Disability adaptations and councils’ responsibilities

Ed Mitchel investigates cases where councils have been brought to book over their handling of home adaptations for disabled people


A decent home is an essential foundation for genuine independence for any person with disabilities. This explains why the local government ombudsman takes a close interest in the performance of councils in discharging their functions in relation to disability adaptations. Recent cases show the ombudsman has made findings of delay, incompetence and indifference on the part of councils.

Indifference to plight of children

In one of the worst cases ever investigated by the ombudsman, two severely disabled children lived in grossly inadequate accommodation for seven years. The response of their council, Bury, was described as “institutionalised indifference”. Initially, the family were moved to a new home but without any enquiries being made as to whether planning permission for an extension was likely to be granted. It wasn’t granted and six years elapsed before alternative accommodation was found. During this period, the council refused to fund temporary adaptations, such as a stairlift or a shower in a downstairs toilet. As a result, the eldest child had to be hosed down in the back garden. The council agreed to pay the family £41,000 compensation (decision 07/C/03887, October 2009).

Administration charge unfair

One council had been adding a 10% administration charge to all approved disabled facilities grant (DFG) applications. The son of a woman awarded a maximum DFG of £30,000 objected. He was project managing the work and did not see any justification for the charge. The ombudsman suggested to the council that the charge was not reasonable and it was waived (decision published November 2009).

Misuse of adaptations policy

One council’s disability adaptations policy was used to tackle under-occupation of its own housing stock. A request for adaptations to an under-occupied house would be given the lowest priority. If, however, a tenant agreed to move they would be guaranteed a smaller, but adapted, property. A disabled tenant complained about this policy because she did not want to leave family in her local neighbourhood. The ombudsman investigated and discovered that the council had not checked its adaptations policy for compliance with its general disability equality duty. Contained in section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, this requires a council in carrying out its functions to have regard to a range of needs such as “the need to take steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than other persons”. The council agreed to fund the adaptations immediately and to review its policy (decision published November 2009).

Delay to disabled facilities grant

Mr J had severe haemophilia and arthritis. His bathroom was too small to use safely. In 2004 West Lindsey District Council accepted that Mr J was entitled to a mandatory DFG to expand his bathroom. The county council, Lincolnshire, was also involved in providing occupational therapy advice. The work was not completed for four years. Much of the delay was due to the district council not having earmarked enough funds to meet its duties to fund DFGs. In addition, Lincolnshire’s occupational therapy advice was unclear about how much bathroom space was needed. The ombudsman concluded that the work took three years too long. The councils agreed to pay Mr J £4,500 compensation (decision 07/C/01269, October 2009).

Ed Mitchell is a solicitor and editor of Social Care Today

This article is published in the 10 December issue of Community Care under the heading Disability adaptations: when councils fail in their duties

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