Blaby Council criticised over disabled facilities grant

Blaby District Council failed to consider all the circumstances when refusing an application for a disabled facilities grant.

Blaby District Council failed to consider all the circumstances when refusing an application for a disabled facilities grant, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Jane Martin. In her report, issued today (15 September 2010) she says: “Human rights are important and councils need to be aware of them when they exercise those of their duties which impact on the citizen. The right of freedom to pursue religious beliefs is one which seems so obvious in our society that it can be overlooked. But I believe in this case the Council did not fully understand that the human rights were an issue here, nor did it have sufficient information upon which to reach a decision.”

The Ombudsman says that the complainant’s needs were paramount and should have weighed more heavily in the assessment, and adds that: “The Council’s refusal to consider a grant for the works [the complainant] badly needed condemned her to inadequate and degrading washing and bathing potentially for as long as she lived.” She says she is pleased that the Council has agreed to remedy the injustice to the complainants.

‘Mr and Mrs F’ (real names are not given for legal reasons) complained about the way the Council handled their request for adaptations to their bathroom so that it would be accessible to Mrs F who has multiple health problems. The Council agreed that the adaptations were necessary and appropriate, but did not pursue an application for a disabled facilities grant as Mr and Mrs F refused to take out house insurance due to their religious beliefs as committed Christians. The Council stated that its policy only allowed applications for disabled facilities grants to be awarded where the applicants had house insurance.

The Ombudsman says she could not see that the requirement to have insurance was on firm ground, noting that “The Council’s own research suggested that half of the councils surveyed saw no need to have a policy on insurance at all.”

The Ombudsman considers there was fault in the way the Council dealt with the screening of the application. The initial officers involved should have taken individual circumstances into account and not relied wholly on policy. A more senior officer did consider the individual circumstances of Mrs F but failed to take into account relevant considerations such as:

  • the risks to the Council attached to not having house insurance
  • the general vulnerability of Mrs F
  • the application of human rights in Mrs F’s case, and
  • the validity of Mrs F’s religious beliefs.

The Ombudsman considers that Mrs F has been caused significant injustice as she was unable to have a bath for over nine months. The ongoing complaint also caused Mr and Mrs F considerable stress and anxiety.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and the Council has agreed to:

  • carry out the adaptations that Mrs F needs to her bathroom;
  • pay Mrs F £1,000 in recognition of the stress and discomfort she has been caused;
  • pay Mr F £250 for time and trouble in making this complaint; and
  • review policy to ensure that officers are clear that exceptions can be made.

Report ref no 09 006 783

Article date: 15 September 2010