This month we meet the winners from the National Healthy Housing Awards.
The primary legislation for DFGs is set out in the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Originally it also included a range of other housing grants, but the Disabled Facilities Grant is the only one that remains.
The Act is relatively short with most of the detail contained in regulations, orders and consents set out by the Secretary of State over the years. For example, all the details of how the means test operates are set out in The Housing Renewal Grants Regulations 1996.
This guide sets out how a housing authority should make their decisions on applications for Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs).
The Disabled Occupant
A “disabled occupant” is a “disabled person” who needs adaptations to a dwelling, houseboat or caravan where they intend to live as their only or main residence for the next 5 years.
A disabled person
To be eligible for a DFG (s100) a person is disabled if:
- Their sight, hearing or speech is substantially impaired,
- They have a mental disorder or impairment of any kind, or
- They have a substantial physical disability by illness, injury or impairment.
This automatically includes any adult who is or could be registered under section 77 of the Care Act 2014. For children and young people, it includes those who are registered under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989 or is a disabled child as defined by Part III of the Children Act 1989.
An ‘impairment’ reduces physical or mental abilities in some way compared to most people. It could be the result of a medical condition – like arthritis in the hands that means they can’t grip or carry things as well as other people.
An impairment doesn’t have to be a diagnosed medical condition. Someone suffering from stress might have mental impairments – like difficulty concentrating – as well as physical impairments such as extreme tiredness and difficulty sleeping. But it still must have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Their impairment doesn’t have to stop them from doing anything entirely, so long as it makes it harder. It might cause them pain, make things take much longer than they should or mean that they’re unable to do an activity more than once.
A substantial effect on their day-to-day activities means one that’s ‘more than minor or trivial’. The effect on their normal day-to-day activities might be substantial if they have more than one impairment.
The effects might only be ‘minor or trivial’ if they have very little effect on their daily life like if the only effect on them is that they have to stop for a few minutes rest after walking for a mile at a normal pace.
A long-term effect means something that has affected them or is likely to affect them for at least a year. For example, if they had an operation that will make walking difficult for at least a year, that’s long-term.
Their impairment will also still be considered to be long-term if it’s likely to affect them for the rest of your life even if that’s going to be less than a year.
If they have a long-term condition that’s getting worse, the effect on their day-to-day activities doesn’t have to be substantial now, as long as it’s likely to become substantial in the future. This is called a ‘progressive condition’.
Where they intend to live
A DFG is available to fund facilities for a disabled person in:
- Qualifying houseboats and caravans, and
- In the common parts of buildings containing one or more flats where they live.
Where more than one disabled person lives at the same address, the housing authority can consider multiple applications based on their individual needs. However, the authority would be best advised to use its wide discretionary powers to ensure the integration of the necessary works, having regard to the impacts on the disabled persons.
Who can make an application?
A valid application can only be made by the owner, tenant or occupant of the property where the disabled person is going to live – so in many cases, this will not be the disabled person themself.
The three questions to consider are:
- Who can make an application for a DFG?
- Who has to sign the certificates of future occupation; and
- Who has to give permission for the relevant works to go ahead?
The Act first sets out (s3) who cannot receive a grant. This list includes:
- Anyone under 18 years of age
- Any public body like a Local Authority or Clinical Commissioning Group
- A “person from abroad”.
A valid application can be made by:
- someone who has an owner’s interest in the property (either an owner-occupier or a landlord);
- a tenant of a dwelling; or
- the occupant of a caravan or houseboat.
An owner’s application (s21)
An owner would usually need to have, or propose to acquire, an owner’s interest in all the land where adaptations need to be made.
The owner’s application must be accompanied by a certificate which confirms that they:
- already have or propose to acquire an owner’s interest; and
- intend that the disabled person will live in the dwelling as their only or main residence for the grant condition period (5 years).
For prospective owners, they can make the application before they have acquired the property. However, the application cannot be approved until they take ownership.
Where there is more than one owner, then any person with an owner’s interest can make a solo application. However, the written consent of all other owners will be needed before works can commence or a local land charge can be placed.
There is no specific requirement for the housing authority to obtain proof of ownership other than the owner’s certificate but it is good practice to cross reference the details with the Land Registry. There is also no requirement for the housing authority to seek permission from the applicant’s mortgage provider or to ensure they have adequate household insurance, although they should advise the applicant of the need to inform both.
A leaseholder is classed as an owner if more than 5 years remain on the term if the lease. If the term is less than 5 years or the lease is part of a shared ownership arrangement, then they should be treated as a tenant.
