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Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (20 013 959)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 27 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault by the Council in a complaint about its dealings with the complainant over a disabled facilities grant.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to here as Mr X, complains about his dealings with the Council over a disabled facilities grant application. Mr X complained about various matters but, in the main, his complaint is that the Council chose the option of installation of a stairlift in his home instead of the conversion of a ground floor room into a bedroom.
  2. Mr X says installation of a stairlift is not feasible in his home. At the conclusion of the Council’s complaints process, the Council agreed to refund the cost of a private occupational therapist assessment Mr X commissioned. It also agreed to commission a new private occupational therapy assessment of Mr X and his wife. Mr X is concerned about delays by the Council in processing the refund and arranging the assessment.
  3. Mr X says the Council breached the Equality Act 2010 by limiting his wife’s contact with it.

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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 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 complaint and background information provided by Mr X and the Council. I discussed matters with Mr X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Mr X and the Council. I considered the comments of both parties in reply.

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What I found

Law and Guidance on Disabled Facilities Grants

  1. Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) are for people with a qualifying disability who need adaptations in their home to help them remain in their home. They are mandatory and must be awarded if the applicant meets the qualifying conditions.
  2. The basic rules for a DFG are:
    • It can be awarded to an owner-occupier, tenant, or occupier of a houseboat or caravan who needs to provide facilities for a disabled person. This includes applications from council tenants.
  3. A disabled person is someone who with a permanent disability who:
    • has a substantial impairment of their sight, hearing or speech
    • has a mental impairment or disorder
    • a learning disability or a sensory impairment
    • has a substantial physical disability caused by illness, injury or from birth
    • is registered disabled under the National Assistance Act 1948
    • can be helped under the National Assistance Act 1948
  4. The maximum amount of a grant is £30,000. Other discretionary help can be awarded if the council thinks it is necessary. The amount a council will pay for a mandatory grant is subject to a means test. Under the Regulatory Reform Order (another part of the DFG legislation) a council can make an additional award. Each council should have a RRO policy.
  5. Grants are only approved if the council accepts the work is necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person. The assessment of need is usually completed by an occupational therapist, but it does not have to be an OT. The council will also consider the age and condition of the property
  6. The applicant should get the grant approved before starting any work. A council can approve a grant if the work has already started, or it might only approve a grant for those elements of the work which started after it approved the grant
  7. The council will not approve a grant if the work has already been completed

Background

  1. Mr X applied for a disabled facilities grant. He provided the Council with an assessment by a private occupational therapist. The therapist’s report noted Mr X’s disabilities and recommended installation of a stairlift for a short term period (up to ten years) or the conversion of a ground floor room into a bedroom.
  2. The Council informed Mr X it would examine the possibility of installing a stairlift. Mr X disagreed with this option. His view was that installing a stairlift was not feasible because of his disabilities; the inadequacy of a party wall as support for the stairlift; and his size. The Council, on the other hand, was satisfied the stairlift could be safely installed to meet Mr X’s needs following technical visits to his home to assess the feasibility.
  3. Mr X wrote extensively to the Council on this and other matters over several months. Mr X provided various reports from surveyors and medical professionals in support of his view a stairlift was not feasible. Mr X’s wife also provided medical information to the Council. Mr X says this was in support of her own application for a disabled facilities grant. Mr X says medical professionals were clear that a stairlift would be detrimental to his wife’s health needs.
  4. The Council decided not to proceed with the DFG application as it could not reach an agreement with Mr X. It decided to offer Mr X and his wife a joint holistic assessment of their needs by an occupational therapist. The new assessment would then inform any future application they may make for a DFG.
  5. The Council also agreed to refund the cost of the private occupational therapist assessment Mr X commissioned before embarking on the now redundant DFG application. The Council wrote to Mr X with this new approach in June 2021.

Finding

  1. I am satisfied the Council’s decision to offer Mr X the option of installing a stairlift was appropriate. The Council had to satisfy itself that any proposed works were necessary and appropriate to meet a disabled person’s needs. The report Mr X provided clearly stated installation of a stairlift was an appropriate means of addressing Mr X’s needs.
  2. The report also stated conversion of a ground floor room into a bedroom would meet Mr X’s needs. That was Mr X’s preferred option. However, this option was not the only one set out by the occupational therapist and so the Council was entitled to elect the option that was economic while addressing Mr X’s needs.
  3. I note there were many aspects of Mr X’s contact with the Council on the DFG application that he is aggrieved about. But I do not propose to examine these matters here. Our role is not to provide answers to each and every criticism a complainant may have about a council. As I do not find fault by the Council on the main substantive issue that gave rise to Mr X’s grievance – that the Council chose the option of the stairlift - I do not consider the other aspects of Mr X’s grievance involving his contact with the Council warrant investigation by this service.
  4. Mr X is concerned the Council has not arranged a new occupational therapist assessment for him and his wife. The Council agreed to arrange the assessment as soon as possible and within two weeks of the date of this decision.
  5. Mr X was concerned he has not yet received a refund as the Council promised. The Council has now made the payment.
  6. Mr X says the Council breached the Equality Act 2010 because it limited his wife’s contact with it to letters only despite knowing she cannot read or write.
  7. It is not for this service to determine whether there has been a breach of the Equality Act. That is a matter for the courts to determine. However, I have considered whether there was fault by the Council.
  8. It is unclear whether the Council expressly limited contact with Mr X’s wife or rather contact from Mr X himself. This is because Mr X was purportedly acting on behalf of his wife on a matter in which he was also personally invested. The restriction was imposed on Mr X rather than his wife. Nonetheless, I asked the Council to expressly consider any declared disabilities Mr X’s wife has and decide on any reasonable adjustments it should make to enable her access to its service in line with the Equality Act.

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Final decision

  1. I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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