Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 12 Oct 2023
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X, on behalf of her husband, complained the Council failed to ensure a Disabled Facilities Grant delivered the agreed changes to the property and it has not reimbursed all their out of pocket expenses incurred due to problems with the build. Mrs X says they have both experienced stress and ill health. While there were issues with the build meaning some changes, the finished build meets Mr X’s care and disability needs. There is no fault in respect of payments made for out of pocket meal expenses but the Council should consider a claim for any damage caused by the builder it contracted.
- Mrs X, on behalf of her husband Mr X, complains the Council failed to ensure a Disabled Facilities Grant delivered the agreed changes to the property and it has not reimbursed all their out of pocket expenses incurred due to problems with the build.
- Mrs X says they have both experienced stress and ill health and that their house no longer feels like their home.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with the complainant;
- sent my draft decision to both the Council and the complainant and taken account of their comments in reaching my final decision.
What I found
- This section sets out the key events in this case and is not intended to be a details chronology of all the events in this complicated and prolonged case. Mrs X lives with her husband, Mr X, who is a wheelchair user and so unable to access the upstairs of their property. In 2018, Mr and Mrs X applied for a disabled facilities grant (DFG). Mrs X says she felt pressurised into doing this even though their preferred option was to move to a bungalow.
- The Council approved the DFG following assessments by an Occupational Therapist (OT) to determine what works were appropriate to meet Mr X’s needs. It then invited contractors to tender for the works, selected from the County Council’s list of approved contractors. The Council says that all contractors on the list have been vetted and approved by the County Council prior to being included on this list. Mr and Mrs X considered the submitted tenders and entered into an agreement with a contractor in March 2020.
- Works began at Mr and Mrs X’s home in October 2020. Information provided by Mrs X indicates she had concerns about the contractor from the outset. It is clear the relationship between Mrs X and the contractor was strained. Both made allegations about the behaviour of the other. The contractors walked off the job in December 2020 and never returned.
- Mrs X made a formal complaint on 15 January 2021 about the way the Council had overseen the adaptations; that the contractors had been rude and abusive; that damage had occurred to the home and personal items had gone missing as well as the contractor leaving the site unfinished. The Council provided a detailed response on 1 February 2021.
- Mrs X escalated the complaint to stage two of the Council’s complaint procedure. The Council’s response dated 11 May 2021. It said that thew works were being carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic which brought some unavoidable delays and created anxieties for people in respect of social distancing and government guidelines. It said it wanted to help Mr and Mrs X and move forward in a positive manner to ensure the works are completed. It said with works of this size there will always be issues arising as the work progresses that will require discussion and agreement. It said it would always seek to put things right at the earliest opportunity.
- It said it was extremely disappointed the contractor had walked off the job just before Christmas and confirmed it would not use this contractor again. It also said it was writing to the contractor about their conduct. It said that in future it would advise that occupants move out of the property while works are carried out and will help to ensure suitable accommodation is sourced. It offered Mr and Mrs X its sincere apologies for any upset, distress and inconvenience caused. As a gesture of goodwill it offered to decorate additional areas of the property not part of the DFG works, to make a payment of £300 for their time and trouble and a payment of £1,500 for the inconvenience caused by the time they were left living in a mess at the property.
- The Council, aware that Mr and Mrs X had been left with difficult living conditions due to the unfinished works, took action to find another contractor to take over. A new contractor was found in April 2021. The Council visited Mr and Mrs X along with a representative for the new contractor. The new schedule of works required Mr and Mrs X and their daughter who lives with them to move out of the property for a period of time while the major structural works were completed.
- Mrs X says the need to move out of the property was not discussed and agreed with them in advance. However, the Council wrote to Mrs X on 28 April 2021 about the restart of the works with the new contractor. As well as detailing the anticipated start day and length of the works, it also raised the issue of Mr and Mrs X moving out for approximately four weeks.
- The Council offered Mr and Mrs X a bungalow as temporary accommodation while the works were completed at their property. Mrs X rejected this. The Council then agreed to pay for bed and breakfast accommodation for Mr and Mrs X and their daughter. It also paid for their cat to go to a cattery.