A landlord may also make an application as the owner of the dwelling. This has two significant implications:
- the means test does not apply (s31) (although you need to consider if the landlord could charge a higher rent for an adapted property)
- nomination rights can be secured under grant conditions to ensure that the property is relet to another disabled person if there is a change of tenancy within the grant condition period (5 years).
A tenant’s application (s22)
The term “tenant” includes:
- a secure tenant, introductory tenant or statutory tenant;
- a protected occupier under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 or a person in occupation under an assured agricultural occupancy within the meaning of Part I of the Housing Act 1988; or
- an employee who occupies the dwelling as part of their job
A tenant’s application must be accompanied by a certificate which confirms that they:
- are making a tenant’s application; and
- intend that the disabled person will live in the dwelling as their only or main residence for the grant condition period (5 years).
All tenant applications should also be accompanied by an owner’s certificate signed by the landlord unless the local authority thinks it is unreasonable to do so in the circumstances. This discretion may be used where the housing authority considers the landlord unreasonable in withholding an owner’s certificate.
Note that even where the landlord does not provide a certificate, a grant cannot be awarded without the landlord’s permission to carry out the works. Under the Equality Act 2010 a landlord cannot refuse to give permission unless they have ‘reasonable grounds’ for doing so. Examples of things to look at to decide whether a landlord has a good reason for refusing an adaptation include:
- the type and length of the letting;
- the ability to pay for the adaptations/ improvements;
- how easy it is to make the adaptations (and how easy it would be to undo them); and
- the extent of any disruption and effect on other occupiers.
A tenant of a local authority has the same right to a DFG as any other tenant, but their grant must be paid from the Council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) rather than the DFG funding made available to housing authorities through the Better Care Fund. The same applies to applications from tenants living in dwellings managed by an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO), but owned by the local authority.
Some ALMO’s and Council Housing have subsequently changed their sector status through a stock transfer ballot with their tenants and become registered as a private sector Housing Association in their own right and their properties have transferred out of the local authorities HRA. Tenants living in these properties can apply for a DFG on the same basis as any other housing association tenant.
An occupant’s application (s22A)
An occupant’s application must be accompanied by a certificate which confirms that they:
- are making an occupant’s application; and
- intend that the disabled person will live in the dwelling as their only or main residence for the grant condition period (5 years).
Unless the local authority thinks it is unreasonable to do so in the circumstances, all occupant’s applications should also be accompanied by a consent certificate signed by owners of the houseboat and mooring or the caravan and caravan park.
The grant condition period
The grant condition period is set at 5 years or for “such shorter period as his health and other relevant circumstances permit”. So prognosis of a deteriorating condition or possible imminent death of the disabled person should not be a reason for withholding or delaying grant approval. This is the case whether or not the prognosis is known to the disabled person, their family or carer.
Each certificate confirms the intention of the applicant at the time of the application and so long as that was genuinely their intention, no repayment of the grant is required if circumstances change and the disabled person can no longer occupy it as intended.
The grant condition period starts on the “certified date” (s44), which is the date when the works are completed to the satisfaction of the housing authority.
These definitions are quite broad and it’s helpful to use the definition set out in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 where a person is disabled if:
- They have a physical or mental impairment; and
- That impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities
The full definition of what is “long-term” is in Schedule 1 of the Equality Act 2010.
Children living in joint residency arrangements
Joint residency arrangements (previously known as custody) can be a complicated issue. Where a disabled child has parents who are separated and the child lives for part of the time with both parents, arrangements may need to be made to provide for adaptations at both locations. However, a DFG is only available at the address that is the main residence of the disabled child, usually the home of the parent in receipt of Child Benefits.
This can also cause an issue for disabled children who spend more than half of their time at residential schools and colleges but who wish to return to a family home during the holidays.
Authorities are encouraged to use their discretionary powers in considering applications to adapt the homes of disabled children in these situations to ensure that they can maintain normal living arrangements.
Children in foster care
Children and young people who are placed in foster care have a wide range of needs and are in different kinds of placement ranging from short-term breaks to long-term foster placement intended to last until adulthood. The social services authority is responsible for assessing the child’s needs and providing appropriate services to meet those needs, which include services to meet needs arising from disability.
Foster carers are eligible to apply for a DFG on behalf of a foster child but provision may depend on the type and length of placement. The application would be made to the housing authority where the foster carers live, although it is likely that the foster child’s social services authority would need to fund any works over the maximum grant limit.
Properties held in trust
There are no specific provisions for dwellings owned by trusts and they will be subject to the same conditions as applications by owner‐occupiers, tenants or occupiers. Eligibility for the grant is likely to depend on the terms of the individual trust and authorities must consider any such application on its merits based, as necessary, on their own legal advice.
