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London Borough of Brent (20 007 955)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 11 May 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council refused to reimburse him when he paid privately to have a stairlift installed and delayed in carrying out works to his bathroom under the Disabled Facilities Grant scheme. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained that the Council:
    • refused to reimburse him for the costs of a stairlift he says he had to buy because the Council delayed in dealing with his request for home adaptations; and
    • took too long to install a level access shower.
  2. As a result, Mr X says he has been caused a financial disadvantage. He says he has also suffered a loss of dignity because of the delays in installing the toilet and level access shower.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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 made enquiries of the Council and considered the information it provided. This included correspondence with Mr X, a copy of the Occupational Therapist’s referral and the Council’s Private Housing Assistance Policy.
  2. I wrote to Mr X and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments before I made my final decision.

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What I found

Discharge from hospital

  1. The NHS must issue a notice to the local authority where it considers an NHS hospital patient receiving acute care may need care and support as part of a transfer from an acute setting. The NHS should try to give the local authority as much notice as possible of a patient’s impending discharge.

Disabled facility grants

  1. 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.
  2. The Act states that councils have six months from receiving a DFG application to making a decision on whether to accept it. The Act specifies what constitutes a DFG application. This includes the requirement for at least two estimates from different contractors of the cost of carrying out the relevant works (unless otherwise directed by the Council).
  3. Non-statutory guidance ‘Delivering Housing Adaptations for Disabled People: a detailed guide to related legislation, guidance and good practice’, recommends target timescales for each stage of the process. There are three stages:
    • Stage 1 is from the enquiry at first point of contact to the occupational therapist (OT) referral. Their recommendations are provided to the adaptation service (landlord, housing association, or grant provider).
    • Stage 2 is from the OT recommendation to approval of the scheme.
    • Stage 3 is from the approval of the scheme to the completion of the works.
  4. There are different timescales for each stage depending on whether the referral is classed as urgent or non-urgent.
  5. Urgent referrals are when someone is unable to return home from hospital or access essential facilities within the home without the adaptation.
  6. Non-urgent referrals are where a service user is unable to utilise the home fully but is able to use the toilet and bathing facilities within the home.
  7. The timescales for urgent adaptations are:
    • Stage 1 - 5 working days;
    • Stage 2 - 30 working days; and
    • Stage 3 - 20 working days.
  8. The timescales for non-urgent adaptations are:
    • Stage 1 - 20 working days;
    • Stage 2 - 50 working days; and
    • Stage 3 - 80 working days.
  9. The guidance says councils should ensure the public is aware of the consequences if applicants start work before a grant application is approved. This is because a council will not pay for work started or completed before an application is approved.

Council’s Private Housing Assistance Policy

  1. The Council has a Private Housing Assistance Policy. This states financial assistance will not be given retrospectively. It recommends applicants to not start any work until their application for assistance has been approved.

