By Doug Stem
For the last 25 years the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) has helped to improve the quality of life of thousands of people. By paying for practical adaptations, such as stairlifts and level access showers, the DFG enables vulnerable people to live in their own homes for longer.
As the findings from a recent Freedom of Information request made by Foundations show, people in receipt of a DFG are, on average, going into residential care four years later than those not receiving the grant.
The good news is the DFG’s future has been secured for at least another five years following the announcement in the government’s spending review that funding will rise from £220m this year to £500m in 2019-20.
Vote of confidence
It was a vote of confidence in the way the grant has been put to good use by local authority grants departments, home improvement agencies and others in recent years. But there is much that can be improved to maximise its impact, which is why Foundations and the College of Occupational Therapists jointly staged a DFG summit at the end of last year.
This brought together OTs, home improvement agency managers and grant officers, policy officers, manufacturers and key representatives from government to look at what works well, what could be improved and how the grant can be integrated with other preventive services.
The result is a report setting out an action plan for the future development of DFG. Here is a snapshot of the key themes.
Better integration needed
The DFG is now within the Better Care Fund – the nationally mandated pooled budget for health and social care – and should be aligned with other services ensuring independence in the home.
Services are already being commissioned that take such a view and in Dorset and Somerset, home improvement agencies take on the role of offering a complete independence service supporting people in their own homes. Services such as telecare, minor adaptations, assistive technology and support with housing choice are offered as part of this holistic approach. A single team delivering the grant including the occupational therapists, technical officers and caseworkers are an essential element in ensuring a consistent approach, easing communication and offering a clear service to the customer.
Make use of funding flexibilities
Under powers granted introduced in 2008, local authorities have the freedom to spend the DFG in creative ways, such as funding people to move properties or facilitate hospital discharge, as long as they put their intentions within a private sector housing policy. Government is keen to see this flexibility extended so that any new money is used to the fullest potential. Examples include Ealing Home Improvement Agency, which is choosing not to means test people needing stairlifts so that they can be fitted without delay.
The means test for DFG should be updated as it hasn’t been changed for a number of years and some people are being disadvantaged as a result. In addition, the maximum grant level of £30,000 has been static for a number of years and it would be useful to increase it in line with inflation. For example, at present some children’s adaptations cannot go ahead as they exceed the £30,000 limit.
The report has clear recommendations both to local authorities and agencies administering the grant and to government. The sector is ready and able to take on the challenges of supporting people to live independently in the home of their choice and the DFG is an essential tool in making this happen. As the research by Foundations shows, DFG makes a real difference to people’s lives and, crucially, in the current climate, reduces expenditure on residential and social care.
Doug Stem is development manager at Foundations, the national body for home improvement and handyperson services, and is lead for DFGs.