A trustee or beneficiary applying for a grant must be able to fulfil all the normal grant conditions. So, for example, the applicant must be able to demonstrate a relevant interest in the property, either as an owner or a tenant, and to meet the relevant conditions.
Persons from abroad
The DFG is not a public funds benefit, and so a “No Recourse to Public Funds” condition doesn’t apply. The conditions that do apply to DFG are set out in The Housing Renewal Grants Regulations 1996 as amended by The Housing Renewal Grants (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2000.
The Applicant must not be a Person from Abroad, which is typically someone who is not a UK national and who has recently come to the UK. In order not to be a person from abroad you must show that you are “habitually resident” in the UK. You are not treated as “habitually resident” if you have certain limitations on your residence status. This does not apply to those who have been granted refugee status and explicitly does not apply to Ukrainian refugees.
In addition, a Council is not allowed to pay a grant where a person who could have applied for a grant is a “person from abroad”, even though the applicant is not a “person from abroad”.
In any case, the Relevant Person must have a National Insurance number. Those who are subject to immigration restrictions may well not be able to access a National Insurance number.
To remain in the UK after 2020, citizens from the European Economic Area and Switzerland have to make an application to the EU Settlement Scheme, and there are different rules depending on when they arrive.
The Government has committed to protect the rights of over 3 million EU citizens (including EFTA States: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) living and working in the UK so they can continue to work, study, and access in-country benefits and services, under the EU Settlement Scheme. This includes eligibility to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant.
Public bodies cannot require EU, EEA EFTA or Swiss citizens to provide proof of their status under the EU Settlement Scheme when applying for benefits and services until 1 January 2021.
Armed forces personnel
For seriously injured service personnel who live in Service Family Accommodations and continue to work in the armed forces, any adaptations for them or their dependents will be funded by the Ministry of Defence as detailed in JSP 464.
Where an authority thinks an applicant lacks the capacity to make a particular decision or take a particular action for themselves at the time the decision or action needs to be taken, they should follow the guidance laid out in the Code of Practice to the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The Eligible Works
The “relevant works” are those adaptations that may meet the “purposes” and are included within an application as being “necessary and appropriate” and “reasonable and practicable” to meet the needs of the disabled occupant.
The housing authority must follow the guidance in this section to decide which of the relevant works will become the “eligible works”, i.e. the works that the grant is approved for.
The Relevant Works
The purposes cover a wide range of potential adaptations to cover most circumstances and to meet the adaptation needs of disabled people whose needs are less obvious, such as those with a sight or hearing impairment or a learning disability.
If one or more purposes have been identified, the next step is to consider the “relevant works” to meet those purposes. For example:
- A ramp could be the relevant works to meet the purpose of facilitating access to the home
- A stairlift could be the relevant works to meet the purpose of accessing a room usable for sleeping.
For each of the “relevant works” the Housing Authority must consider whether they are needed and if a grant should be awarded by deciding if they are “necessary & appropriate” and “reasonable & practicable”.
Necessary and appropriate
The housing authority must be satisfied that the relevant works are necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled person (S24(3)(a)). For district councils this must include consulting the social services authority.
DFGs are designed to give disabled people a degree of independence in the home. Consideration therefore needs to be given to the impact of adaptations on the level of care given to the disabled person and whether those tasks will be reduced or eased. Adaptation works will not achieve their objective if the disabled person does not gain an acceptable degree of independence, or where the disabled person remains dependent upon the care of others the adaptation does not significantly ease the burden of the carer.
The duty to consult the social services authority relates solely to the question of “necessary and appropriate”. There is no specific requirement on how the consultation should be done. For instance, in many cases, the assessment of adaptation needs will have already been carried out by the social services authority before the disabled person was referred to the housing authority for a DFG. This is especially the case where an assessment has already been carried out under The Care Act 2014. However, the housing authority makes the final decision on what can be funded by DFG.
It is for social services authorities to decide in each case who should respond to the consultation and be involved in any assessments. In most cases, the assessment will be provided by an occupational therapist employed by the social services department but it may be appropriate for others to be involved and it is essential that this includes the disabled person.
In all cases the assessment of whether Relevant Works are necessary and appropriate must be made against each applicable Purpose individually. So, for example, if it is not possible to appropriately provide access to a room suitable for sleeping, that should not in itself prevent a grant from being awarded to gain access to the home.
There will be occasions when the need to address one or more Purposes is significantly more urgent than others. In these circumstances, authorities should consider the benefits of proceeding with assessing the urgent works if there would be undue delay in assessing for all.
The following criteria should be considered when assessing potential relevant works to meet the identified purposes:
Facilitating access to the home and garden
Access to the garden should allow the disabled person to access their home and some or all of their garden for drying clothes, playing or supervising play and gardening.
