Warwickshire is at the heart of home improvements

This blog by Paul Smith, director of Foundations, was originally published in the MJ 

The recent report from the Equalities and Human Right Commission (EHRC) shines a light on the problems facing many disabled people with housing in the UK today. As the director of the national body for home improvement agencies in England, Foundations, I was particularly interested in their findings on the delivery of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs).

Most of the press coverage has focused on aspects of poor performance, but the report also shows that a number of councils are performing well above average. In my experience these are the councils that recognise the importance of supporting people to live independently in their own homes and communities, invest in the staff needed to support the process and collaborate with others – locally, regionally and nationally.

A great example is the Home Environment Assessment & Response Team (HEART) in Warwickshire; a partnership between the county and district councils providing advice and assistance to deliver disabled adaptations and home improvements that keep people safe, secure and warm in their own homes. I first heard about the project about five years ago when it was set-up as a pilot in one of the districts. For DFG delivery they had recognised that the county and districts had competing priorities with no overall control of the process, resulting in multiple teams, managers, access points and waiting lists. They mapped out the customer journey and found a 220 step process where 35% of people dropped out along the way.

Five years later they have a 22-step process, a fully integrated team, a drop-out rate at just 3% and some of the best delivery times in the country. I often ask local authorities how good their adaptation services are, and how do they know? In Warwickshire they did know because they collected benchmarking data to show them.

But it’s not just about DFG. HEART also arrange smaller adaptations like bath boards and stair rails, help with general repairs and provide advice and support to move where it’s a better alternative. They recognise that DFG is just a part of the patchwork of funding and services that people need, and that a ramp or a stairlift in isolation is unlikely to deliver the best outcomes.

As with all partnerships, there were disagreements along the way, but the senior leadership teams recognised that working together was the only way to meet the needs of their residents. In fact Warwickshire is now far more integrated than many unitary authorities where social care and housing teams are sited in different departments, including some where joint teams have been disbanded.

The Government have this week announced 2018/19 DFG allocations totalling £468m. The challenge from EHRC is to spend that money quicker and better and Foundations is here to help. We’re contracted by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government to support local authorities through a network of regional advisors. We also promote good practice through free to attend meetings and networking events such as the popular DFG Champions Roadshows which will visit London, Coventry, Liverpool and Middlesbrough in June.