Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (22 005 023)

Category : Adult care services > Disabled facilities grants

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 Jan 2023

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss B complained on her own behalf and that of her father, about delays in the Council completing adaptations to her father’s bathroom funded by a Disabled Facilities Grant. We upheld the complaint finding fault or service failure by the Council contributed to around eight months of delay to the works completing. This caused injustice to Miss B’s father as he lacked the modifications to improve his daily life. Miss B also suffered a separate injustice as distress due to this delay and some poor communications by the Council. The Council accepts these findings and at the end of this statement we set out the action it has agreed to remedy this injustice.

The complaint

  1. I have called the complainant ‘Miss B’. She complains on her own behalf and that of her father, whom I will call ‘Mr C’. She complains the Council was at fault for the time taken to provide adaptations to Mr C’s bathroom, funded by a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).
  2. Miss B says as a result Mr C had to use a bathroom which was not safe for him for longer than necessary. She was caused worry as a result. Mr C also delayed in having repairs carried out to the bathroom on the understanding the grant works would prevent the need for these.

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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 consider whether there was fault in the way an organisation made its decision. If there was no fault in the decision making, we cannot question the outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. 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)
  3. If we are satisfied with an organisation’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. Before writing this decision statement I considered:
  • Miss B’s written complaint to the Ombudsman and any supporting information she provided;
  • correspondence between Miss B and the Council about the issues at the crux of the complaint, which pre-dated our investigation;
  • information provided by the Council in reply to my written enquiries;
  • any relevant law, Government guidance or Council policy as set out in the text below;
  • relevant Ombudsman guidance including our published guidance on remedies.
  1. Miss B and the Council were also given opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision statement. I took account of any comments they made before issuing a final decision.

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What I found

Relevant law and guidance

  1. Disabled Facilities Grants are provided under the terms of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Councils have a statutory duty to give grants to disabled people for certain adaptations. Before approving a grant, a council must be satisfied the work is necessary, meets the disabled person’s needs, and is reasonable and practicable.
  2. Councils that are responsible for social care (including unitary authorities such as Bolton Council) must promote ‘wellbeing’ when carrying out care and support functions. Wellbeing includes ensuring the suitability of living accommodation. So, the Care Act 2014 recognises providing suitable accommodation as one way of meeting care and support needs. Prevention is a key principle of the Care Act and home adaptations are an example of secondary prevention.
  3. Before March 2022, guidance on the provision of DFGs was provided by the Housing Adaptations Consortium; a group of national organisations such as charities and professional associations. The Consortium produced guidance commissioned by Government called ‘Delivering Housing Adaptations for Disabled People: a detailed guide to related legislation, guidance and good practice’. It recommended local authorities introduce target timescales for each stage when carrying out adaptations, identifying three stages of the process:
  • Stage One being from the enquiry at first point of contact to referral to an Occupational Therapist (OT). Councils use these specialist officers to assess if adaptations are ‘necessary’ and to recommend the type of adaptations needed.
  • Stage Two being from the OT recommendation to approval of a scheme. This will often involve surveying work, technical specifications and so on that will set out the scope, cost and time involved in carrying out the adaptations.
  • Stage Three is from the approval of the scheme to the completion of the works.
  1. The guidance recommended varying timescales dependent on whether the work needed was ‘urgent’ or ‘non-urgent’. But for non-urgent cases the guidance said the whole process should ideally complete within 150 working days; comprised of up to 20 working days for Stage One, 50 working days for Stage Two and 80 working days for Stage Three.
  2. In March 2022 the government replaced this guidance with its own non-statutory guidance ‘Disabled facilities Grant (DFG) Delivery: Guidance for local authorities in England’. This identifies five key stages to delivering home adaptations:
  • Stage One: First contact with the service. Councils should ensure the public has access to information and advice about the DFG process.
  • Stage Two: First contact to assessment and identification of the relevant works through an OT assessment.
  • Stage Three: Identification of the relevant works to submission of the formal grant application.
  • Stage Four: Grant application to grant decision.
  • Stage Five: Approval of grant to completion of works. The works are arranged and carried out and the necessary quality checks made.
  1. The guidance says a council should decide a grant application as soon as reasonably practicable. In addition, the timescales for moving through the stages will depend on the urgency and complexity of the works required. But the guidance gives the following timescales:
  • Urgent and simple works – 55 working days
  • Non-urgent and simple works – 130 working days
  • Urgent and complex works – 130 days
  • Non-urgent and complex works – 180 working days

Council delivery of DFGs and relevant policy

  1. Bolton at Home is an organisation which comprises several limited companies including two registered social housing providers. On its website the organisation says it provides help and guidance with DFGs. It liaises with the Independent Living Service (ILS) which is part of the Council’s adult social care service. OTs working for the ILS assess someone’s need for adaptations and recommend what priority to give these. The ILS place adaptations in three priority bands – number one being for the most urgent needs and number three for the least urgent.
  2. Delivery of DFGs is the responsibility of another organisation known as Bolton Care and Repair. This is a home improvement agency which is a partnership of the Council and Bolton at Home. Care and Repair employs case officers to support applicants through the DFG process. It also employs surveyors who draw up specifications of works and can approach approved contractors for quotes.