Making the premises safer
There are a wide range of options that could be considered relevant works to make a home safer, both for the disabled person and other people living with them. They could include, for example:
- For those with hearing difficulties, an enhanced alarm system to provide improved safety for the disabled occupant when cooking, or facilities to provide means of escape from fire;
- Adaptations designed to minimise the risk of danger where a disabled person has behavioural problems that cause them to act occasionally or regularly in a boisterous or violent manner damaging the house, themself and perhaps other people;
- The provision of specialised lighting toughened or shatterproof glass in certain parts of the dwelling to which the disabled person has normal access or the installation of guards around certain facilities such as fires or radiators to prevent the disabled person from harming themself;
- The reinforcement of floors, walls or ceilings; or
- Cladding of exposed surfaces and corners to prevent self-injury
Access to the principal family room
Access to the principal family room should allow the disabled person to socialise with their family or others that they live with.
Access to a room usable for sleeping
In some cases a living room may be large enough to partition off a second room for sleeping, in smaller homes this will not be possible. The provision of a new room usable for sleeping should only be undertaken if the authority is satisfied that the adaptation of an existing room in the dwelling (upstairs or downstairs) or the access to that room is unsuitable in particular circumstances. Where the disabled occupant shares a bedroom with another person, the grant may be given to provide a room of sufficient size so that the normal sleeping arrangements can be maintained.
In considering whether an existing room could be used for sleeping, the religious and cultural beliefs of the household should be taken into consideration.
Overcrowding in itself is not a valid reason to refuse a grant, but it would not normally be necessary and appropriate to provide a new room if other bedrooms are accessible but occupied. However where an additional bedroom would make the premises safer for the disabled person or others living with them, then providing a new room could be considered for that purpose. For example, where two siblings currently share a room but one is a risk to the other due to behaviors that challenge.
Access to a toilet, bath, shower or wash hand basin
Access to toilet, washing, bathing and showering facilities are listed separately to clarify that a disabled person should have access to a toilet wash hand basin and a shower or bath (or if more appropriate, both a shower and a bath).
The provision of facilities for `strip washing` is not an acceptable alternative to an appropriate bathroom. It may be appropriate in some cases to resort to this as a short-term interim solution, and service users may exercise the choice to strip wash rather than use an accessible bath or shower provision, but it is not considered a “necessary and appropriate” solution.
For the most complex needs specialist equipment such as a wash/dry toilet, rise and fall bath or height adjustable basin may be required.
Preparation and cooking of food
The relevant works to enable a disabled person to cater independently could cover a wide range of potential adaptations. Eligible works include the rearrangement or enlargement of a kitchen to ease the manoeuvrability of a wheelchair and specially modified or designed storage units, gas, electricity and plumbing installations to enable the disabled person to use these facilities independently.
Where most of the cooking and preparation of meals is done by another household member, it would not normally be appropriate to carry out full adaptations to the kitchen. However, it might be appropriate that certain adaptations be carried out to enable the disabled person to perform certain functions in the kitchen, such as preparing light meals or hot drinks.
It is important that any assessment should recognise a disabled child’s changing developmental needs and his or her progress towards maximum independence. It is also important that the assessment considers the need for the disabled child to be able to participate in all aspects of family life, for example, in ensuring that dining space is available to enable all members of the family to eat together.
Where there is no heating system or where the existing heating arrangements are unsuitable to meet the needs of the disabled person, a heating system may be provided. However, DFG should not be given to adapt or install heating in rooms that are not normally used by the disabled person. The installation of central heating in the home should only be considered where the wellbeing and mobility of the disabled person would otherwise be adversely affected.
Control of power, light and heat
Relevant works could include the relocation of power points to make them more accessible, the provision of suitably adapted controls where a disabled person has difficulty in using normal types of controls and the installation of additional controls. Smart home technology could provide alternative controls by using an app or by voice control.
Caring for others
The relevant works could include adaptations to a part of the home to which the disabled person would not normally need access but which is used by a person they are caring for and therefore it is reasonable for such works to be carried out. This could include providing parents with access to their child’s bedroom for example.
Most cost-effective option
Authorities must be mindful of achieving the best value for money. Where there are potential alternative options for the relevant works that could meet the required purposes, then the authority would usually choose the lower-cost option. For example, where the purpose is to provide access to a room suitable for sleeping, then a stairlift or utilising an existing ground floor room is likely to be preferred over building a new bedroom.
There will be some cases where the disabled person and the applicant elect a higher-cost option. The housing authority will still need to ensure that the works meet the required purposes and are necessary and appropriate, but the grant amount will still be based on the lower-cost option.
