Paul Smith 14 May 2019

How councils can improve support for independent living

Funding for Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) has increased once again this year, with £505m about to be distributed to local authorities across England.

Traditionally, DFG has been used to pay for level access showers, stairlifts and ramps through a bureaucratic system with long application forms and funding panels. But it can be used to do so much more.

Here are five simple ways in which you can improve the outcomes for disabled people living in your area:

1. Review your services against the DFG Quality Standard

We often get asked, “what does a good DFG service look like?”. There was no definitive answer, so rather than pointing to pockets of good practice, we built the DFG Quality Standard. It’s intentionally short, with reflective questions broken down into 10 key topics. By working your way through the questions you can assess how well you’re doing and investigate links to the good practice we’ve identified for you.

2. Train staff on the DFG rules

The DFG rules are spread across a mix of legislation, regulations, guidance, court judgments and ombudsman investigations from the last 30 years. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that there many misunderstandings and wrong interpretations made. So we’ve put together a short training course that covers all the basics – and we deliver it free of charge for any local authority in England.

3. Update your housing assistance policy

While it’s important to know how the DFG rules work – you can make up your own! There’s a Regulatory Reform Order from 2002 that allows you to spend your share of the £505m pretty much how you want to. As long as you’re using it to carry out adaptations, you can make up your own rules. For example, some councils have stopped means testing DFG applications or agree to pay costs above the normal £30,000 limit. Other innovative approaches include fast track grants to support hospital discharge or small grants to modify the home of someone living with a diagnosis of dementia.

4. Consider Trusted Assessors

One of the common misconceptions about DFG is that a full assessment by an occupational therapist is required for every application. While an OT assessment is strongly recommended for more complex cases, with proper supervision Trusted Assessors can be trained to carry out the majority of straight forward assessments for adaptations like showers, stairlifts and ramps. This approach can significantly reduce waiting lists and prevent falls and other accidents that may occur in the meantime.

5. Streamline your procurement procedures

There is general consensus that small local builders are ideally suited to delivering home adaptations. But surprisingly few authorities have robust processes in place for maintaining an approved list of builders and even less use a schedule of rates set-up to streamline the procurement process. We recommend using Trustmark, the only government approved quality system for contractors, alongside our online portal dfgtenders.co.uk

Paul Smith is director of Foundations, which is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to support local authorities in England to improve their delivery of home adaptation services. Foundations offers free training for organisations that want to improve their DFG delivery.

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