City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council (21 010 304)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 02 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: A man complained about the way the Council dealt with his mother’s application for a Disabled Facilities Grant. But we do not have reason to investigate the complaint. This is because there is no sign that fault by the Council has caused the man or his mother an injustice to warrant our further involvement.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall call Mr X, complained about the way the Council handled an application for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to fund adaptations to meet the needs of his disabled mother (‘Mrs Y’). In particular Mr X complained that:
  • the Council delayed unduly in processing and paying the DFG;
  • the Council unreasonably failed to cover his costs in installing a chair lift in the DFG;
  • the Council did not make reasonable adjustments for his own disability needs; and
  • Council officers acted unprofessionally.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start an investigation if, for example, we decide:
  • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
  • any fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • any injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • investigation would not lead to a different outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint and his comments in response to a draft of this decision. In addition, I took account of information the Council provided in response to my enquiries.

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My assessment

  1. Having considered all of the information and comments provided, I have concluded that we do not have enough grounds to investigate Mr X’s complaint.
  2. In 2019 the Council agreed to award a DFG to provide a level access shower and ramped access to the back door of Mrs Y’s property to meet her needs as a disabled wheelchair user. Mr X wanted a larger scheme including an extension to the property and a chair lift to the front door. In the circumstances the Council agreed to pay a DFG up to the value of the adaptations it had approved, leaving Mr X to meet the extra costs of the additional works he wanted.
  3. The law says councils must be satisfied that grant works are “necessary and appropriate” to meet the needs of the disabled person, and it is “reasonable and practicable” to carry them out. I consider the Council followed an appropriate process in Mrs Y’s case which took account of her needs as assessed by an Occupational Therapist, and it was reasonably entitled under the DFG scheme to opt for the most cost-effective adaptations to meet those needs. I have seen no evidence to indicate, as Mr X suggested, that the Council failed to consider the issue of Mrs Y’s access to the property.
  4. Mr X complained in particular that the DFG approved by the Council did not cover the cost of installing a chair lift to the front door. But when the Council wrote to Mrs Y in July 2019 to confirm its grant offer it made clear that the DFG would be limited to the cost of its approved scheme involving a ramp to the back door, and would not be based on the cost of Mr X’s preferred scheme including the chair lift. The Council also sent a detailed complaint response to Mr X in December 2019 re-iterating that advice.
  5. In the circumstances I consider the Council made it sufficiently clear to Mr X at an early stage that the DFG would not include the provision of a chair lift.
  6. There is evidence of some unreasonable delay by the Council in processing the DFG. In particular the Council acknowledged it was at fault with its initial assessment in Mrs Y’s case in 2019 because it failed to identify that works were needed to help her access her property. The Council later corrected its assessment, but it appears this may have added a few more months to the DFG process.
  7. However I am not convinced there is sign of any other substantive delays by the Council, and it seems other hold ups were largely beyond its control. For example, I understand the process was delayed in 2020 when Mr X changed the contractor working on the project. I note the Council then had to query the new contractor’s quotation for the job because it did not include enough detail to show that the DFG-related works would be done to the correct specification.
  8. A further dispute arose in early 2021 after Mr X asked the Council to release the DFG payment because the works had been completed to his satisfaction. But the Council was not satisfied the works were done properly and it asked for the outstanding issues to be resolved before it would make any payments. I consider that was a professional judgement for the Council’s technical staff to make, and I do not see that we would have grounds to fault the Council for taking that approach.
  9. Overall, I am not convinced there is evidence to suggest delay by the Council caused Mr X or Mrs Y any significant disadvantage or made any notable difference to the outcome of the DFG application. The Council also apologised for the initial delay with its assessment. In the circumstances I do not see we have reason to pursue this matter further or to recommend any additional remedy.
  10. Mr X complained he had followed the Council case officer’s guidance regarding the adaptations, so if these did not comply the officer must have given him wrong advice. In response the Council said it had provided Mr X with a detailed specification for the works in the grant schedule, and the officer made clear it was Mr X’s responsibility to ensure his contract with the builder met that specification.
  11. From the information provided, I have seen no evidence to suggest the Council gave Mr X significantly inaccurate or misleading advice in this or any other respect. In addition, I have not seen any indication that officers acted unprofessionally in his case.
  12. The Council subsequently decided that the works had been completed satisfactorily. Mr X went ahead and paid the contractor in full. But Mr X then complained again to the Council because it would not release the grant monies to him until he produced a proper invoice showing that the contractor had been paid.
  13. But as the Council has pointed out, the law regarding DFG’s says the payment of a grant is conditional on satisfactory works being done and the provision of an acceptable invoice or receipt. In the circumstances I do not see we could fault the Council for insisting on a proper receipt. Mr X evidently had some difficulty obtaining an acceptable document from his contractor. But I do not see that the Council was responsible for this issue.
  14. Mr X complained the Council had failed to make reasonable adjustments for his disability. Mr X suffers from dyslexia which affects his ability to express himself in writing.
  15. I note Mr X raised this matter in his complaint at the second stage of the Council’s complaints procedure, when he asked for a telephone call so he could provide a further explanation of the points in his complaint. But the Council did not comply with Mr X’s request and proceeded to issue its complaint response based on his written representations.
  16. The Council’s complaints procedure says that complaints can be made by telephone. It also says the Council is committed to Equal Opportunities and will make facilities available to assist individual service users in making a complaint.
  17. In the circumstances I consider it likely we would find fault with the Council for not contacting Mr X in person to discuss his complaint before issuing its final complaint response, in view of his stated communication needs.
  18. However I am not convinced Mr X suffered a significant injustice as a result to justify us pursuing this matter further. In particular I note that Mr X was able to set out his main complaint issues in writing and these points were addressed in the Council’s response. I am not clear that any further discussion of these matters would necessarily have made any substantive difference to the outcome of his complaint.
  19. In addition I note that Mr X had successfully corresponded with the Council in writing before and after July 2021. In addition I have seen references to numerous telephone conversations between Mr X and Council officers as well as visits to his home over the course of the DFG process. In the circumstances I do not see we could fault the Council in respect of its overall communications with Mr X, or that there are grounds to say it failed to understand his complaint issues in any substantive way.
  20. I also note that there has been some positive progress in Mr X’s case since he complained to us. In particular the Council has since confirmed that all works are now complete, accepted evidence of Mr X’s payment to the contractor, and sent him the DFG payment. As a result I am not convinced we could achieve a better outcome for Mr X if we were to investigate his complaint.

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Final decision

  1. We do not have enough reason to investigate Mr X’s complaint about the way the Council dealt with his mother’s application for a Disabled Facilities Grant. This is because there is insufficient evidence that any fault by the Council has caused him or his mother an injustice to warrant our further involvement.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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