Reasonable and practicable
Where the relevant works have been judged to be necessary and appropriate, the housing authority then has to consider whether it is reasonable and practicable to carry out the works having “regard to the age and condition” of the property. The reason for this condition is that it may not be a good use of resources to award a DFG to adapt an old, run-down building.
Each application will need to be considered on its own merits but where a home is in serious disrepair or beyond economic repair then a housing authority may consider that the relevant works are not reasonable and practicable.
Note that the Act previously required the housing authority to consider the property’s fitness for human habitation, but this was removed when the Housing Health and Safety Rating System was introduced as part of The Housing Act 2004.
Other issues, such as whether the property is otherwise suitable for the disabled person are not relevant considerations.
The Act sets out a number of “purposes” (s23) for which a grant must be approved. So the first stage is to assess whether the disabled person needs adaptations to meet these “purposes” under the following categories:
Facilitating access to the home and garden
There is a need to remove or help overcome any obstacles that are preventing the disabled person from moving freely in and out of the property, including common parts, and in and around the garden.
The term ‘garden’ includes:
- A balcony;
- A yard, outhouse or “other appurtenance”; and
- The land adjacent to the mooring of a qualifying houseboat.
Access can also include works outside the normal curtilage of the dwelling, such as a dropped curb pavement crossing (The Housing Renewal Grants (Owner’s Interest) Directions 1996).
Making the premises safer
There is a need to make the home safer for the disabled person and other people living with them. It’s not appropriate to be too prescriptive but the needs covered under this subsection might include situations where:
- Someone with challenging behaviours is hurting themself, other people they live with or damaging the property;
- Someone with impaired vision cannot safely navigate into and around their home or carry out everyday tasks and activities;
- Someone with impaired hearing can’t hear a standard smoke alarm; or
- Someone with a physical disability could not safely escape in the event of a fire.
Access to the principal family room
The disabled person cannot access a room suitable for use as a living room.
Access to a room usable for sleeping
The disabled person cannot access a room suitable for sleeping. Or where the disabled occupant shares a bedroom with another person, they cannot access a room of sufficient size so that the normal sleeping arrangements can be maintained.
Access to a toilet
The disabled person cannot access a room with a toilet or cannot use the existing toilet.
Access to a bath or shower
The disabled person cannot access a room with a bath and/or a shower or cannot use the existing bath and/or shower. In cases where the disabled person needs access to a bath and a shower, they would need to demonstrate a medical need for both.
Access to a wash hand basin
The disabled person cannot access a room with a wash hand basin or cannot use the existing wash hand basin.
Preparation and cooking of food
The disabled person cannot access suitable facilities to prepare and cook food for themselves and others living with them.
People with limited mobility who remain in one room for long periods usually need a warmer home than able-bodied people.
Control of power, light and heat
The disabled person cannot operate the controls for power, light or heating in their home.
Caring for others
The disabled person cannot move around the home to care for another person who normally lives there, whether or not they are related to the disabled person. This may include a spouse, partner or family member, another disabled person or a child. Importantly the dependent being cared for need not be disabled.
An application can be made to fund adaptations to the common parts of buildings containing one or more flats. This would include the structure and exterior of the building and fairly obvious and routine parts of the building such as the front door. It should also include emergency/fire exits, passageways and paths. It wouldn’t normally include shared facilities like kitchens and bathrooms as they would be available within the dwelling.
Section 36 and Schedule 4 of the Equalities Act 2010 creates a new duty on landlords not to unreasonably withhold permission when a tenant asks permission to make adaptations to the common parts. However, these provisions have not yet been brought into force.
Amount of Grant
Housing authorities should consider the following when they are determining the amount of grant:
- The reasonable cost of carrying out the eligible works along with the cost of associated services and charges – the “estimated expense”; and
- The amount of grant they will pay, taking into account the estimated expense, the means test and the maximum amount of grant.
Estimates for the cost of the relevant works
Grant applications are normally required to include at least two estimates from different contractors for the costs of the relevant works. Housing authorities would not be expected to require more than two estimates other than in exceptional circumstances, for example, where the relevant works are very extensive and expensive.
When assessing estimates submitted, authorities must ensure there is genuine and full competition. Authorities should seek to obtain the best package available, taking into account the following relevant considerations when coming to a judgement:
- The reputation of the contractor;
- Their ability to carry out the work to a good standard and in good time; and
- Their VAT registration.
Housing authorities have been given the discretion to require one estimate where:
- The relevant works are either small or very specialised;
- There is a known difficulty in finding contractors willing to undertake particular kinds of work; or
- Where the estimate has been produced using a schedule of rates or framework agreement approved by the authority.
Without an approved schedule of rates or framework the discretion to require only one estimate should be used sparingly.
