London Borough of Lewisham at fault for bad record keeping and taking too long to resolve problems from works under a disabled facilities grant

Decision Date: 13th January 2020

What Happened

Mrs X complained on behalf of herself and her husband, Mr X.

In May 2017 the Council approved a disabled facilities grant (DFG) to extend their home in order to meet Mr X’s needs.

On June 2nd 2017 Mr X gave the Council authority to pay any grant directly to the builder.

One year later, 16th July 2018 the Council’s Building Control Manager issued a certificate of completion for the works.

After a visit to the property on 14th September 2018 the Council made the final payment to the builder.

On the 16th November 2018 Mrs X highlighted to the Council a water leak which needed repairing. A few days later Mr X’s OT sent a letter to the Senior Adaptations Officer stating that there was still a leak, despite the builder coming to do repairs.

The Council was then in contact throughout November and December with the builder, chasing up missed or late appointments.

On 19 December the Builder said he had done a patch repair but could not identify the source of the leak.

The Council emailed the Builder on 20 December:

  • noting the source of the leak had not been identified;
  • asking for the contact details of the manufacturer of the felt and skylight so it could check if the Builder had installed them in line with the instructions;
  • emphasising the need to ensure roof warranties were not breached;
  • asking the Builder to provide a temporary cover (tarpaulin) over the Christmas period until a manufacturer’s representative had visited the site.

The LGO found that the builder did do further work, but the Council had no records of what, or whether it was satisfied.

On 4 June 2019 Mrs X told the Council the roof was still leaking, following heavy rainfall.

On 20 June the Council decided to

  • get specialist roof reports;
  • arrange renewal of the roof;
  • ask the Builder to attend its offices.

The Builder did not attend the arranged meeting, and on 9 July two independent roofers confirmed the problem was due to poor work.

The Council told the LGO that it has since found another builder, renewed the roof and fixed any internal damage made by the leak.

What was found

The LGO highlighted that there is no statutory guidance on dealing with DFG disputes.

However the Home Adaptation Consortium issued a guide on Home Adaptations for Disabled People in 2013 which reflects good practice. This says:

  • “On completion of an adaptation the key contact should decide who is most appropriate to visit the applicant to evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme, including whether the disabled person is able to use the adaptation. This may be the person who carried out the assessment, the supervising officer, the grant officer or a combination of these, at a joint visit. Where a HIA (housing improvement agency) has been involved this visit will almost certainly need to involve the caseworker. In the course of the visit they should consult the disabled person and their carer or family on:”
  • “the appropriateness of the adaptation and whether it meets the agreed needs of the disabled person and any other recommendations identified;”
  • “the way in which the work was carried out;”
  • “whether all the required work is fully completed to the standard specified;”

The LGO considered that the builder’s work in November and December 2018 was clearly not up to standard. It stated that the Council should have satisfied itself that the repairs the builder carried out were sufficient, and its failure to do so was fault.

This caused injustice to Mr & Mrs X as they were left with adaptations which were not fit for purpose. It also put Mrs X to some significant time and trouble in pursuing their concerns.

The LGO also highlighted that the Council’s records were very poor. They did not adequately reflect the contact between the Council, the Builder and Mrs X. This was also fault.

The LGO recommended the Council pay Mr and Mrs X £500, and make better records of contact with clients and contractors.

Points for the public and other stakeholders

Disabled Facilities GRANTS are just that: grants to the person who’s applied for one in order to pay a builder for work. The money is either to be used to fund a contract for works, which anyone can make and break, and take the consequences of; or they are used by Housing Improvement Agencies.

Foundations offers this guidance on DFGs:

After collection up of an OT’s view and the facts, cases are then referred on to the housing authority or a home/housing improvement agency for casework support, the test of resources, and technical services such as surveys, designs, schedules, planning consent, contractors and costs.

Where an HIA provides the DFG service the client doesn’t get to see the grant, as far as we know; it’s kept inhouse. The contract is then made BY the HIA.

Housing authorities can require an applicant to arrange for a contractor to carry out the work. In this case, applicants will need to select a contractor from an approved list and will usually be asked for more than one quote to ensure value for money. In these instances the applicant or their agent is responsible for managing contractors and ensuring work is carried out correctly.

However statutory guidance says the council should visit the site at least once (or more often if the work continues beyond a week) to check work is progressing as agreed.

Some housing authorities will carry out work under DFG on behalf of the applicant or contract out the task to an HIA.

In these cases the authority will manage contractors and is responsible for making sure work is carried out correctly. As the housing authority is acting on behalf of the applicant it is important it ensures they are satisfied with the standard of work.

Housing authorities must ensure that adaptations work has been completed to the agreed specification. However housing authorities are only responsible for the quality of work when they arrange contractors on behalf of the applicant.

There are various ways in which work approved under a DFG can be provided. The way adaptations are provided will depend on the housing authority’s own policies and practices. In some cases a local housing authority will refer an applicant to a home improvement agency. These HIAs operate in 90% of local authority areas and are not-for-profit organisations specifically set up to help vulnerable people achieve or maintain independence in their own homes. Nearly half of DFGs are delivered through HIAs. The HIA will usually act as the applicant’s agent and manage contractors to ensure work is carried out satisfactorily. The council should still carry out regular inspections, however the responsibility for ensuring work is carried out properly lies with the HIA and the applicant.

Statutory guidance says care must be taken when making payments direct to contractors especially where there is a difference of view about whether work has been carried out properly. Most housing authorities ask applicants to sign a form to say they are happy with the work and for payment to be made. This reduces the risk of disputes arising at a later stage. However housing authorities can still pay a contractor if they are satisfied the work has been carried out correctly even if the applicant does not agree.

Where individuals are proposing to organise the works for themselves and appoint a contractor, the authority needs to exercise caution in offering advice about this, whilst seeking to be helpful. It may choose to make available its own list on the basis that these are contractors who are known to undertake this kind of work, but without offering any kind of endorsement, or it could alternatively offer the list indicating in writing what checks had been made and when. It would not be acceptable to endorse any particular contractor, although this question is often posed by applicants.

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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of London Borough of Lewisham’s actions can be found here