Grants that can help change lives

Gary Vaux explains a grant that can be used to
improve the lives of disabled foster children.

Disabled facilities grants are a very
specialised part of the benefit system, but they can make an
enormous difference to an individual. Does your authority make full
use of the disabled facilities grant? In particular, have they even
noticed a significant change for foster parents?

A circular issued by the Department of
Environment, Transport and Regions in April advises that, from 2
April, long-term foster parents can apply for grants in the same
way as natural and adoptive parents.

The disabled facilities grant (DFG) is a
means-tested grant which is administered by housing authorities
(district and borough councils in non-unitary areas) for
adaptations to property to meet the needs of disabled people. The
upper limit for mandatory help is £20,000 at present. The
means-test is largely based on housing benefit, at least as far as
income is concerned, so fostering allowances are generally ignored
as a source of income.

The circular also advises that if an
application is approved and the foster carer is assessed to make a
contribution to the adaptations, the local social services should
consider whether to fund this contribution.

Because of this possible new source of
funding, your authority might want to look at requests from foster
carers for adaptations to meet the needs of disabled children and
make sure they are considered only after the outcome of a DFG
application (including the means test) is known.

Applications for grant assistance will
generally be dealt with by the housing or environmental health
department of your local council. Some grants are mandatory, others

The applicant can be an owner or tenant
(including licensees). The grant is mandatory for work providing
disabled people with essential adaptations to give better freedom
of movement into and around the home and to essential facilities
within it. Where necessary it can also provide the facilities
themselves. The types of work are:

– To improve access to the building or
individual rooms, such as widening doors, installing ramps and
stair-lifts, or providing downstairs facilities.

– To ensure the safety of the disabled person
and other occupants by, for example, providing a specially adapted
room in which it would be safe to leave a disabled person

– To improve or provide a heating system
suitable to the needs of the disabled person.

– To adapt heating or lighting to make them
easier to use.

– To improve access and movement around the
home to care for another person who lives in the property, such as
a spouse, child or another person for whom the disabled person

The council also has discretion to give grants
for a wide range of other works to make a home suitable for
accommodation, welfare or employment needs. Such works could
include providing a safe play area for a disabled child or
providing or adapting an existing room to work from home. The
council also has discretion to give a grant for works that qualify
for mandatory grants where the cost would exceed £20,000.

Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation (Money Well Spent: The Effectiveness and Value of
Housing Adaptations
, see shows how
successful DFGs are in improving and, in many cases, transforming

Disabled people who described themselves as
“prisoners”, “degraded” and “afraid” before work was carried out,
used terms like “independent”, “useful” and

DFGs can demonstrably keep people out of
hospital, reduce strain on carers, give dignity to disabled people
and enable them to lead fuller, more socially included lives. For
disabled children (including foster children) and their siblings,
they improve educational and life chances too.

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