Unless the housing authority is directly carrying out the works (s57) then the contract for carrying out the works will be between the applicant and the contractor which means that public procurement rules do not apply.
Most adaptation work is zero-rated for VAT, but where the relevant works are taxable at the standard rate of VAT this should be included within the estimated expense. To treat competing estimates equally, authorities should bear in mind that contractors who charge VAT may be able to recover the VAT they pay, whereas contractors who are not registered for VAT are still required to pay VAT on materials and have to absorb these costs.
The means test
Means testing applies to applications made by owner-occupiers and tenants. Different rules apply where the application is made by a landlord. The original aim of the means test was to “target grant aid on the most needy households” and it largely mirrors the system of calculating entitlement to Housing Benefit.
The assumed weekly needs of the household (the “applicable amount”) is calculated taking into account the number of people, their ages and other circumstances. This is then compared to actual income, and where income is greater than the applicable amount, a “loan generation factor” is applied to the ‘excess income’ to arrive at a notional “affordable loan”.
This is the amount by which the grant is reduced or the contribution expected from the applicant. The reduction in grant caused by this test is lower for tenants because it is assumed that loans will be available on less favourable terms than owner-occupiers.
Contribution = (actual income – applicable amount) x loan generation factor
It is the income of the disabled person, and where applicable their partner, that is taken into account – rather than the applicant if that is a different person. In the regulations, this is the “Relevant Person”.
For someone with variable income, authorities can calculate average weekly earnings over a representative period of up to a year that reflects the current situation. For example, the average weekly income of a relevant person currently in stable employment should not be diluted by including any previous periods of unemployment. Similarly, where a relevant person has recently been made redundant, it may not be appropriate to include periods of employment in their assessment of income.
The final contribution should be calculated immediately prior to making the formal application. See Chapter 4 for guidance on providing preliminary calculations earlier in the process.
Children and young people
Where the disabled person is a child or young person or is in receipt of a means-tested welfare benefit then the authority must assume that their income is not greater than the applicable amount. In effect this means that they are exempt from means testing and the amount of their grant is not reduced – i.e. they do not have an assessed contribution.
A child is a person under 16. A “young person” is 16 or over but under 20 who is receiving full-time education up to and including A level. The course must last more than 12 hours a week not counting homework and meal breaks. Usually, the authority can make decisions about whether a child is to be treated as a child of the family by following decisions made about Child Benefit.
The definition excludes those people under the age of 20 who are:
- Getting Income Support in their own right
- Getting a Youth Training Allowance
- Boarded out with the relevant person prior to adoption by them, or to whom they are foster parents
- Working full-time
- In local authority care (unless the child nevertheless spends a lot of time with the relevant person)
- Placed for adoption with another family, or boarded out prior to adoption.
Amount of grant for a landlord’s applications
Landlord’s applications are not means tested by the housing authority. When deciding the amount of grant to award, the authority should take into account the extent to which the landlord is able to charge a higher rent for the premises because of the works. Any relevant matters from a housing assistance policy can also be considered.
The authority may, if they think it appropriate, seek and act upon the advice of rent officers.
Maximum amount of grant
The maximum amount of grant that can be awarded for any single application is currently £30,000.
Where the cost of the eligible works (including relevant services and charges) is over £30,000, any assessed contribution from the mean test is deducted from the maximum amount, not the cost of the works.
|Example A||Example B|
|Cost of the Eligible Works||£35,000||£25,000|
|Cost of Services and Charges||£3,500||£2,500|
|Total Estimated Expense||£38,500||£27,500|
|Maximum Amount of Grant||£30,000||n/a|
|Less the Contribution from the Means Test||£10,000||£5,000|
|Amount of Grant||£20,000||£22,500|
Other services and charges
The Act allows the cost of certain services and charges to be included with the grant application. These are set out in The Housing Renewal Grants (Services and Charges) Order 1996 and include costs associated with preparing the application and the carrying out of works:
- Confirming that the applicant has an owner’s interest;
- Technical and structural surveys;
- The design and preparation of plans and drawings;
- The preparation of specifications ot schedules of relevant works;
- Assistance in completing forms;
- Advice on financing the costs of the relevant works which are not met by grant;
- Making applications for building regulations approval (including any application fee and the preparation of related documents);
- Making applications for planning permission (including any application fee and the preparation of related documents);
- Making applications for listed building consent (including any application fee and the preparation of related documents);
- Making applications for conservation area consent (including any application fee and the preparation of related documents);
- Obtaining tenders/estimates;
- Providing advice on building contracts;
- Considering tenders;
- Supervising the relevant works;
- Disconnecting and reconnecting electricity, gas, water or drainage utilities where this is necessitated by the relevant works; and
- Paying contractors.
