accessible housing LGA

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed for the first time the full waits involved in applying for and completing work via a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), the major grant scheme to help fund adaptations to disabled people’s homes, improve accessibility and aid independent living.

Government rules mandate that adaptations are approved and completed within a maximum of 18 months in England and Wales once a council has received a completed application form, but this already long statutory time limit does not include the time it takes to be assessed as eligible to apply or any of the steps taken before the application goes in.

The Bureau’s data shows how long the entire process takes, starting from someone’s first contact with their local authority, indicates disabled people could easily be waiting two to three years for the changes that make their property a liveable home – such as accessible cooking and showering facilities. Councils are only required to record the average waiting times, so many are likely waiting longer.

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Data gathered from Freedom of Information requests sent to all UK local authorities and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) helped the Bureau to uncover the extent to which access to a DFG, and the wait involved to complete adaptations, are a postcode lottery.

Bureau Local, the Bureau’s UK local investigations team, found that in 10 council areas in England and Wales, disabled people wait, on average, more than a year before they can even submit their formal application for the grant. Much of this time, according to its figures, is waiting to be assessed by an occupational therapist or similar person.

Its research found that in several council areas the average time to finish an adaptation — from an applicant’s first contact with the council to the work being completed — is almost two years.  In some areas of Northern Ireland, where grant rules are different, there are wait times of more than three years, according to the NIHE’s figures.

The investigation by Bureau Local also revealed particularly long waits for children and adults to be assessed, which is when their eligibility for the grant is decided on.

The difference in response times across England and Wales was stark. It found that in some places in Wales, the average wait for an assessment was just a few days, but in Newport it could be up to a year — the area with the longest assessment waits in Wales since 2020/21.

Meanwhile, applicants under Salford Council faced, on average, an eight-month wait to see an occupational therapist or similar person. This was the longest average wait in England out of the 89 councils that responded to this question, followed by Manchester City Council at seven months and Solihull Council at six-and-a-half months.

A range of people can be eligible for a DFG, this includes those with physical disabilities and those suffering from age-related disabilities and can also include those with terminal illness, as explained in updated guidance for local authorities in England published in March.

The Bureau spoke to several disabled individuals, and relatives of disabled people, who have been forced to crowd-fund the money required to make their homes liveable because the grant will not cover the cost of the work. There are also those who cannot afford the contribution they are expected to make after undergoing a means test.

Councils and the NIHE can use their discretionary powers to top up the DFG amount per applicant. The statutory maximum amount an applicant can receive as a DFG is £30,000 in England, £36,000 in Wales, and £25,000 in Northern Ireland.

The UK Government is considering raising the upper limit and had promised a public consultation in its health and social care white paper published last year. The Bureau found that nearly 80 per cent of local authorities in England are using discretionary powers to top up the maximum DFG amount, but the extra money a person can get varies wildly by council.

Some were found to offer another £30,000, but Manchester Council can offer up to £70,000, citing the rise in the cost of building materials as one reason for the significant increase to its grant award.

In Wales, the majority of councils told us they have a discretionary scheme in place, but four do not, while in some areas, the top-up is a grant; in many, it is a loan.

Several councils told the Bureau they were struggling to recruit and train enough occupational therapists to provide quick assessments. They also pointed to the pandemic as a reason for delays in accessing homes for assessments and building work.

Paul Smith, Director of Foundations, the national body for home improvement agency and handperson services, told THIIS that while the focus in the research above was focused on the areas with the longest waiting lists the researchers did find many local authorities with joined-up services that can assess, approve and install adaptations in weeks.

Foundations is funded by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and he made the point that it doesn’t cost anything for agencies and providers to access its team of expert regional advisors.

Paul commented: “Our website holds a range of free resources including the self-assessment DFG Quality Standard and our new triage tool to help identify when a trusted assessor could be used.

“We were heavily involved in developing the new government guidance on DFGs and can also offer an in-depth consultancy service if you want a deep dive review or help with revising your housing assistance policy.

“Whatever your role in the DFG process, we’re here to support you – so get in touch by emailing”

Last month, Foundations published guidance on delivering better home adaptations in social housing with a view to helping improve the speed and effectiveness of its delivery.

At the heart of the housing crisis for disabled people, however, is a historic lack of accessible properties across the UK. The 2021 National Disability Strategy acknowledges that “less than half of the local plans in England for new homes include requirements for a proportion of new homes to meet higher accessibility standards”.

Christina McGill, interim director of strategy and external affairs at Habinteg, a housing association that has prioritised accessible homes, said: “Just nine per cent of homes in England provide even the most basic accessibility features.

“That’s why Habinteg is calling for changes to building regulations to lift up the minimum requirement to the ‘accessible and adaptable’ standard and for all local plans to require a percentage of new homes to be designed to meet the daily living needs of wheelchair users.”

Last year, Habinteg conducted research which found that over half of British adults would leave their homes if they become physically disabled.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities stated: “It is vital disabled people are fully supported with adaptations and improvements, so they are comfortable and secure in their homes.

“Since 2010, we have provided councils with more than £4bn to deliver around half a million home adaptations and an expert body is on hand to help any council reduce backlogs, so older and disabled people can live independently and safely.

“We appreciate the challenges councils have faced to deliver these grants during the pandemic, but it is now crucial that adaptations are delivered at pace and the backlog on waiting lists reduced.”

The Welsh government said it had given an extra £1m to local authorities for adaptations in the 2021/22  financial year and plans to increase it again.

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We respect your privacy McIvorGovernment & Local AuthoritiesHousingNewsroomReports & ResearchSector Newsaccessible,adaptations,Bureau of Investigative Journalism,DFG,disabled,Disabled Facilities Grant,elderly,Foundations,homes,Mobility,wait timeAn investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed for the first time the full waits involved in applying for and completing work via a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), the major grant scheme to help fund adaptations to disabled people’s homes, improve accessibility and aid independent living. Government rules...News, views & products for mobility, access and independent living professionals