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London Borough of Newham (20 007 201)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 May 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s delay in completing an adaptation for his mother, Mrs Y. This limited Mrs Y’s ability to independently maintain her personal care whilst waiting for an over bath shower to be installed. The Council accepts it delayed installing the shower. This delay was compounded by the national lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will apologise, and make a payment to Mrs Y to remedy the injustice caused.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained, on behalf of his mother, Mrs Y, about the Council’s delay in installing an over bath shower, which it agreed to do in September 2019 but did not complete until August 2020. This was needed so his mother could manage her personal care independently after she suffered sight loss.
  2. The delay meant Mrs Y could only manage washing by hand during this period and was reliant on Mr X and carers to assist her with baths. Mr X said Mrs Y also suffered from leg ulcers as a result of poor hygiene, which meant she needed treatment from tissue viability nurses for 6 months whilst waiting for the adaptations to be completed. He said the delays also negatively affected her mental health.
  1. Mr X also complained about the Council’s poor complaints handling, poor internal communication and lack of urgency when he raised concerns on his mother’s behalf.

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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. This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19”.
  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 Mr X and the Council provided;
    • Relevant law and guidance, as set out below; and
    • Our guidance on remedies.
  2. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision and I considered their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

Relevant law and guidance

Disabled facilities grants

  1. A disabled facilities grant (DFG) can be used by people with a qualifying disability to make adaptions to their home to help them stay living there. They can be used to make improvements, such as level access bathrooms.
  2. Councils must award a grant if the applicant meets the criteria. The works proposed must be:
    • necessary and appropriate to meet the disabled person’s needs. This is usually assessed by an occupational therapist (OT);
    • reasonable and practicable, depending on the age and condition of the property.
  3. The work must usually be completed within 12 months from the date the Council approved the DFG.

COVID-19 guidance

  1. The Coronavirus Act 2020 became law on 25 March 2020, which allowed the Government to exercise new powers when needed and issue guidance for councils across a range of subjects. On 11 May 2020, the Government published guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering services to other people’s homes. This required employers to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and take preventative measures to ensure work was carried out in a safe environment. This included maintaining two metre social distancing. The social distancing guidance was relaxed on 24 June 2020.
  2. This Council suspended all planned work in occupied properties from mid March until late May 2020, when some of the national restrictions ceased. Its officers carried out emergency work and work in empty properties only during that period.

What happened

  1. Mrs Y, lives on her own, with a care package. She has sight impairment, mental health issues and mobility issues. Her son, Mr X, assists with her care when he can.
  2. In mid September 2019, the Council assessed Mrs Y. It decided she needed an over bath shower to help her be fully independent with her personal care. A referral was made to the adaptations team the same day.
  3. In October, the Council carried out an asbestos survey. In early November, a Council officer asked the adaptations team for an update but did not get a response.
  4. Council records show a surveyor called twice in November but Mrs Y was not at home. On the second visit, the surveyor left a card asking Mr X or Mrs Y to call them. Mr X said the visits were unannounced and he was not aware of them. He said Mrs Y was often not at home as she had regular medical appointments. In response to my enquiries, the Council accepted it should have written to Mrs Y to arrange an appointment rather than make unannounced visits.
  5. In December 2019 the surveyor made a further home visit. He said the work would be carried out in January 2020.
  6. The adaptations team attended the property to carry out the work on 21 January 2020. Mrs Y was not at home. The team could not complete the work because they did not have access to the property. This visit was also unannounced.
  7. Mr X said the Council later told him the job had been cancelled in January 2020 because it was not able to complete the works. The Council confirmed the job was cancelled in error in January 2020. It was not able to explain why the job was cancelled. It said it should have sent a letter to Mrs Y asking her to contact it to make an appointment rather than cancel the job.
  8. In late January 2020, a Council officer asked the adaptations team for an update but had no response.
  9. Mr X made a formal complaint on 6 March 2020. On 19 March 2020, the Council replied that the work was on the list to be carried out but all adaptation works were on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It suggested Mr X contact it again “when the situation improves”. It did not respond to the complaint about delay in arranging the works prior to the pandemic.
  10. Mr X contacted the Council again in early June. He said the delay was not acceptable as the Council was aware of his mother’s disabilities. He said she was only able to have hand washes whilst she waited for the adaptation.
  11. The Council then arranged a further inspection by a surveyor. It said this was needed to check the work specified was still appropriate. During this visit, in June 2020, the surveyor identified a technical difficulty in carrying out the work. This meant the Council had to consider whether to adjust the specification or change the type of shower it installed.
  12. In early July, Mr X chased the Council again. It reviewed the situation in early August, at which point it decided the adaptation could go ahead without any additional complicated works. The work was completed in mid August 2020. The Council said it had a booked appointment for this, which would normally mean it has been agreed with the resident, although it could not be certain this was the case here.
  13. Mr X made a further complaint in early September 2020. He said:
    • He was satisfied with the work done but was unhappy this was by a further unannounced visit; and
    • He was unhappy with the delay in completing the work, and the Council’s poor communication.
  14. The Council responded in early October 2020. It accepted there was a delay in completing the work. It said the work should have been done “well before the time you raised your stage 1 complaint in early March 2020”. It offered Mr X £150 for the delay and a further £50 for the poor complaints handling at stage 1 of the complaints process. Mr X was unhappy with the amount offered. The Council reconsidered the case and increased the amount offered from £200 (in total) to £300. Mr X remained unhappy with the amount offered and complained to us.
  15. In response to my enquiries, a senior officer reviewed the case. The Council agreed the service had fallen below the standard it expected. It acknowledged this was unacceptable for a resident who could not manage her personal care after suffering sight loss. It sincerely apologised for the delay in carrying out the work and the poor communication from the Council.
  16. Having considered our guidance on remedies, the Council offered to make a payment to Mrs Y of £2,800. This was based on £350 per month for eight months. It also offered to pay Mr X £200 to remedy the time and trouble he was put to in pursuing the matter on behalf of Mrs Y.
  17. The Council also explained that, following a change in management staff in June 2020, it has reviewed the management and delivery of adaptations to ensure work is completed within agreed timescales. It has also updated its procedures to improve communication with customers throughout the process.