COVID-19

  1. This complaint involves events that occurred partly 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”.

What happened

  1. Mr X was admitted to hospital for a knee operation. On 13 September 2019, the hospital notified the Council that he was due for discharge at the end of the month and recommended a social care referral. Mr X was not discharged on that date because he contracted a serious infection which meant his discharge was delayed by a number of weeks.
  2. On 1 October, Mr X’s wife met with a representative from a stairlift company and received a quotation for a stairlift at a cost of around £2,000. She was asked to pay a deposit of £500.
  3. The Council received a telephone call from Mr X’s son, Mr S, on 4 October requesting an Occupational Therapist (OT) assessment. The case notes record the Council told him an assessment would be completed by the Hospital Discharge team because Mr X was still in hospital.
  4. On the same date, Mr S received an email from the Council which stated “I have discussed your inquiry with my manager and she has confirmed that your father would be eligible for the Disabled Facility Grant even if he would not be the owner of the property. As I have mentioned to you yesterday over the phone this grant is not repayable and would cover any work that is requested by a health professional”.
  5. Mr X was discharged from hospital on 5 November.
  6. On 6 November, Mr X contacted the Council and said he needed a stairlift because he was struggling to get up and down the stairs. He also said he could not access the toilet and so was wearing incontinence pads. In response to my enquiries, the Council said the hospital failed to send it a notice stating Mr X was due for discharge. Therefore, this was the first time it had heard Mr X had now returned home.
  7. Mr X contacted the Council again on 8 November. He said he was confined to his bedroom because he could not use the stairs. He says the Council told him there would be a 10 week wait for an OT assessment. Mr X said he could not wait that long. Mr X was unhappy because he said the Council officer told him that he would not be reimbursed if he had a stairlift installed privately.
  8. The Council assigned an assessor to Mr X on 20 November. Also on 20 November, Mr X’s stairlift was installed.
  9. The assessor carried out Mr X’s assessment on 29 November. The notes stated Mr X had already privately purchased a stairlift via a loan agreement. Therefore, the assessor only made a referral for a level access shower and high toilet.
  10. The Council’s Private Housing Service received the assessor’s referral for a DFG for the works to the shower and toilet at the beginning of December. The notes said Mr X was having to strip wash with the help of his wife because he could not get into the bath. He was currently using a commode as the toilet was too low for him.
  11. The Council wrote to Mr X and informed him the works would proceed and he would be assigned a surveyor who would contact him.
  12. Mr X complained to his MP who contacted the Council on his behalf. He wanted the Council to reimburse him for the costs of the stairlift.
  13. The Council replied to the MP. It said it had responded to Mr X already on this matter and advised him that it would not award a grant retrospectively. It said when Mr X’s assessment was carried out in November 2019, he had already entered into an agreement to purchase a stairlift and paid a deposit.
  14. In February 2020, Mr X complained to the Council about the delays in carrying out works to the shower and toilet. The Council responded and said it had received a high number of referrals which had led to delays.
  15. In March 2020, the country went into lockdown because of Covid19. As a result, the Council put its Private Housing Services work on hold for five weeks. It then notified Mr X in March and April it was still experiencing delays.
  16. The Council contacted Mr X in July 2020 to complete the assessment. At this stage, Mr X cancelled the DFG for a shower and toilet because he was due to have further surgery to amputate his leg and he would need a new assessment.
  17. Mr X complained to the Council. He was unhappy with its response because it would not refund the cost of the stairlift and so he came to the Ombudsman.

My findings

Reimbursement of the stairlift

  1. Mr X would like the Council to reimburse him for the costs of installing the stairlift.
  2. Mr X’s wife met with and obtained a quote from a stairlift company whilst Mr X was still in hospital and around 5 weeks before his discharge. It is likely the deposit was paid sometime in October. At this stage, Mr X was still unwell with no discharge date. When Mr X left hospital, he called the Council and requested an assessment. This took place shortly after the stairlift had been installed.
  3. In relation to timescales, the Council said the hospital failed to notify it of Mr X’s discharge and it only became aware Mr X was at home when he phoned. On balance, it would have made little difference to the outcome if the Council had been made aware earlier. Mrs X had already paid for a stairlift on Mr X’s behalf whilst he was in hospital. The Council’s policy makes it clear applicants will not be reimbursed for work started before a DFG is approved. The family was aware at the beginning of October that any works under the DFG scheme had to be approved by a health professional. The Council’s position on reimbursements was also made clear to Mr X on the telephone when he called at the beginning of November. Therefore, the family had sufficient information to make an informed choice over whether to go ahead with having the stairlift installed at their own cost. There was no fault in the way the Council made the decision to not reimburse Mr X.

Works to the toilet and shower

  1. During the assessment, the assessor noted Mr X was having to strip wash and use a commode. At this stage, the Council decided Mr X’s case was non-urgent because he was managing to meet his personal needs, albeit in a less than ideal manner. The Council considered the individual facts of Mr X’s case and made a decision based on its policy. There was no fault in the way the Council made its decision.
  2. The assessor made a referral at the end of November 2019. The Council did not progress this until July, around eight months later. However, from March 2020 the country went into lockdown, causing significant disruption and delays to all councils’ day to day operations. The Council halted all private housing services work for five weeks and there continued to be disruptions and delays following that period. It is likely therefore, that even if the Council had progressed Mr X’s referral before the lockdown, any non-urgent works would have been significantly impacted for reasons not with the control of the Council. And in July, when the Council arranged to progress Mr X’s case, because his needs were about the change, he requested any assessment was put back. Therefore, there was no fault in the time the Council took to progress the referral.

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Final decision

  1. There was no fault in the Council’s actions. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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