The services and charges of a private occupational therapist in relation to the relevant works can also be included.
The funding for Disabled Facilities Grants is capital expenditure. Appendix A gives more detail on where works and services could be considered as capital expenditure and funded as part of a DFG.
Successive applications and nil grants
For people with degenerative conditions, further adaptations may become necessary at a later date. There is no restriction on successive applications for DFG on the same property.
In such cases, any previous contributions will be taken into account – in the last 5 years for tenants and 10 years for owners. Any newly assessed contribution will be reduced by any previously assessed contribution if the applicant goes ahead with the previous adaptations.
This means that if a new application is made within five or ten years (depending on whether the applicant is a tenant or owner) of completing the previous adaptation works, the new contribution will be reduced by the amount that they have already paid. For example, if the applicant paid a £7,000 contribution towards the previous adaptations and the new test of resources shows a contribution of £8,000, this will be reduced to £1,000.
Local authorities should inform applicants when it may be in their best interests to proceed with an application even where it is clear that their contribution will exceed the costs of the work. Although this will lead to the approval of a `nil grant` applicants should be aware that in a subsequent application, their contribution may be reduced. Where a local authority approves a nil grant they should still ensure that the works are completed to a satisfactory standard.
The Grant Condition
All conditions should be explained to the applicant prior to making the application and detailed as part of the grant approval documentation.
Use of contractors
It is a condition of payment of every grant, unless the local housing authority directs otherwise in any particular case, that the eligible works are carried out by the contractor whose estimate accompanied the application or, where two or more estimates were submitted, by one of those contractors.
Specification of works
A housing authority may require as a condition of payment of the grant that the eligible works are carried out in accordance with such specifications as they determine. For example, where an applicant designs their own preferred scheme, the authority can include certain requirements so long as they are reasonable and relevant.
Charges on properties
The Disabled Facilities Grant (Condition relating to approval or payment of grant) General Consent 2008 gives housing authorities the discretion to impose a local land charge on a dwelling if it is sold or otherwise disposed of within ten years of the certified date.
The charge can only be placed on owner’s applications where the amount of the grant exceeds £5,000. The maximum charge is £10,000.
If a dwelling is sold or disposed of within ten years, the housing authority must consider whether or not it is reasonable to demand repayment or part repayment of the charge taking into account:
- The financial hardship it would cause;
- whether the sale is due to an employment-related relocation;
- whether the sale is connected with the physical or mental health or well-being of the grant recipient or of a disabled occupant of the premises; and
- whether the sale will enable the recipient of the grant to provide care to another disabled person.
Every housing authority should have a policy on whether it will place charges and how it will use its discretion on repayment (see Chapter 3).
If a grant is initially awarded for an amount of less than £5,000 the applicant must be consulted before the grant is revised if it would result in a charge being placed.
Recovery of equipment
The Housing Renewal Grants (Additional Conditions) (England) General Consent 1996 allows authorities to include a condition that specialist equipment, such as a stairlift, may be recovered where it is no longer required. Where it is clear that the equipment will not be reused because of age or condition a local authority may decide to waive this right to recovery.
Where a landlord makes the application, The Housing Renewal Grants (Additional Conditions) (England) General Consent 1996 also entitles authorities to nominate tenants to the property throughout the grant condition period.
This means that a landlord would need to agree that if (and every time that) the property becomes vacant between that approval date and the end of the grant condition period, they will hold it for letting by persons nominated by the authority for a reasonable period.
Insurance and legal claims
A housing authority may impose a condition requiring the applicant to take reasonable steps to pursue a legal claim for damages in which the cost of works to the premises to which the grant relates is part of the claim (s51).
The Housing Renewal Main Grants (Recovery of Compensation) General Consent 1996 allows authorities to apply this condition in relation to claims for personal injuries in respect of works required under a DFG.
This would typically be used in cases where there could be an urgent need for work to be undertaken to meet the needs of a disabled person and that grant assistance could be sought. However, in some cases, the cost of the work may be covered either by an insurance payment or a claim against a third party. It may be appropriate for the authority to give grant aid to ensure the works are completed at the earliest opportunity. However where subsequently the grant applicant receives a payment on an insurance or damages claim in respect of the grant-aided works then he should repay to the authority the grant, so far as is appropriate, out of the proceeds of any claim.
Claims in such cases can take a long time, so there would not usually be a time limit on this condition for the recovery of the grant where compensation has subsequently been paid. A housing authority has the discretion (s51(4)) not to demand repayment or to demand a lesser amount where this is appropriate. In operating this discretion the authority should fully consider the terms of any settlement received by the grant applicant.