- The Council wrote to Mrs X on 25 June 2021 prior to the move out of their home. The letter was in response to Mrs X’s request for assistance with the purchase of food. It said “A maximum of £500 to be paid as a contributory payment towards the purchase of meals for the duration of stay up to 14 July”. It set out when two payments of £250 each would be made. The letter also said that the bungalow was still available for them if they preferred that to bed and breakfast accommodation.
- On 2 August 2023 an OT raised concerns with the Council following a visit to Mr and Mrs X’s property. She said she had concerns about the amount of steelwork and pipe boxing in the bedroom which could inhibit wheelchair access. She said that she appreciated there was no other solution at the time but was concerned it would compromise the whole success of the scheme. She said the impact of the steels was greater than the floor space they occupy. The OT later said that circulation space and flow in the bedroom for a wheelchair was compromised by the increased pillar size. She also noted that Mrs X’s concerns about wardrobes was not something for them to resolve.
- Following a meeting at the property, the Council wrote to the OT on 19 August. It set out two options, Plan A and Plan B. The Officer recommended considering Plan B which would involve moving the entrance to the bathroom. He said this was not as easy as it sounded and would come at a considerable cost and require planning permission. He also listed a number of other actions that would be required. The Council arranged for a meeting to take place on 31 August to discuss the problem.
- Following the meeting, an email was sent regarding the next actions. Plan A and Plan B had been rejection and a third option proposed. This was to locate the bed in front of one of the pillar and provide studding behind the bedhead. The email requested measurements to be taken to show how much space around the bed this would leave. I have seen scaled drawings for three different bedroom layouts dated September 2021.
- The Council wrote to Mrs X on 17 September about the ongoing and outstanding works. The letter also dealt with the issue of the location of the bed in the new extension. It said that after a meeting between the County Council, Adult Social Care and the Council, it was satisfied the extension that had been constructed met the original specification and the future housing and care needs of Mr X. It said it considered there was sufficient space for the specified double bed (or their preferred king size bed) as well as potential future care needs such as a hoist and/or carers.
- The letter said that if Mrs X refused the proposed works to erect the stud wall, then no further proposals or offers of work would be made. It said it was satisfied that the DFG had been facilitated to meet Mr X’s long term care needs. It said there was no onus on it to consider the size of bedroom furniture and how to accommodate it. It said the proposal to provide built in wardrobes in the false stud wall had been made as a gesture of goodwill.
- An email dated 1 October indicates that Mrs X rejected the proposal of the stud wall but the Council agreed to pay £500 towards the cost of the bedroom furniture.
- OT’s visited the property on 13 November. They wrote to the Council on 14 November about the visit. The letter explained the purpose of the visit was to review concerns raised by Mr and Mrs X about the adaptations at their home. They noted that both Mr and Mrs X were sleeping in the new bedroom and using the shower room. They also commented on the room layout issues saying Mr and Mrs X had chosen to put the bed in a position they knew would mean no wheelchair access down the side of the bed. They said Mr and Mrs X had further compounded this problem by having fitted wardrobes and built in bedside tables and cupboards over the bed. They said this has the effect of further restricting space and making it difficult to move the bed without significant disruption and expense. The OT said the only suggestion she could make was for a smaller bed and that she felt Mr and Mrs X had exacerbated the problem themselves by prioritising wardrobes over wheelchair accessibility.
- The role of the Council in the DFG process is to assist homeowners in designing a safe scheme of works to facilitate the adaptation. Also to tender the work and then assist the homeowner in appointing an appropriate and qualified contractor to undertake the work. It then oversees the work on site to ensure that it is carried out correctly and in accordance with planning and building regulations. However, the legal agreement in respect of the works is between the homeowner and the contractor.
- I note that Mrs X says having a DFG was not her first choice and that she wanted to move to a bungalow. While I appreciate her feelings, there is nothing to suggest she does not have the capacity to make decisions and to enter into a contract. She has not provided any evidence which would indicate she was forced to have a DFG. I therefore do not intend to comment further on this.
- I am concerned only with the actions of the District Council in this case. The contractors are not within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction and so I cannot investigate their actions.