Brief Chronology

  1. Below I list what I consider are the most significant events forming this complaint. The chronology is not intended to be fully comprehensive. For ease of reading, I will refer to decisions and communications as coming from ‘the Council’. This term encompasses communications from both Care and Repair and Bolton at Home (sometimes on letterhead also incorporating the Council’s heading). I have not distinguished as in the context of this complaint I consider these organisations were acting on behalf of the Council in administering the DFG process.
  2. Miss B first contacted the Council in January 2021 as Mr C was struggling to use his shower due to a disability. An Occupational Therapist (OT) from its ILS team assessed his needs the following week. The OT noted Mr C was having difficulty accessing his shower because it had a step. Also, that he struggled to grip items. She recommended provision of a level access shower and associated works to create a wet room for Mr C. The assessment did not note any risk to Mr C’s health and safety.
  3. The Council awarded ‘priority three’ status to the works. In a letter advising Mr C of its decision, it said this priority band was for adaptations which will “give independence” to a disabled person “in their activities of daily living”. It said priority two status was awarded to those with “severe degenerative conditions or where discharge from residential care is delayed [and/or] where there is a health and safety concern, particularly for the carer, because of a lack of adaptation”.
  4. The letter also said that based on current timescales it would take just over a year to complete the works. The Council also wrote to Mr C’s landlord (a social housing provider) to advise it of the proposed works.
  5. In May 2021 the Council allocated Mr C’s case to a caseworker. By July 2021 a surveyor had visited Mr C and drawn up plans for the bathroom adaptations which Mr C quickly approved, as did the OT.
  6. At the end of July 2021, the Council reassessed Mr C’s needs. As well as the continuing need for support with washing, to be met through the proposed adaptations, the assessment found Mr C would also benefit from care support in other areas. There followed over the next few weeks discussions between the Council and Mr C about the possibility of him having a direct payment to purchase care to meet his needs (through a personal assistant). Mr C decided not to pursue this.
  7. In early August 2021 Miss B telephoned seeking an update on timescales. She did this as Mr C’s landlord was offering a repair to his existing shower door. Miss B has explained to me that a crack in the door led to water pooling on the bathroom floor which was a slip hazard. This increased the risk to her father falling, in addition that caused by the difficulty he had negotiating the shower step. Mr C felt the repair unnecessary if the adaptations were soon to complete. Miss B therefore wrote to the landlord saying to delay any repairs, as further to her conversation she understood the adaptations might complete in the next two months. The Council’s note of the conversation said Miss B was “happy” after their conversation “as [she] had previously been advised by OT that [works] would not be completed until after xmas”.
  8. Around the same time and further to that reassessment, the Council re-categorised Mr C’s need for adaptations to ‘priority 2’. It has not recorded the reasons for that decision. It says that in practical terms this also made little difference as by now it was seeking quotes for the adaptations.
  9. The Council received quotes for the work by the end of August 2021 and in early September wrote to Mr C’s landlord seeking formal consent to undertake the works. The landlord replied just over a week later and asked for more information and the Council provided this in early October. Then at the start of November, the landlord asked for more information which the Council provided in the middle of the month. The landlord wrote again at the beginning of December to say this was incomplete. In mid-December the Council provided the remaining information and the next day the landlord agreed consent for the works.
  10. While these discussions continued Miss B was in regular contact with the Council. She explained Mr C had now had several falls using his shower, waiting for the adaptations to complete.
  11. Around a month later, in mid-January 2022, the Council completed necessary paperwork with Mr C for the grant works to progress. In its paperwork given to Mr C, the Council explained he would contract directly with contractors carrying out works. But that it would offer “every assistance” to ensure the works completed satisfactory.
  12. A month later, following Miss B making enquiries on behalf of Mr C, the DFG was approved. The Council wrote to Mr C to confirm this and again clarified “it is your responsibility to ensure the work is completed to a standard that is acceptable to yourself”.
  13. Miss B next made enquiries about when the proposed contractor could start works. By late March, the contractor told her they could provide no start date for the work. The Council agreed in early April that Mr C could use a different contractor of her choice. That second contractor could start the works in mid-May. The Council proposed an alternative who could start sooner, but Miss B rejected this after reading poor reviews of its work.
  14. The adaptation works duly started in mid-May but took several weeks to complete. Mr C could not use his own shower for some weeks and nor could he use his toilet for a time as there were no grab rails; so he had to make alternative arrangements. When Miss B told the surveyor about these problems he initially indicated a willingness to help. But in early June 2022 Miss B found she had no reply to emails advising of problems, including that Mr C’s toilet was fitted too low. I understand at this time the surveyor was unexpectedly absent from work.
  15. In late June 2022 the Council set up a site meeting with the contractor. By now most of the issues reported by Miss B had been resolved, but the toilet remained too low. In early July the surveyor confirmed the contractor could fit a plinth to this to raise its height. It was not until late July the contractor fitted this and Mr C confirmed his satisfaction with the works.

