Ombudsman’s Report on an Investigation into complaint no 05/B/06334 Stafford Borough Council (20/7/06)

This was a case in which the complainant (A) complained that Stafford Borough Council (Stafford) miscalculated her financial contribution in respect of a disabled facilities grant (DFG) resulting in a delay in implementing a suitable scheme.  As a result, her husband remained in residential care longer than necessary.  A complained that this separation resulted in anxiety for herself and her husband and it had a negative effect on her 10 year old son.

DFGs are available to private care home owners to enable adaptations to be carried out to allow a disabled person to remain in their home.  The grants are subject to a set of criteria including a means test of income and capital and are administered by the District/Borough Council.  Regulations give the circumstances in which a person is to be treated as being or not being a member of the household.  Housing Renewal Grant Regulations 1996.  They state that a person is not to be treated as part of the household  if his absence from the other members of his family is likely to exceed 52 weeks.  The guidelines for adaptations state that provision of a room usable for sleeping should only be undertaken if the authority is satisfied that the adaptation of an existing room in the dwelling is unsuitable in the particular circumstances.

A’s husband suffered a severe stroke and was admitted to hospital.  As a result he was seriously incapacitated.  He was transferred to residential care and A enquired with the County Council whether he could return home if appropriate facilities were provided.  She also contacted Stafford about the possibility of obtaining a DFG towards the cost of adaptations to the family home.  A formal application was submitted and A was asked to provide further details of her and her husband’s income.  A’s husband was a wheelchair user and it was anticipated by Stafford that he would require a ground floor bedroom and bathroom.  A did not want her dining room converted and believed that to do so would breach the guidance on home adaptations.  She felt the loss of space would adversely affect the family dynamics in the house.  A revised scheme was agreed by all parties which did not involve the conversion of the dining room.  A’s contribution was assessed at approximately £18,000 – despite the fact that she had been led to believe that her contribution would only be about £2000.  A was unable to afford this contribution.  A did not give up and asked her MP to help.  Stafford reconsidered and suggested that there might be a way forward if A’s husband was assessed as a single person; this might be possible due to the length of time spent in hospital  i.e. over 52 weeks.  Stafford finally agreed that A’s husband was entitled to the full DFG and that his contribution would be nil.  This decision was made over 2 years after A’s initial application for a DFG for her husband.  As a result, A was able to proceed with the process and instruct the builders.

The Ombudsman decided that Stafford should have identified that A’s husband would have been eligible for a full DFG at the time that the final adaptations scheme was agreed if it had correctly applied the rules.  This was maladministration.  Stafford agreed to remedy the injustice caused to A and her husband by a payment of £4000.

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