Agenda item

Disabled Adaptations Funding (Agenda item 9)

Report of Paul Claussen, Executive Member for Planning & Environmental Services.

Minutes:

The Executive Member for Planning & Environmental Services urged the Cabinet to support this new grant system so that all adaptations could be provided to disabled persons in a timely manner.

 

The Principal Environmental Health Officer presented the report which allowed Members to discuss and decide whether to introduce a new form of grant aid called ‘Reable’ that would replace Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) in some circumstances.

 

DFGs had been place for many years and had been designed to work with an inbuilt means test.  The application form for this type of grant was, in itself, a considerable sized document and was unnecessarily bureaucratic and burdensome for the vast majority of cases dealt with.  Furthermore, the bid based grant had been ring-fenced and could only be spent on DFGs.  However, the Government had just recently changed the rules and, although nominally still classed as bid based funding, the support funding could be allocated on a historical spend basis as part of an overall Housing Capital Grant that was no longer ring-fenced and could be spent on other forms of assistance.

 

The vast majority of DFGs granted over the years had been under £7,000 for adaptations that were classed as small scale.  It was therefore felt that the current DFG process was far too long for relatively simple works at minimal costs.

 

The introduction of ‘Reable’ would allow grants for adaptations to be processed far quicker and more flexibly and would significantly improve the efficiency of the process.  This would enable unit costs per application to be lowered and ultimately decreasing the cost of service provision.

 

The Executive Member for Internal Services asked how targeted this mean testing was.  He further asked if adaptations that had been installed could be removed and recycled for another person’s use if the original applicant moved on.  The Principal Environmental Health Officer explained that ‘Reable’ was designed for non-means tested applicants; however, the DFG process would still be used.  As far as the latter question was concerned, the answer was yes, equipment was recycled.  In response to another question with regard to the role of Social Services, Members were informed that part of the bureaucracy with DFGs was that welfare was with County Services, local authorities, such as Breckland did not have this type of mandatory service built in.  The introduction of ‘Reable’ would enable the Council to bypass that part of the consultation process; however, it was not the intention to remove County Services altogether.

 

Mr Wassell informed Members of the struggle that his grandson had experienced, not only with the grant but also with suitable housing.  The Private Sector Housing Team had tried its utmost to sort these problems out.  He felt sorry for others in the same predicament that did not have the same background knowledge as he had and he urged the Cabinet to support the recommendation.

 

The Principal Environmental Health Officer said that it was the process that was a problem not the individuals within it.  County Services and Breckland was aiming, through ‘Reable’ to cut out the middleman and have better integration with officers.

 

The Chairman agreed that there should not be barriers for this type of grant and concurred with the above comments.  He thought it would be a good idea to try and bring both teams together as had been done with part of the Community Services Team working together in the same building.  The Executive Member for Localism, Community & Environmental Services said that she would take the multi working idea forward with the Clinical Discussion Group of which she was a Member.

 

The Vice-Chairman also concurred with the above views but asked, from a planning point of view, if enough single storey dwellings were being built that could be adapted for such applicants during construction. Members were informed that single storey dwellings were classed as ‘land hungry’ and although new buildings could be constructed to such a standard it was not mandatory.   Also, with the techniques and the equipment available much more could be done to adapt a dwelling than in the past.

 

Mrs Jolly stated that there were huge cost implications for people who had to remain in hospital until their home had been adapted.

 

The Overview & Scrutiny Chairman found the housing comment very interesting.  He felt that the Council’s planning policies should play a part in this when reviewed to drive the ‘’Home for Life’ agenda forward for the people it represented.

 

Mrs Irving gave an example of one of her constituents who had been waiting for a doorway to be widened for wheelchair access.  This new scheme could only improve the process and she assured the Cabinet that she would take this up with the Director of Adult Social Services in her role as a County Member.

 

As a note of financial caution, the Chief Executive reminded Members that the organisation making the investment was not the same organisation that was reaping the rewards.  The amount of grant received was fixed and the amount that Breckland match funded was fixed and therefore the monies would be used up much earlier if the process itself was made quicker.  Discussions had been on-going with PCTs about trying to get more money for disabled facilities and as a public sector it was an unknown area that it needed to get better at.  The Overview & Scrutiny Chairman pointed out that the costs could be reduced if the design of the building was built in such a way, for example, the doors were of the right width then the cost to the taxpayer would be considerably less.

 

Option 1

 

To use the powers in Regulatory Reform order and the un-hypothecated funding for adaptations provided through the Housing Capital Grant to create a new form of assistance ‘Reable’, to deliver adaptation grants where the value of the work was less that £7000 and where the applicant was in receipt of a passport benefit or was a non-means tested applicant.

 

Option 2

 

In cases where the cost of the work was expected to exceed £7000 or the applicant was required to go through means testing to continue to use DFGs as the preferred process.

 

Option 3

 

To continue to use DFGs for all adaptation grants.

 

Reasons

 

The introduction of ‘Reable’ would allow grant for adaptations to be processed far quicker and more flexibly than by using Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs).  This would significantly improve the efficiency of the adaptation process thereby lowering unit costs per application from the Authority’s aspect decreasing the cost of service provision.  It was expected that contractor costs for carrying out the work would also decrease due to the improved efficiency eventually leading to lower costs of work.

 

RESOLVED that the new form of grant aid called ‘Reable’ be approved.

Supporting documents: