Housing adaptations for people with disabilities

This fact sheet is for people with disabilities (or someone caring for them) who are experiencing problems with adaptation to their home and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with adaptations to my home to make it suitable for me. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. By law the council may be responsible for providing help to people with a wide range of disabilities. This is to enable them to move in and out of their homes, to access and use living and sleeping areas, cooking, bathing, and toilet facilities within the home.

This may involve the council's adults or children's services departments and the provision of grant funding. We can look at complaints about these. 

But complaints about the actions of a housing landlord - whether that is the local authority or a housing association - are dealt with by the Housing Ombudsman Service (see "other sources of information" below). Where a complaint involves the actions of both the landlord and the local authority, we may decide to carry out a joint investigation with the Housing Ombudsman.

When other organisations (for example home improvement agencies and voluntary organisations) are involved in delivering adaptations, we can look into their actions only if they are taken on behalf of the council.

The Government commissioned guidance for councils and health authorities about good practice in providing these services (ee "other sources of information" below).

The basic principles are:

  • meeting disabled people's needs sensitively, efficiently and cost-effectively
  • individualised solutions not barriers
  • using skills and experiences of a wide range of disciplines
  • seamless, joined-up services, including providers working together and joint protocols and agreements between housing and social care, and
  • specified, minimal time frames made explicit at the outset.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the result, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter - we think 12 weeks is reasonable - you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your request for adaptations or help with them which has caused you problems. Some of the issues we can look at are whether the council:

  • failed to give you information you should have
  • failed to assess your need for adaptations
  • failed to consider some relevant information in an assessment
  • delayed in dealing with your request for help
  • failed to provide a service or adaptation which it had decided you need
  • failed to tell you about a decision it had reached
  • did not tell you how to challenge a decision if you disagree with it, or
  • did not keep you informed, or failed to reply to letter, emails, and telephone calls.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

It depends on what the fault was and what consequences it had for you. Sometimes things go wrong but do not affect the outcome. And sometimes the faults mean that someone has struggled on without proper access to the facilities in their home for longer than they should have done.

Where we find fault with the council's procedure we will often ask the council to make changes so the same problem does not occur again. Where the consequences of what happened have been significant, we can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right.

Sometimes, delay can make a situation worse, so we can ask the council to take some extra action which wouldn't have been needed if it had done everything properly  first.

Sometimes it will be appropriate for the council to make a payment to acknowledge the distress its actions have caused, and for the impact of unreasonable delay. The amount we ask for would depend on exactly how you have been affected. We can also take account of whether here was any action you took which made the situation worse, or action you could have taken to improve matters.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr A complained that the council had delayed arranging to adapt his home. The investigation showed that it took eight months to assess his needs and a further six months to carry out the work. As a result, Mr A had to wait for an unreasonable time for the adaptations and suffered avoidable discomfort and inconvenience as a result. These unreasonable delays were within the time limits the council had set itself, but the Ombudsman criticised the council for having time targets which allowed undue delay to occur. The council agreed to pay Mr A £1,250 to recognise the unreasonable delay in carrying out the adaptations to his home. The Ombudsman also asked the council to review its resources, targets and procedures so that cases can normally be allocated to an occupational therapist within three months of referral.
Mrs B complained that the council failed to arrange and fund changes to her bathroom properly. She owned her own home and wanted a free standing shower cubicle, and to have the bathroom moved to the ground floor. An occupational therapist (OT) recommended a level access thermostatic shower to replace the existing bath, but not to move the bathroom or to install a power shower. The council provided a disabled facilities grant to pay for the recommended works, and said it would consider funding work to move the bathroom to ground floor if it could not convert the first floor one satisfactorily. As it could, there was no need to move the bathroom to the ground floor. When the works were carried out a slight leak developed in the shower, which the contractor corrected later. But Mrs B was unhappy with the final result of the works, including the type of shower, and she complained to us. While we recognised the situation might not be entirely to her liking, there was no evidence that the council had provided and funded adaptations which were not fit for their purpose. And it was not for us to substitute our judgement for that of the OT, so the complaint was not upheld.

Other sources of information

You can contact the Housing Ombudsman Service at www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk by telephone on 0300 111 3000, or by email at info@housing-ombudsman.org.uk

Delivering housing adaptations for disabled people, a good practice guide published in October 2013 by Care and Repair England, is available from careandrepair-england.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/DFG-Good-Practice-Guide-30th-Sept-13.pdf.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

November 2015