Councils warned to ensure grant processes are transparent following Ombudsman investigation

Councils administering Disabled Facilities Grants need to ensure their processes are transparent and accountable, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said following a complaint about Birmingham City Council.

The Ombudsman said its investigation found that a family, including a child with disabilities, was left without the home adaptations they needed by Birmingham because of confusion around who was responsible for the work.

Local councils provide disabled facilities grants to adapt people’s homes to accommodate their specific needs. In most areas, councils provide a grant for people to commission their own builders to complete the work.

In Birmingham, the council provided the grant and had a list of approved contractors. But the Ombudsman found the authority did not have the policies and procedures in place to say what its responsibilities were for any work carried out.

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This meant when the family’s development ran into difficulties and the family had concerns about the quality of workmanship from the builders contracted by the council. It was not clear what action the council should take to investigate the concerns and what it should do if it was satisfied the work was of an appropriate standard.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said in any area of work, good administrative practice dictates councils should ensure they have clear and accessible policies and procedures in place and that decisions are properly recorded.

He added: “In this case, because of a lack of transparency in its process and contracts, it became unclear whether it was the council or the householder who was responsible for ensuring the contractor’s work was up to standard. Because of this, the relationship between the council, contractors and the householder deteriorated, and the family is still without the adaptations the child needs.

“I’m pleased Birmingham City Council has agreed to my extensive recommendations to put things right for this family, and the changes it will now make will help to ensure there is more clarity for other people going through the same process.”

As a result of the investigation, the council agreed to apologise to the family and pay them £1,000 to recognise the distress, uncertainty and impact the delays have had on the child.

The local authority will also ask the family to obtain three quotes from contractors they choose to review the work they believe to be substandard, consider which contractor they can appoint and pay for the full cost of the work to be completed.

Furthermore, the council has agreed to make improvements to its Disabled Facilities Grants process, highlighting each party’s responsibilities, and it will remind staff of the importance of keeping accurate records made at the time of all communications and discussions with an applicant. This will help ensure the council has evidence to demonstrate its decision making and rationale on the decisions it makes, the Ombudsman said.

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “We are sorry that the resident and his son experienced this poor service and have apologised to them; the service we provided was not good enough. We have paid compensation that recognises the distress caused as well as the impact on their lives of the delays in the installation of the adaptations. Our new Staying Independent At Home policy is being rolled out and the delivery of Disabled Facilities Grant adaptations will take into account feedback from the Ombudsman report.”

Adam Carey

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