Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) and social care responsibilities

An important ombudsman report[1] has just been published that reaffirms that:

  1. social services authorities have duties under the Care Act 2014 to ensure that necessary home adaptations are provided and that this ‘responsibility cannot be passed on to another organisation’
  2. when it is appropriate for a person to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) then the social services authority must act speedily to facilitate this and its duty does not end ‘until the needs are met’ (para 8);
  3. the target timescales detailed in the 2013 Homes Adaptations Consortium statutory guidance[2] are a relevant benchmark for assessing whether a local authority has acted reasonably. As the ombudsman states:

15. The guidance gives target timescales for dealing with cases at each of the three stages. For Stage One, it recommends 95% of urgent cases are completed within 5 working days and 95% of non-urgent cases within 20 working days. An urgent case is defined as a situation where the disabled person cannot be discharged from hospital or cannot access essential facilities within the home. A case is defined as non-urgent if the person cannot use the home fully but can access the toilet and bathing facilities.

16. The guidance recommends the total time to complete all three stages should be no more than 55 working days for urgent cases and 150 working days for non-urgent cases.

 

The report concerns a mother who had had a stroke which meant, among other things, that she could only walk short distances indoors by supporting herself on furniture or using a crutch – and that she had some continence needs.  She lived with her three children (all under 18) in a housing association property.

As the bathroom was on the first floor and her impairments largely confined her to the ground floor, this meant she had to use a commode (which one of her children emptied twice daily) and she had to strip-wash at the kitchen sink using a perching stool.  Her children also helped prepare meals and do the housework / kitchen work, and one was responsible for bathing the youngest child.

The Adult Social Care team was asked to assess the mother’s need for support (as a disabled parent) but nothing was put in place (in terms of support for the family / young carers) for 7 months.

The initial assessment also identified an urgent need for adaptations.  The social services Occupational Therapy (OT) assessment in relation to this need was not, however, sent to the Housing Association or to the District Council (to process a DFG application) for 22 months after first contact. Having done this, the social services authority then closed her case.

In finding multiple instances of maladministration, the ombudsman noted:

  • For more than two years, Ms X has not been able to make proper use of her home. She cannot access essential bathing and toileting facilities. She has no privacy because she is sleeping on a sofa in the living room (para 63);
  • Ms X’s inability to access essential bathing and toileting facilities put her in the category of urgent need according to the definition in the non-statutory guidance (para 65);
  • Closing the file before the Council knew her assessed needs had been met, was maladministration (para 68);
  • There had been inadequate liaison / information sharing with the District Council and the Housing Association (para 69);

 

The remedy recommended by the ombudsman included an apology, a payment of £3,600 ‘to recognise the significant distress, inconvenience and loss of dignity and independence caused by its delay’; and for the local authority to draw up a protocol for effective joint working with its District Councils and registered social landlords – to ensure home adaptations for tenants are planned and delivered in a timely way.

[1] Complaint no 18 003 223 against Norfolk County Council 4 March 2019.
[2] Homes Adaptations Consortium Home adaptations for disabled people: a detailed guide to related legislation, guidance and good practice (2013).