Where insurance claims have been made and payment received in advance of grant applications a local authority will need to take a view as to whether it would be an appropriate use of resources to give grant aid. If the local authority decides to proceed in approving the application, details of the insurance payments should be included in the grant application form.
Making The Approval
The authority must notify an applicant as soon as reasonably practicable and not later than six months after the date of the application, whether the application is approved or refused (s34). Where an authority or home improvement agency has helped to prepare the application, the approval process would not be expected to take longer than 4 weeks.
The authority may approve an application on the basis that the grant, or part of the grant, will not be paid before a date specified in the notification (s36). This date must not be later than 12 months after the date of the application. The purpose of the provision is to provide authorities with discretion to delay payment of a grant for up to twelve months. It is only to be used in exceptional circumstances where there has been an unusually high number of applications received and approving them all within the statutory six months required by s34 would create serious resource problems for the authority towards the end of a financial year.
The powers under s36 should be used sparingly and not where it would cause hardship or suffering to an applicant whose adaptation needs have been assessed as urgent, for example where a disabled person will be leaving hospital or residential care to return home or to move into a new dwelling. It is also likely to be inappropriate to use the s36 power where the long-term costs of doing so would be disproportionate to the short-term savings.
The Disabled Facilities Grant is a mandatory grant and regular use of s36 or the refusal to accept applications due to a lack of resources is unlawful (R v Birmingham City Council ex parte Mohammed)
A grant cannot be approved if the works have already started (s29) – unless there is a good reason why. A grant cannot be approved if the works have already been completed. Authorities should make this clear in their application forms, leaflets and on their website.
The grant approval notice has to list the eligible works and how much they cost including any fees or charges. These can be revised if circumstances change, like unforeseen works or where urgent works need to be completed in advance of other measures.
Where a grant is refused, the authority must detail the reasons why.
Unless the housing authority is carrying out the works directly (s57), then the contractual relationship for carrying out the works will be between the applicant and the contractor. The authority will need to consider the terms of that contract when making any payments.
The grant can either be paid in instalments as the work progresses or in full on completion (s35). If paying by instalments, no more than 90% of the grant can be paid before the works are completed. The housing authority can also specify how the works should be carried out (s36) and will only make a payment if they’re satisfied with the works and receive an acceptable invoice.
An invoice for carrying out the works cannot be accepted by the applicant or members of their family (s27(4)). Allowing works to be carried out by members of the applicants could provide value for money, but there is also the potential for collusion and fraud. It would be acceptable to pay invoices for the costs of materials from a third party where the applicant or their family member provides the labour for free.
The works must be completed within 12 months of the approval date (s37) (or the deferred date under s36) – but this can be extended with the authority’s agreement.
The works should be done by a contractor who provided one of the estimates for the application (s38) – unless the authority agrees otherwise.
The authority will usually pay the grant directly to the contractor (s39). In order to do this the authority must tell the applicant before the application is approved. Acknowledgement would normally be obtained as part of the application process. Where both the authority and the applicant are satisfied with the work this should cause no problems. However, there may be difficulties where there is a difference of opinion.
If the applicant is satisfied but the housing authority is not, the grant must not be paid until the defects are remedied to the authority’s satisfaction. If the housing authority is satisfied but the applicant is not, the authority should take particular care – in the light of the applicant’s expressed concerns – that they have properly arrived properly at their judgement under s37(4)(a).
In situations where the eligible works are completed to the satisfaction of the housing authority but the applicant is not fully satisfied with those works, authorities have the power (s39(2)) to withhold payment to the contractor at the applicant’s request, should they consider it appropriate. In these circumstances, they may make payment to the applicant instead. Care needs to be exercised when paying contractors directly where the authority is not meeting all the costs of the works.
Changes in circumstances
When after approval but before the works are finished, the applicant stops being eligible for the grant (e.g. they sell, or intend to sell the property) then the authority won’t make any further payments and can demand repayments (s40). If the disabled person dies, moves, or the works become unsuitable to meet their needs, then the authority will need to consider whether any more payments should be made and can demand repayments (s41).
If the disabled person dies after approval, but before the works are completed, the authority can still pay for some or all of the works including any fees or charges (s56).
The authority can refuse to pay, reduce the grant or even demand repayments if after approval they discover that:
- The application was wrong; or
- Works were started before the approval date; or
- Works were not completed within 12 months of the approval date; or
- The eligible works cost less than expected; or
- The works were done by a different contractor
Speak to our Regional Advisors
Our team of Regional Advisors are at the heart of what we do – providing advice and support to Local Authorities and Home Improvement Agencies. And because we’re funded by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities our everyday support is free of charge.
Whether it’s a question about the DFG legislation, you need advice on how to commission a HIA or anything in between – we’re here to help.