- Mrs X says the DFG failed to deliver the agreed changes to the property. In particular she says the bedroom has not been built to the agreed size. The information I have seen does not suggest the overall external dimensions of the bedroom are incorrect. There is clear evidence extra steel framework and boxing in were required in the bedroom meaning the internal dimensions of the room were altered and therefore different to what was planned.
- In August when an OT visited the property, she raised concerns about whether the room was large enough to meet Mr X’s needs both current and potential future needs. In response to this concern a site visit took place as well as a meeting to discuss the impact. Suggestions were put forward regarding building changes but these were considered either too expensive or too complicated to carry out. Instead those involved proposed installing a false stud wall on which the bed could be placed.
- Mrs X did not accept this proposal and so they also drew up three alternative room layouts which showed there would be enough room to accommodate the bed and some limited furniture and would still allow room to manoeuvre a wheelchair.
- While I can understand that Mrs X was unhappy the internal dimensions of the bedroom changed, I am not persuaded this was as a result of fault by the Council. Issues can arise during building works and which require changes to the original plans. This is what happened in this case and I am satisfied the Council properly considered how to respond to these changes to ensure the room was still fit for purpose.
- It is clear that Mrs X was concerned with how the bedroom looked as well as how it met Mr X’s care and disability needs. For the Council, its only duty was to ensure the room met Mr X’s current and potential future care needs including whether a hoist could be installed. Ultimately, Mrs X chose the layout and included more furniture in the room than the Council layouts proposed. The evidence provided shows the room was considered suitable for Mr X’s needs even though the internal space had changed from the original plans. I find no fault in respect of the finished size of the bedroom and how the Council responded to this issue. It is also my understand the Council paid Mr and Mrs X £2,000, as a goodwill gesture, towards the cost of fitted wardrobes.
- Mrs X also complains the Council has not reimbursed all out of pocket expenses incurred due to problems with the build. She specifically raised the issue of the food costs for the period the family was relocated from their property due to the building works.
- Mr and Mrs X and their daughter temporarily moved into bed and breakfast accommodation when the new contractors began working on site and were carrying out works that would cause major disruption. The Council initially offered a bungalow which was located near to their home and would have given them access to a kitchen to enable them to cook meals. The family declined this offer. It is my understanding that there was limited availability of rental accommodation probably related to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Council was able secure bed and breakfast accommodation.
- I acknowledge that buying meals out for three people will cost more than making meals at home. In June 2021 the Council wrote to Mrs X saying that it would contribute a maximum of £500 as a contribution towards the cost of meals. I have seen nothing to show the Council agreed to reimburse the full cost of meals. While the original letter refers to Mrs X providing receipts, there is nothing to suggest these were ever requested or submitted. The Council paid the full £500 contribution. I find no fault on this issue.
- I am aware this was a very difficult and stressful period for Mr and Mrs X. The works took much longer than expected to complete partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic but in a large part due to the first contractor walking off the job. This was not the action of the Council and I am satisfied it appropriately stepped in to resolve the situation. I note the remedy already given to Mr and Mrs X in response to their complaint.
- I am also aware of other amounts paid by the Council in respect of the building works. Some of the costs were associated with the impact of the works and so were necessary such as a new first floor bathroom due to the installation of the steelworks. Other costs such as a stained glass panel rather than opaque glass in the new front door were not essential but were given as a good will gesture.
- Mrs X says that she has incurred many other costs such as having to replace blinds, three piece suite and carpets due to the building works causing damage. While Mr and Mrs X contracted for the works directly with the original builder, they did not sign a contract with the builder who took over the works. The contract was between the Council and the second builder.
- The second builder was therefore acting on behalf of the Council and so it should consider any claim for damages caused by the second builder. I have not seen anything to suggest the Council has consider such a claim, either itself or by referring a claim to its insurers. If Mr and Mrs X have evidence of damage and financial loss caused by the second builders, then they should present this to the Council for consideration. The Ombudsman cannot take a view on whether negligence has occurred and would normally say any such claim should be made through the courts.
- I intend to complete my investigation as there is no evidence of fault causing injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman