about pages logo

Disabled Facilities Grants

Introduction

The Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) was introduced in 1989. Originally, it was one of several housing grants available to fund repairs, improvements and adaptations. All the other grants have now gone, and the DFG is part of the Better Care Fund; a pooled budget seeking to integrate health, social care and, through the DFG, housing services.

Please see below for the current official guidance and our range of resources to help local authorities and home improvement agencies

In 2019 we surveyed local authorities to see how many people are involved in the processing of DFGs. We compared the number of staff to spend, use of Home Improvement Agencies, the Regulatory Reform Order and the level of fees charges. Check out our report to see how you measure up.

a graphic of an information iconDFG Structures and Staffing (opens in a new window)

Control and Monitor

Is the way you manage your team and the DFG process making things better or getting in the way?

In 2011 Gary Hamel wrote a hugely influential piece called First, Let’s Fire All the Managers (opens in a new window). He challenged the countless hours that team leaders devote to supervising the work of others.

Outside of work, people make all sorts of huge decisions about their lives. They take out mortgages, they make babies, they support ageing relatives and cope with bereavement. Inside of work though we often don’t give them the authority to spend £100 to resolve a simple problem.

If we stick to the principle that people closest to the work know best how to do it, and if we design our process around that principle, then the role of team leader changes significantly. It's no longer the role of a traffic policeman, directing the movements of everyone else involved. It becomes the conductor who keeps the orchestra in time.

With the appropriate monitoring systems in place, you can empower staff to deliver an excellent service and devote more time to continuous improvements. It's a cultural change, but one that can bring significant rewards for you and your team.

To deliver good outcomes you need to get the basics right, and that includes an efficient and effective process. In this section we look at how you can use swim lane diagrams to map your process, put in appropriate controls and then continuously improve it.

Swim Lane Diagrams

You have a DFG process in place. But do you know if your process is as smooth and efficient as it can be, and if it is helping or hindering your overall performance? To get a better understanding of your process, text-based procedures and checklists aren’t going to help much. Process mapping with swimlanes can create operational transparency, accountability and help you to be more efficient.

What is a Swimlane Diagram?

A swimlane diagram, also called a cross-functional flowchart, is a type of process map. It groups activities into a distinct sequence, or lane, in a visual presentation of the workflow. Swimlane diagrams distinguish roles, and responsibilities for each stage of the process. In swimlane diagrams, parallel lines divide the chart into lanes, hence the name, with one lane for each person or group:

image of an example swimlane diagram

What are the benefits of using a swimlane process map?

These highly versatile cross-functional flow charts can communicate complex principles on a more intuitive visual level. Unlike other workflow diagrams, swimlane diagrams help to build a standardised, integrated process map across organisational boundaries that can be analysed for inefficiencies and aid improvements. They can:

  1. Clarify complex processes
    Many complex process relationships are never fully illuminated due to the tendency for text-based explanations to be hard to follow and easy to ignore. A swimlane process map, by comparison, creates a visual structure to both process workflow and the people and things that interact with them. What used to be hidden in obscure procedures is revealed more comprehensively in a swimlane process mapping session.

  2. Swimlane diagrams help identify and organize

    • bottlenecks and inefficiencies
    • department and team responsibility
    • inefficiencies
    • the relationship between teams, steps and overall process

    Costly delays and inefficiencies may exist not merely as the result of duplicate or wasted efforts and tasks, but can also be due to a lack of documentation or other breakdowns in communication. The visual nature of a swimlane allows these issues to become necessary places of process improvement. Giving the problem a visual structure makes the problem much harder to ignore and can act as a catalyst for continuous process improvement.

  3. Better understanding and communication
    Creating swimlanes for processes can help all parties better understand exactly what is taking place. They encourage better discussion between process roles by showing everyone what their responsibility is and how it affects others.

    This methodology also helps to guide processes. A swimlane diagram provides a visual reference so that anyone can easily answer questions such as “What happens now?” or “Who is supposed to take care of this?”.

  4. A versatile process mapping tool
    Swimlane maps provide a flexible way to visually understand processes. Various levels of complexity can be introduced to provide overviews or map specific details. Symbols representing outside data, documents or outside process events can be incorporated into the swimlane diagram along with the standard process start, step, decision and end symbols.

