Staffordshire County Council (21 005 636)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 09 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained the Council told her to remove her conservatory, resulting in loss of property value and damage to her property. We have discontinued our investigation because we cannot add to any previous investigation by the Council and it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council told her to remove her conservatory ahead of works to adapt her home then denied doing so. She says she has lost property value due to removing the conservatory.

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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. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
  • we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Ms X and her former representative Ms Y. I also reviewed information provided by Ms X, Ms Y and the Council.
  2. I gave Ms X and the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG)

  1. Councils can pay a grant of up to £30,000 towards works to adapt a home for a disabled person.
  2. Councils have a statutory time limit of six months to decide on a grant application. This is six months from the date of the formal application and does not include the time spent waiting for an Occupational Therapy assessment, obtaining quotations or planning permission.

What happened

  1. Ms X and the Council were in discussions on possible works to Ms X’s home.
  2. Ms X says she did not formally apply for a DFG but in December 2019 the Council told her the proposed works were too expensive to proceed.
  3. In March 2020 Ms X complained to the Council that it told her to remove her conservatory to reduce costs. She had done so, yet it then refused a grant.
  4. In its response of May 2020 the Council said:
    • It had interviewed the relevant officer and reviewed emails exchanged between the Council and Ms X, as part of its investigation.
    • In November 2018 its officer said the conservatory would have to come down to allow for an extension but did not direct Ms X to remove it.
    • In June 2019 the officer said the costs of works would exceed the grant limit and removing the conservatory prior to the works starting could help to reduce the costs. But they did not tell Ms X to remove it.
    • She could contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) should she remain unhappy.
  5. Ms X’s representative at the time, Ms Y, contacted PHSO in June 2020. In July 2020 PHSO told her to contact the Ombudsman.
  6. Ms X contacted the Ombudsman in July 2021.
  7. Ms X provided correspondence she sent to the Council in March and May 2019. This included:
    • Informing the Council officer she had advertised the conservatory for sale.
    • The officer confirming the conservatory would remain on the specification in case it was still in place at the time they were ready to start works.
    • Ms X informing the Council she was preparing the conservatory for removal by a third party and querying when works would start.
  8. Ms X told the Ombudsman she did not pursue the complaint in July 2020 due to suffering a bereavement in March 2020, poor health, stress and seeking advice from a solicitor. She was also told by her MP that the Ombudsman may not accept her complaint while a full response had not yet been provided to all issues. She says she made a further complaint in April 2020 and received a reply in October 2020.
  9. In comments on a draft of this decision Ms X said:
    • The Council increased its estimate of the build cost as time went on;
    • She was unaware she had to apply for a DFG; she thought the Council would do this. She also understood the Council had applied for further discretionary funding but then found this was not the case;
    • She initially contacted PHSO but then found this was incorrect and was told to contact the Ombudsman;
    • She is annoyed that Ms Y provided documents to PHSO which are now not being taken into account;
    • It appears the Council can do as it please and get away with it.
  10. Ms X enclosed a recent letter from a medical professional. The professional confirmed Ms X had discussed the complaint with her and that she was present at some of Ms X’s conversations with the Council. However, she did not have evidence the Council told Ms X to remove the conservatory as this predated her intervention.


  1. Ms X did not have cause to complain until December 2019 when the Council refused to proceed with works. I therefore consider the 12 month time limit to bring a complaint began then. In May 2020 the Council provided a final response but told Ms X to contact PHSO. However, PHSO told Ms X to come to the Ombudsman in July 2020. I therefore consider limited time was lost by the Council’s incorrect advice. I acknowledge Ms X had health issues and personal matters to deal with. However, I also consider she could have sought help from a third party if needed. Bearing these points in mind, I do not consider there are good reasons to accept a late complaint.
  2. Further and in any event, I consider it unlikely further investigation would change the outcome in this case. Neither the Council nor Ms X appear to have written records or other substantive evidence that suggests fault and I would not expect either to have recorded on site discussions. Where it is one person’s word against the other, as in this case, we are unable to reach a finding as to what happened, even on the balance of probabilities.
  3. I have further considered whether to proceed with an investigation in light of Ms X’s comments on a draft of this decision. I understand why Ms X feels aggrieved by the matters complained of. However, we can only reach findings of fault where there is evidence to support this. As explained, in this case, it appears there is no record of the relevant conversation(s) and both Ms X and Council have differing accounts. Further investigation by the Ombudsman would not add anything to the Council’s own investigation and would not allow me to reach a different outcome. I will therefore discontinue my investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation. This is because we cannot add to any previous investigation by the Council and it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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