The real picture on disabled facilities grants, as shown by DFG analytics

This article was originally published on the Independent Living website

Nearly 30 years of Disabled Facilities Grants

Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) have been around for nearly 30 years; they’re delivered through 326 local authorities across England, and help 50,000 people per year to adapt their home. Those 50,000 grants generate masses of data, but what do we really know about patterns of delivery, what the grant pays for and, most importantly, the outcomes that are derived?

There are plenty of opinions about DFG. Witnesses to last year’s Communities and Local Government Committee on adult social care complained that DFG was a slow, costly and frustrating process. The Local Government Ombudsman said: 'people with disabilities are being left for too long in unsuitable homes because of problems with councils’ Disabled Facilities Grants processes’.

Anecdotes are one thing, but what about the numbers?

I don’t doubt that some people are left frustrated by the DFG process, but do these anecdotal assessments give us the full picture? As W. Edwards Deming said, ‘without data you’re just another person with an opinion’.

Back in 2015 we surveyed all the social services departments in England to ask about the impact DFG had on age of entry into residential care. We found that, on average, someone who has not had a DFG moves into residential care four years earlier than someone who has.

It was a small study and I’m sure academics would question the methodology, but with residential care costs averaging £34,000 per year, compared to an average DFG cost of £7,000 it starts to build a compelling argument.

Working to analyse social value reliably

Over the last year or so we’ve been working with the Housing Association Charitable Trust (HACT) to develop a more robust social value tool around home adaptations. The tool is based on HACT’s Social Value Bank – the largest bank of methodologically consistent and robust social values ever produced.

The values provide a basic assessment of social impact, provide evidence of value for money, and can help to compare the impact of different programmes. For the first time providers will be able to systematically measure the impact of every home adaptation and calculate the wider cost savings to the public purse.

This will be interesting on a local level, but the potential to collect and analyse the results on a national basis has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of different types of adaptations and how they are delivered.

Benefits of benchmarking

That’s where an analytics system that allows benchmarking of outcomes, performance and cost data becomes really important to how we can improve the delivery of DFG. Benchmarking is a common practice and a sensible exercise to establish baselines, define best practice, identify improvement opportunities and create a competitive environment.

Benchmarking helps local authorities to:

• gain an independent perspective about how well they perform compared to others
• clearly identify specific areas for improvement
• validate assumptions
• prioritise improvement opportunities
• set performance expectations
• monitor performance and manage change

How to make the benchmarking process work

When I managed DFG programmes, I found benchmarking to be a very powerful tool. Without it I would not have known with any degree of certainty how good my service was. Integrating benchmarking into the DFG process provided valuable data that encouraged discussion and sparked new ideas and practices.

However, the approach to benchmarking was just as important as the data. I made sure that we incorporated benchmarking into the culture by engaging staff and key decision makers throughout the process.

A benchmarking process with a team focus:

• improved understanding of the real opportunities to improve
• minimised resistance to change and garnered support for action
• fostered a spirit of enthusiasm to do better than the external benchmark
• promoted discussion based on data rather than assumptions or emotion

Welcome to DFG Analytics!

To make this happen nationally we’ve partnered with i4H, a specialist data analytics / benchmarking provider dedicated to helping drive performance improvement and deliver value for money, to develop DFG Analytics.

DFG Analytics is an online service that provides dashboards, flexible reports, data mapping and secure online collaboration. At a glance you can judge how you compare to others across a wide variety of metrics including outputs, spend, process times and social value.

Using DFG Analytics will enable local authorities to assess, probably for the first time, if their service is ‘slow, costly and frustrating’, and most importantly learn from others how to improve.

Find out more about DFG Analytics