  5. Easy Analysis for Continuous Improvement
    As the flowchart is developed it should be repeatedly checked for issues such as missing steps, duplication of effort, poor time management and activities that add no real value. Eliminating any or all of these results in a better process. A swimlane process map helps to make these improvements easier to spot by providing a visual, orderly context.

Once areas needing improvement are identified, you can explore ways to address each issue and make the right changes. Using a swimlane process map can also help to map out proposed changes so that potential risks and rewards can be identified. For instance, it makes sense to eliminate a duplicated step, but the step may be necessary due to time constraints or quality controls.

In some local authorities, the process for delivering Disabled Facilities Grants has changed little since it was first introduced in 1990. Others have undertaken service improvement projects - some more successfully than others. In either case, keeping aware of what's not working efficiently or effectively will help you to improve what you do.

The key is to accept that you will never reach perfection. There will always be room for further improvement, but you should never stop striving for it.

In 2017 Sir Michael Barber published his report (opens a new window) into how central government can ensure it is delivering maximum value for every pound spent on public services. The review sets out a practical, new approach to the understanding of public sector productivity and recommends embedding incremental improvement or marginal gains in the way (local) government works.

Marginal gains

The ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ was the approach adopted by the GB Olympic Cycling team, and which brought them so much success. They looked at every single element of performance within their control and searched for ways of improving it. One person realised that the paint on the cycles added a few hundred grams of extra weight, so they made it thinner. Another thought the health of the riders was important, so they set up a team to steam clean hotel rooms and sanitise surfaces, reducing the risk of illness. Each of these and hundreds of more examples were small details and by themselves didn’t result in gold after gold after gold for the team.

Each of them helped, though.

When was the last time you asked your colleagues whether there was any small thing that could be done to improve their performance or that of your team by 1%? We are all aware of the organisational change projects which look to improve performance and cut costs by 10%, 20% or even more, but how about just that single, solitary 1%?

There will doubtless be things that could be done differently which could be quantifiably measured and which would make success just that little bit more likely. Perhaps you could change the wording of your application forms so they're easy to understand and don't need further explanation? How about adding a checklist so that applications are right the first time? It’s amazing what can be achieved with a checklist. Or maybe you could impose a target time for all applications?

Will any of those by themselves save the thousands of pounds or trim weeks off your average processing times? No. Will they each contribute to making life easier, more efficient and simpler for people? Probably. Will they contribute to a culture of constant organisational improvement and reinforce the attitude that there is always a way to improve things? Undoubtedly.

What marginal gains have you made? Let us know!

The process for applying for a disabled facilities grant (DFG) is complex with many parties involved in the process. Added to this budgets are normally stretched leading to strategies to conserve and manage the application process.

This has led to many authorities instituting methods of prioritising applications according to the following parameters

  • Urgency of need
  • Time Waited
  • Funds available

Most councils do operate a system of prioritisation. Some use a points-based system that factors in time waiting alongside the urgency of the case. Others use a banded system where applicants are put into one of three categories and then prioritised according to when the application was received. This system is more transparent but is less flexible if people’s needs change.

A third approach is a combination of both approaches whereby points are allocated and the applicant is then put into a band.

Others use a simpler system whereby most cases are treated on a chronological basis but allow for urgent cases to be allocated straightaway.

Swale and other Kent authorities use the points-based system that has the time element included so that low priority cases don’t just languish as higher priority cases are seen. They also provide a questionnaire which they ask the client to complete at the assessment stage.

a graphic of an information iconSwale Priority System (opens a new window)

a graphic of an information iconKettering Priority System (opens a new window)

Across the UK there continue to be delays in the delivery of minor and major adaptations across all housing tenures. In recognition of this continuing issue, the Royal College of Occupational Therapy (RCOT) commissioned the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN) to conduct a UK wide review of Minor Adaptations without Delay (2006). Foundations were part of the Steering Group for this work.

The new Adaptations Without Delay (opens a new window) guide sets out a better way of defining the assessment and delivery of adaptations based on complexity with an associated decision-making framework that guides the use of Trusted Assessors.

The overall aim of the guide is to reduce delays in the delivery of adaptations by providing tools that support a proportionate response. The guidance also ensures the specialist skills of occupational therapists can be used to work with the growing number of individuals whose circumstances are complex.

The guide and the framework are intended to be used at both a practitioner and a strategic level by personnel in occupational therapy services, Home Improvement Agencies, housing associations and other housing providers.