Miss B’s complaints

  1. In April 2022 Miss B complained unhappy at the delays in her father receiving the DFG adaptations. The Council split its consideration of this complaint into two parts; one to consider the OT assessment and priority afforded the case and the other to consider its administration of the DFG. Miss B later made a second complaint, focused on the problems experienced with the contractors.
  2. In its replies the Council has:
  • defended the initial priority it gave to Mr C’s application noting in January 2021 that Mr C “mobilised to the bathroom safely and independently unaided and managed to step into the shower cubicle although with difficulty”;
  • stressed that some delays have been outside its control; particularly delays in communications with Mr C’s landlord; and with the contractor completing works;
  • said that it would have provided a temporary frame to help Mr C use the toilet had it known of the contractor’s failure to fit grab rails sooner; that it was the responsibility of the OT to specify if Mr C’s toilet needed a plinth fitting;
  • said that it is moving to a process where it updates those applying for DFGs on timescales for each stage of the process; rather than providing a single overall timescale.
  1. In comments in reply to my enquiries the Council has said that the contractor should have checked the work specification against the plans to ensure they provided a plinth for the toilet. It has explained they were relatively new to the Council’s procedures and have learnt from what happened here.
  2. The Council has also told us that it is aware that it is not completing DFG works in the timescales envisaged in Government guidance. It is currently taking around nine months to complete priority two works and around eleven months to complete priority three cases. The Council says that it reviews performance both quarterly and annually to try and make improvements.


