This article was updated on 29 March 2016
Adult social care should establish clear protocols with housing departments to stop unacceptable delays in delivering home adaptations for disabled people, says the Local Government Ombudsman.
In a report released today, the ombudsman identified a lack of communication between housing and social care as a key factor in why it gets more than a hundred complaints a year about the Disabled Facilities Grants.
These grants are often used to fund necessary adaptations that exceed the £1,000 limit on what adult social care must pay.
In 2014-15 the ombudsman received 130 complaints from people about how their applications for Disabled Facilities Grants were handled.
Cases included a disabled woman who could not access her first-floor bathroom and toilet who had to wait 14 months for an occupational therapist assessment.
In another case adult social services repeatedly told the daughter of a wheelchair-bound man that paying the cost of a ramp that cost less than £1,000 was a housing department matter, despite being required by law to cover the bill.
The ombudsman’s Making a House a Home report said all councils should have clear procedures and policies that ensure a continuous service for home adaptation services between housing and adult social care.
This, it said, is especially important in two-tier authorities where housing is run by a district or borough council.
These policies and procedures should set out the criteria for urgent and non-urgent adaptations, timescales for delivery and a process for dealing with complaints.
People let down
The ombudsman also recommended that councils develop links with the voluntary sector to see if there are alternative funding options in cases where applicants do not get a Disabled Facilities Grant or the cost of the work exceeds the maximum for these grants.
“Housing adaptations are not just about providing the simple ‘bricks-and-mortar’ changes, but about giving independence and dignity to people with disabilities,” said ombudsman Jane Martin.
“Relatively simple changes, like accessible showers or doorways, can make a huge difference to peoples’ quality of life. These adaptations must be provided by housing services departments, but my experience shows many people are being let down.”
Her report added that adaptations can save local authorities’ thousands of pounds per case by reducing the need for residential care: “A well-run adaptations service can not only improve the lives of disabled people, but can also result in significant savings for local councils.”
In a joint response to the report, home improvement agencies body Foundation and the College of Occupational Therapists stressed that the 130 complaints received by the ombudsman about adaptations in 2014-15 were a small percentage of the more than 37,000 completed each year.
The organisations said they were concerned that the report presented a “rather simplistic and overly negative view that doesn’t accurately represent the breadth and depth of the work currently being completed by professionals in this area”.
They said that referrals for Disabled Facilities Grants were often the result of financial issues beyond the control of professionals involved – a point they said was not addressed in the report.
“Thousands of people are helped to maintain or regain their independence every year with adaptations funded by the disabled facilities grant and the vast majority are satisfied with their experience,” said director Paul Smith. “Foundations will be producing a range of resources that help home improvement agencies and local authorities deal with the small minority of very complex adaptations that can cause problems.”