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London Borough of Bromley (21 001 878)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Feb 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained the Council failed to approve her application to move into a home fit for her disabled child Y’s needs. Ms X also complained the Council did not respond to the complaint she raised about this. The Council was not at fault for rejecting Ms X’s bid for the property. The Council was at fault for a significant delay in responding to the complaint she made. The Council should apologise to Ms X and make a payment of £200. It has already reminded its staff of the importance of responding to complaints within the required timescales.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complained the Council:
      1. failed to make adaptations her child Y needed to move safely around their home; and
      2. did not respond to the complaint she raised about the Council’s handling of her disability facilities grant.

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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 cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 contacted Ms X and discussed her view of the complaint.
  2. I made enquiries of the Council and considered the information it supplied. This included Ms X’s complaint letter, disabled facilities grant application, Y’s occupational therapy assessment and correspondence shared between Ms X and the Council.
  3. I will write to Ms X and the Council with the draft decision. I will consider any comments I receive from either party before I write the final decision.

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What I found

Law

Disabled Facilities Grants

  1. Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) are for people with a qualifying disability who need adaptations in their home to help them remain in their home.
  2. DFGs are mandatory and must be awarded if the applicant meets the qualifying conditions. These are that:
    • the applicant, or someone living in the property, is disabled and owns or rents the property and intends to live in it for five years; and
    • the council is satisfied that the works proposed are necessary and appropriate to meet the disabled person’s needs, and reasonable and practicable, depending on the age and condition of the property.
  3. If these criteria are met, means tested DFGs must be given for adaptations (up to £30,000) which give the person better freedom of movement in and around the home or to access essential facilities within it.

Council housing allocations policy

  1. The Council has five housing bands ranging from least priority (Band 5) to highest priority (Emergency band).
  2. Residents are able to place bids for eligible properties and can ask for a review if they are unhappy with the Council’s decision.

Complaints procedure

  1. The Council should acknowledge the complaint within 3 working days. The investigating manager aims to reply to the complaint within 20 working days.

What happened

  1. Ms X’s young child Y has various health and mobility issues. Ms X has been on the Council’s housing emergency banding for several years as the home she shares with Y and Y’s sibling is not fit for Y’s needs because it does not have level access.
  2. In late 2020 a bungalow that was close to one of Ms X’s relatives became available. Ms X made a bid for the property. She also applied and was approved for a disabled facilities grant (DFG).
  3. The Council rejected Ms X’s bid because the property required over £30,000 in adjustments and adaptations to be suitable for Y. Ms X wrote to the Council on 26 October 2020 asking for a review of the decision.
  4. The Council performed a housing register review and on 21 November 2020 it told Ms X it had researched various ways to adapt the property for Y’s needs, but maintained that after speaking to a contractor, the cost of the adaptations needed would exceed the DFG grant by approximately £20 - £30k.
  5. Ms X complained about the decision on 9 December 2020. She asked the Council to confirm the adaptations and costings. She also asked why the Council would not allow her to pay the shortfall in costs or provide a discretionary top of up of the grant. She said she had many family members and friends that would be willing to assist with the necessary adjustments. She disagreed with the Council’s reasoning for why the property was not safe for Y.
  6. The Council sent Ms X a holding email on 15 January 2021 advising it was still investigating her complaint, but the festive period and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted its resources.
  7. On 4 February 2021 the Council told Ms X another property had become available, and it would be visiting it with an occupational therapist to assess its suitability for the family.
  8. On 18 February 2021, Ms X chased the Council for a response to her complaint. Ms X and her family moved into the new property on 24 March 2021.
  9. The Council responded to Ms X’s complaint on 10 December 2021. The Council listed the adaptations needed for the house and explained it had considered additional funding however it had been unsuccessful in securing this funding. The Council confirmed it relied on advice from professionals when deciding what adaptations were necessary. The Council also explained it could not employ Ms X’s relatives or friends to carry out the work as this was not in line with the Council’s procedures.
  10. Ms X referred her complaint to the Ombudsman as she remained unhappy with the situation.
  11. In response to the Ombudsman’s enquiries, the Council has acknowledged it did not respond to Ms X’s complaint within the correct timescales and has offered a goodwill award of £200 in recognition of this. The Council has confirmed it has completed adaptations for Y’s bedroom and bathroom and is in the process of securing additional funding as it has become clear since Ms X moved into the property that further work is needed. The Council has also confirmed the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in carrying out the adaptations needed to make Ms X’s current property safe for Y.

Findings

  1. Ms X remains unhappy the Council did not approve her bid for the first property. She says the Council should have accepted the various options she put forward to enable her and her family to move into the property. The Council has a duty to place Ms X and Y in a property that is suitable to meet Y’s needs. The Council assessed the property for and took advice from professionals which included contractors and occupational therapists when deciding the property was not appropriate for Ms X and Y. The Council is not obliged by law to exceed the monetary limit of the DFG but it considered doing so. It was unable to secure funding at the time and so it declined Ms X’s bid. I would not expect the Council to place Ms X and Y in a property that was not suitable for them. The Ombudsman cannot question the merits of a decision the Council has correctly made. There is no evidence of fault in the Council’s actions.
  2. The Council’s policy requires it to respond to complaints within 20 working days. Whilst the Council sent holding emails updating Ms X on the progress of the complaint, the Council did not respond to Ms X’s December 2020 complaint until December 2021. I understand the Council was likely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic however this is fault. I can imagine this caused Ms X frustration. The Council has made a financial award offer in recognition of this. I consider there are further actions it should take to address the injustice caused by its complaint handing.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the final decision the Council has agreed to provide an apology to Ms X to recognise the time and trouble she was put to by its actions.
  2. Within three months of the final decision the Council has agreed to make a payment of £200 to Ms X to recognise the injustice caused by its failure to respond to her complaint.
  3. The Council has provided evidence showing it has issued a notice to its staff reminding them of the importance of keeping to the required timescales when dealing with complaints.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault when it delayed responding to Ms X’s complaint. I have made recommendations for how it should remedy the injustice caused by the fault. I have completed the investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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