One of the outputs of the assessment will be a description of the required adaptations. It is important to record this information in a clear and consistent manner that others can follow.

Referral Checklists

In most DFG systems the assessment of need is carried out by an Occupational Therapist or Trusted Assessor. This should detail what is 'necessary and appropriate' to meet the needs of the disabled person.

This information should enable the housing team to confirm that the required adaptations are indeed 'necessary and appropriate' and then to decide whether they are 'reasonable and practicable' in the circumstances. See links below for examples of the checklists used in Nottinghamshire.

a graphic of an information iconStairlift Checklist (opens a new window)

a graphic of an information iconRamp Checklist (opens a new window)

a graphic of an information iconLevel Access Shower Checklist (opens in a new window)

The form should focus on the specific needs of the disabled person rather than proposing a specific solution. The design and condition of the existing property are likely to influence what may be practicable to provide.

The means test for DFG largely mirrors the system of calculating entitlement to Housing Benefit. It is quite complicated to use but those in receipt of certain means-tested benefits are 'passported' to a full grant and will not have to make a contribution towards the cost of work. These 'passporting' benefits are:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Employment and Support Allowance (not contribution-based ESA)
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (not contribution-based JSA)
  • Guarantee Pension Credit (not Savings Pension Credit alone)
  • Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit (where your annual income for the purposes of the tax credits assessment was below £15,050)
  • Housing Benefit

Applications for disabled children are also passported to a full grant.

Accessing social security data

Benefits data can be shared with local authorities, to help decide if a person is entitled to a DFG on the basis of being in receipt of benefits, or having a low income.

This is allowed under in Regulation 5(1)(b) of the Social Security (Information sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) Regulations 2012. (Opens a new window)

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) provides this data to LAs for use in the administration of Disabled Facilities Grant to reduce the burden on LAs by not having to contact DWP teams, by a number of means, to gather this information.

The data can be access through an online Customer Information System (CIS) as outlined in DWP Guidance. (Opens an new window)

Your authority will also need to sign up to a data-sharing memorandum of understanding. (Opens a new window) It needs to be signed by the LA Chief Executive and will usually be available through the Housing Benefit team leader.

a graphic of an information iconDWP Data Sharing MoU (opens a new window)

Social care financial assessment

The last 3 reviews of the DFG means test have recommended using an alternative - the financial assessment used for social care. In May 2020 we hosted a webinar to look at how the social care assessment works and how it could apply to DFGs.

DFG means test calculator

Foundations have developed a spreadsheet to help with the calculation (note it required the desktop version of Excel to run)

a graphic of an information iconFoundations Means Test Calculator (opens in a new window)

The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act requires the local housing authority to be "satisfied that the applicant has, or proposes to acquire, an owner’s interest in every parcel of land on which the relevant works are to be carried out." In practice, this means gaining proof of ownership.

The vast majority of homes are now registered with the Land Registry, and they have online services that allow you to easily find and download ownership details for your file.

There's both:

In either case, it's a straight-forward process that can be done by an admin officer in the early stages of an application.

There should be no reason why this search has to be carried out by a different team or department - it's as quick to do the search as to send an email to request it.

From speaking to Local Authorities and Home Improvement Agencies we know that:

  • Many are under-spending on their increased allocations;
  • Most are missing the timescales set out in official guidelines; and
  • Some are still asking for quotations to be returned in the post

In response we've developed DFG Tenders Online - an online schedule of rates designed for the Disabled Facilities Grant process.

Key features are:

  • Online access through any standard web browser
  • Fully customisable schedules or rates
  • Designed to be used by small local builders and contractors
  • Provides instant tenders
  • Can capture client feedback on contractor performance
  • Branded with your logo, corporate colour and a unique URL.

How it works

The DFG Tenders system is built around a schedule of rates, which is fully customisable to meet your requirements. Then your contractors log-in and pre-price all the items in your schedule.

For each project, you pick the items from your schedule that apply and DFG Tenders calculates a tender price from each contractor based on your selections and their prices.

Attach drawings, photos and any other information the contractor will need.

Then you select the successful contractor, based on price and/or quality, and the details are emailed straight to the contractor. You can download a pdf of the priced schedule to save to your file or share with others.

Getting set-up

We know that technical officers are busy with their day jobs, so we can help you get up and running – free of charge. If you don’t already have a standard schedule of rates, we’ve got lots of examples and can help you to devise one.