Funding for Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) has more than doubled over the last few years, but in many areas they still generate dissatisfaction.
DFGs have been around since 1989 and provide much-needed funding for disabled people to make adaptations to their home. The main complication comes from a split in responsibilities: assessment is usually made by an occupational therapist in social services with officers in housing or environmental health managing grant applications. This leads to a two-stage process that can be confusing to someone who just needs a bit of help to get in and out of their house.
Many councils are now introducing one-stop-shop services for home adaptations that combine traditional social services and housing functions to provide a person-centred approach. This means a single point of contact throughout the process and good quality information on what to expect, including anticipated timescales. Knowing what’s required and having a go-to person to speak to will minimise frustration and help the process to run more smoothly. This allows staff to spend more time on moving cases forward rather than handling questions about what’s going on.
Typical adaptations include ramps, stairlifts and level access showers, fitted by local builders. These builders are a vital part of the process but too often the relationship between them and the disabled person fails. This can be prevented by holding a pre-start meeting to introduce them to each other and agree on how the works will be carried out. A written code of conduct for the builders is also helpful, including an expectation of works being completed right first time. Nurturing a list of good builders is essential for any DFG service.
Another common issue with DFGs is the cyclical nature of an annual budget. During January, February and March there is usually lots of activity to spend the budget by the end of the financial year. The result is fewer cases in the pipeline by the start of the next financial year followed by delays over the summer while staff and builders are on holiday. Things start to pick up again in September before another post-Christmas rush. This is a very inefficient way to run a system compared to a steady flow of cases across the year. It can take a couple of years to smooth out the flow but will result in a much more consistent service.
The legislation and regulations for DFG have been updated a number of times over the last 30 years, but we often see decisions based on local custom and practice rather than the actual rules. This can lead to inconsistencies that generate legitimate complaints. To help, Foundations now provides free training for local authorities on the basics of DFG. This includes who can apply for a grant, how much they get and how long it should take. We’ve already trained hundreds of people with more courses being arranged all the time.
But, of course, every area has different needs and priorities and the legislation may not allow you to do everything you would want to. The good news is, that if you have an approved local policy you can do different things with your DFG funding.
Some councils decide to relax the usual means-testing requirements to provide adaptations to a wider range of households. Other examples include fast-track adaptations to help people return home safely from the hospital or making homes safer for people with a diagnosis of dementia. These relatively low-cost interventions can make a huge impact on health and social care.
Foundations is funded by the Government to support councils across England with improving DFG delivery.
Paul Smith is director of Foundations, the national body for home improvement agencies and DFG