  1. I have considered first the priority afforded by the Council to the adaptations needed to Mr C’s bathroom. Some explanation for this can be found in the letter sent to Mr C, although I have also considered a more detailed policy document provided by the Council. I did not find the more detailed policy easy to follow as it referred to priority criteria in different places. But overall, I found it drew a distinction between more urgent (priority two) and non-urgent works (priority three) based on the impact of the lack of adaptation on the disabled person. That is not an approach we would find fault with.
  2. I considered on the facts of this case the Council could justify placing Mr C’s need for adaptations in the less urgent ‘priority 3’ band. The assessment carried out in January 2021 did not identify a significant health and safety risk to Mr C or Miss B. The Council recorded Mr C could use his shower, albeit with difficulty.
  3. That said, given Mr C’s deteriorating mobility and the difficulties he faced I can understand why Miss B may have considered priority two more appropriate. But as I have explained above our role is not to uphold a complaint based on disagreement alone. Where a Council has two or more courses of action open to it and exercised a choice as to which to follow, we cannot criticise that choice unless the decision was taken with fault. I cannot say that was the case here. Because I cannot see the Council overlooked any facts which would have necessitated giving the application a higher priority.
  4. I noted the Council wrote to Mr C at the outset to explain how long it expected the works to take. But I also note the Council did not follow best practice in setting out timescales for each step of the process, as recommended in guidance in force at the time. I am pleased to note the Council has said it is changing its practice here.
  5. I have a bigger concern when noting the substance of that advice. The Council told Mr C the adaptations would take approximately double the time envisaged in all guidance on DFG administration. I then note that in the event, the delays in completing the works were then worse than anticipated. Because the DFG adaptations did not complete until July 2022, around 19 months after Miss B’s initial enquiry. So, around eleven months longer than was recommended at the time and much later than January 2022 as Mr C was first led to believe.
  6. It does not follow that in every case where there is a delay, we will find fault with the Council or conclude there was a service failure. But in this case, there is no other finding I can reach. The Council has cited the actions of Mr C’s landlord and the contractor as providing some explanation for the delay Mr C experienced. I accept in both cases there is some evidence for this. But I find that when it was communicating with the landlord each side contributed around seven weeks in answering enquiries. And on the landlord’s side not all of this can be considered ‘delay’ as some time for landlord consent has to be factored into the DFG approval process. So, I do not consider the landlord contributed any more than a month to the overall delay in these adaptations completing.
  7. In terms of the contractor, I note Mr C’s choice of contractor may have added around a month (at most) to the works starting. The contractor then added to delays on site, and I will attribute another month of delay their actions.
  8. But I note one cause of the contractor’s delay was due to them not fitting the toilet at the correct height. I consider fault by the Council contributed to this. I noted the plan made clear the new toilet must be at the same height as the old. But the specification of works did not and so did not point out the possible need for a plinth. I accept the contractor may have been relatively new to such works and so unfamiliar with the Council’s standard contract specifications. With closer reading they may have noted the need for a plinth. But I consider the Council was still responsible for some of the confusion here.
  9. Of the eleven months delay therefore, I consider the Council can only point to around three months’ worth being the responsibility of third parties. I accept these events took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting on both Councils and building contractors. So, the Council may still consider some of the delay in this case unavoidable. But I must still regard this as a service failing. Because the delays in this case went well beyond any reasonable expectation Mr C and Miss B would have of how long these works should take. I particularly note here the long delay in the Council beginning ‘stage three’ of the grant works, which took around eleven months from start to end.
  10. The delay due to Council fault and/or service failure will have caused Mr C an injustice. He had to struggle for far longer than he should have with an unsuitable shower that over time was posing more of a health and safety risk to him.
  11. Nor do I find the Council’s fault confined only to delay. I consider the Council was also at fault for the conversation it had with Miss B in August 2021. Both an email she sent contemporaneous to that conversation and the Council’s own note of the call, show that she was led at that time to believe the works would complete before the end of the year. I am not clear this was ever likely given that the work to secure the adaptations had only just begun. But the call raised expectations unrealistically which was an injustice. It also caused Mr C to reject an offer of repairs from his landlord, which may otherwise have been of benefit to him.
  12. I also consider the Council failed to meet expectations when Miss B and Mr C experienced problems with the contractor. I note the communications it sent to Mr C were clear in explaining that it did not contract directly with the contractor. So, the Council cannot be held at fault for the contractor’s errors. But those same communications and the early emails Miss B exchanged with the surveyor gave the clear impression the Council would help if any difficulties with the contractor arose. And to be fair to the Council, I find it did intervene and its intervention helped ensure ultimately the adaptations completed satisfactorily.
  13. However, there were around three to four weeks in June 2022 when Miss B must have felt abandoned by the Council as emails went unanswered. I find the surveyor’s unexpected absence contributed to this and so there was no bad faith on the part of the Council. But even so, the service fell short of what Miss B might have reasonably expected. So, its actions contributed some additional distress, on top of what was already a stressful situation caused by the actions of the contractor.
  14. The Council has accepted these findings and agreed action to remedy the injustice caused to Miss B and Mr C. That action takes account of the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies which says where a complainant has been deprived of modifications which would have improved their daily life, we usually recommend a remedy payment in the range of £150 to £350 a month. In determining the appropriate figure, we consider the impact on the complainant and take account of factors such as:
    • the extent of the adaptations needed;
    • the particular circumstances of the person requiring adaptations;
    • the adequacy of current or interim arrangements.
  15. On this last point, I note the Council discussed with Mr C, in August 2021, the possibility of him having a care package to help meet his needs. There are no detailed notes of those discussions, but I assume they included the difficulties he had washing while waiting for his adaptations. I find it is possible therefore that some of the difficult consequences caused by the delayed service to Mr C may have been alleviated. This led me to decide that in this case it a fair remedy to the complaint meant the financial remedy could be at the lower end of the tariff.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice caused to Miss B and Mr C the Council has agreed that within 20 working days of this decision, it will:
    • apologise to Miss B and Mr C accepting the findings of this investigation;
    • pay Mr C £1,200 to recognise the distress and difficulties he experienced for eight months while waiting for the DFG works to complete;
    • pay Miss B £300 in recognition of the distress and raised expectations she experienced because of the wrong advice she received on timescales in August 2021; the difficulties contacting the Council in June 2022 and in worry for her father’s welfare as a result of the Council delays caused by fault and/or service failure.
  2. The Council has also agreed to learn wider lessons from this complaint. Discussion of this case will inform the next quarterly review of the adaptations service that follows issue of this decision (so within three months of that decision). At that meeting the Council and its partners will discuss:
  • how it can further improve performance to ensure it is meeting Government expectations on the timescales for DFG works to complete; in particular the time taken on ‘stage three’ of the process as this is where the greatest delays occurred in this case;
  • if it can improve communications with landlords to prevent delays in obtaining landlord consent for works through lengthy exchanges of information.
  1. The Council will also complete the work of ensuring DFG applicants are kept informed of likely timescales at each stage of their journey through the process. It should ensure it has introduced this improvement within three months of a decision on this complaint.

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Final decision

  1. For reasons set out above I uphold this complaint finding fault by the Council causing injustice to Miss B and Mr C. The Council has agreed action that I consider will remedy that injustice. Consequently, I have completed my investigation satisfied with its response.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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