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Councils warned to ensure grant processes are transparent following Ombudsman complaint

Councils administering Disabled Facilities Grants need to ensure their processes are transparent and accountable, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The Ombudsman has issued the reminder following a complaint about Birmingham City Council, in which a family including a child with disabilities was left without the home adaptations they needed because of confusion around who was responsible for the work.

Disabled facilities grants are provided by local councils to adapt people’s homes to accommodate their specific needs. In most areas councils provide a grant for people to commission their own builders to complete the work.

In Birmingham, the council provided the grant, and had a list of approved contractors. But the Ombudsman found the authority did not have the policies and procedures in place to say what its responsibilities were for any work carried out.

This meant when the family’s development ran into difficulties, and the family had concerns about the quality of workmanship from the builders contracted by the council, it was not clear what action the council should take to investigate the concerns and what it should do if it was satisfied the work was of an appropriate standard.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“In any area of work, good administrative practice dictates councils should ensure they have clear and accessible policies and procedures in place, and decisions are recorded properly.

“In this case, because of a lack of transparency in its process and contracts, it became unclear whether it was the council or the householder who was responsible for ensuring the contractor’s work was up to standard. Because of this, the relationship between the council, contractors and the householder deteriorated, and the family is still without the adaptations the child needs.

“I’m pleased Birmingham City Council has agreed to my extensive recommendations to put things right for this family, and the changes it will now make will help to ensure there is more clarity for other people going through the same process.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay them £1,000 to recognise the distress, uncertainty and impact the delays have had on the child.

It will also ask the family to obtain three quotes from contractors they choose to review the work they believe to be substandard, consider which contractor they can appoint and pay for the full cost of the work to be completed.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will make a number of improvements to its Disabled Facilities Grants process highlighting each party’s responsibilities.

The council will also remind staff of the importance of keeping accurate records made at the time of all communications and discussions with an applicant. This will help to ensure the council has evidence to demonstrate its decision making and rationale on the decisions it makes.

Article date: 19 May 2022