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My findings

  1. The Council assessed Mrs Y as needing an over bath shower in mid September 2019. It made an appropriate referral without delay. A surveyor made unannounced visits in November and December 2019. The Council accepts it should have written to Mrs X to agree an appointment time rather than making unannounced visits.
  2. The Council attended the property in January 2020 to carry out the agreed work but could not access the property. This was a further unannounced visit. It then cancelled the job in error. This was fault.
  3. The job was reinstated in early June and in mid June, a second inspection visit was carried out to check the work specified still met Mrs Y’s needs. Given the lapse of time since the Council agreed the works, it was appropriate for it to do this.
  4. No further action was taken in June or in July. In early August, review of the work needed showed it could go ahead as originally planned. The adaptations were completed in mid August and there is no complaint about the work done.
  5. The Council accepts it should have completed the work in January, well ahead of the national lockdown, which began in late March. The delay was fault.

Complaints handling

  1. The Council accepted its complaint response at stage 1 was inadequate. It confirmed the work was listed to be done but then put the onus on Mr X to contact it again, which was not appropriate. It did not respond to the complaint about delay before the lockdown started. This was fault.
  2. I am satisfied the Council responded appropriately at stage 2 and note that it carried out a further review of the case when Mr X said he was not happy with the outcome. I also note the Council identified and addressed the training needs of the officer who handling the stage 1 complaint so no further recommendations about that are needed.

Injustice and remedy

  1. The delays and poor communication caused an injustice to Mrs Y who was not able to carry out personal care independently whilst waiting for the adaptation to be completed. Our guidance on remedies suggests a payment in the range £150 to £350 per month for the delay in completing adaptations. It sets out the factors to be considered when deciding where in the range the case sits, and specifically states that the impact of a delay in providing accessible bathing facilities is likely to fall at the upper end of the range.
  2. The Council has offered a payment to Mrs X based on £350 per month, which is appropriate, as it is at the top of the range. It has calculated the payment based on a delay of eight months, which produced a total payment of £2,800. This is higher than I would have recommended, taking into account the national lockdown, and is a suitable remedy for the injustice to Mrs Y.
  3. The Council’s failings also caused an injustice to Mr X who was put to the time and trouble of chasing the Council on a number of occasions. The Council has offered to pay him £200, which is appropriate and in line with our guidance on remedies.
  4. Since the Council has already taken action to review how it delivers adaptations to ensure work is carried out within agreed timescales and to improve its communication with residents, no further recommendations are needed.

Agreed action

  1. The Council will, within one month of the date of the final decision:
    • Apologise to Mrs Y and Mr X for the delay in completing the adaptation;
    • Pay Mrs Y £2,800 for the injustice caused by the delay in completing the adaptation;
    • Pay Mr X £200 for his time and trouble pursuing the matter and the frustration caused by the poor complaints handling at stage 1.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have found fault leading to personal injustice. The Council has offered to take appropriate action to remedy that injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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