assessments; this should be at least at two-monthly intervals; it may want to introduce a numbering system so that all clients of the service know where their place is in the queue;
- it will produce an action plan that reviews outstanding case numbers and times taken to assess cases until these have reduced significantly against measurable targets;
- it will arrange a briefing for relevant Members on the findings of this investigation.
- For reasons set out above I uphold this complaint finding fault by the Council causing injustice to Mr C. The Council accepts these findings and has agreed action it will take that I consider will provide for a fair outcome to Mr C’s complaint. Consequently I can now complete my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman