Birmingham City Council at fault for a perceived 4 yr delay in the DFG process and for poor complaints handling

Decision date: 22/01/20

What happened

Mrs X applied for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) in 2009 and was recommended a stairlift by an Occupational Therapist (OT). However, the stairs in Mrs X’s House were later found to be unsuitable for a stairlift and the OT suggested a ‘through floor’ lift.

Mrs X said that the lift was impractical and that she would rather have a ground floor extension. The Council told her that this was achievable but only if she covered the difference between the cost of the extension and the grant that had been offered to her for the through floor lift. Mrs X did not have the necessary funds and did not want to pursue the lift option so the Council closed her DFG application.

Mrs X asked the Council to assess her again in 2014 and was again recommended a stairlift. Mrs X’s son, Mr Y, claimed that the OT had provided inaccurate information at the assessment and that both of them had felt misled. Mrs X appealed the OT’s decision a year later after waiting for the architectural plans to be completed by the Council. Birmingham confirmed it would fund a through floor lift but not the extension. Mrs X made a formal complaint about the confusing information she had received from the Council and for the long time it was taking to complete the DFG process.

The Council responded to the complaint the following year and said it would arrange a financial assessment. This revealed that it was in fact Ms Q, Mrs X’s daughter, who owned the property and it was she that was therefore required to complete the paperwork. The Council also said that it would process Mrs X’s application as soon as she sent evidence of her pension credit guarantee. However, when Mr Y pointed out that Mrs X did not receive pension credit, the Council said that she would need a full financial assessment. A month after completing this, Mrs X was told that she would have to do it all again it as it included information about her late husband.

The assessment was finally concluded in June and the application was sent off. The officer who reviewed the application was concerned as there were no plans for a bedroom. The family was told that the funds would not be granted as the proposed extension did not meet Mrs X’s needs.

Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman in September 2016 after Mr Y’s concerns had been raised and ignored. The Ombudsman duly contacted the Council but the subsequent response it offered merely requested more information in order to process the application. Mr Y complained to the Council again in December and was again ignored.

Ms Q contacted the Ombudsman in March of the following year as there had still been no response to the complaint lodged in December. The Council then wrote to the family to say that Mrs X would need a new OT assessment in order for the case to progress as Mr Y had reported deterioration in her health. This was undertaken in June 2018 and it was decided that the stair lift and through floor lift were both unsuitable. The new OT recommended a ground floor extension with a bedroom, toilet and a shower.

The Council wrote to Mrs X in April 2018 to confirm her grant and she paid her contribution in June. Mr Y asked the Council to appoint a party wall surveyor as one of the neighbours had raised concerns about the extension. Ms Q contacted the Council in August to ask why it had still not appointed a surveyor. The Council claimed that the delay was due to the fact that the neighbour had not dissented to the party wall consent. The party wall award was made in December 2018 and the works began.

What was found

Birmingham Council were found at fault by the Ombudsman for some of the delays incurred in the DFG process and for the way in which it handled Mrs X’s complaints.

There was no fault found in the initial withdrawal of Mrs X’s application as she had clearly stated that she did not want to go down the through floor lift route and that she couldn’t afford to go with the extension. However, the Council was at fault for leaving her second application open for longer than 6 months, contrary to the guidance. This would have confused and frustrated Mrs X and it therefore amounts to an injustice.

  1. “The Council asked Mrs X to contact it to let it know how she wanted to proceed; either with the through floor lift, or with her preferred option of an extension. Mrs X did not let the Council know how to proceed and instead raised a complaint.
  2. While it would have been helpful if Mrs X had told the Council how she wanted to proceed, I can understand why she made a complaint at this stage. It appears Mrs X was under the impression her 2009 application was still ongoing. This is likely because the Council never wrote to Mrs X to tell her it had withdrawn her application in 2009.
  3. Further, the fact the Council never made a decision following the 2014 assessment would also have given Mrs X the impression the Council was delaying the process. Therefore, it is understandable why Mrs X would be frustrated as she felt the process had been ongoing for six years, even though this was not the case.”

Mr Y was unhappy that the need for a bedroom in the extension had not been mentioned before June 2016 when the Council deemed the plans unsuitable. He claimed that the Council had already approved the plans. However, the Ombudsman found that he had provided the plans to the planning department instead of to the one that handles DFG applications.

The Council was acting in line with the guidance despite not providing the family with a party wall surveyor when they had requested one, as they are only necessary when there is a formal dispute.

Remedies

Although Mrs Y felt that she had been stuck in the process for 9 years, the LGO treated the Council’s July 2017 assessment to be the date of the application. Therefore, there was a delay of approximately three months from the date of the application to the decision beyond the allowed 6 months.

Birmingham Council have agreed that within 4 weeks it will apologise to Mrs X for causing her an injustice and pay her £300 to acknowledge the distress it caused her.

Points for the public

Housing Authorities are responsible for DFGs.

There is a test before a statutory duty to fund a grant is triggered: the adaptation has to be

  • Necessary and appropriate to meet the disabled person’s needs.
  • Reasonable and practicable depending on the age and condition of the property.

Councils will often consult an occupational therapist (OT) from the social services department to carry out an assessment. The grant is means tested.

The Act says housing authorities should approve or refuse a grant application as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than six months after the date of the application.

This report reads to our eyes as if the council was making the most of people not understanding the process, and not understanding how a sequence of changes of circumstance could impact the progress, withdrawal, renewal etc of an application.

If you want help, please consider seeking advice from CASCAIDr via our referral form on the top bar menu of the site.

The full Local Government Ombudsman report on the actions of Birmingham Council can be found here:

https://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/adult-care-services/disabled-facilities-grants/19-005-394