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2022 DFG Guidance
The is page largely mirrors the DFG Guidance published in 2022 by:
- The Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities
- The Department of Health and Social Care
The full version of the guidance can be downloaded from the Government website.
Write a Housing Assistance Policy
We are currently developing a template for use by local authority staff at both local housing authorities (district councils, London boroughs and other unitary councils) and authorities responsible for the provision of social care services (county councils, London boroughs and other unitary councils) to help them write a local Housing Assistance Policy (HAP).
The template will set out each of the headings that will be needed to compose and build the content for your local Policy and boiler plate text that you can copy and paste.
The Regulatory Reform Order
The Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002 (RRO) provides general powers for local housing authorities to provide assistance for housing renewal, including home adaptations. The powers, detailed in Article 3, can only be used in accordance with a published Housing Assistance Policy. This section of the guidance can help authorities to develop or review their policy.
The wide-ranging powers enable authorities to give assistance to people directly, or to provide assistance through a third party such as a Home Improvement Agency, providing the assistance will improve living conditions in their area. This can include supporting people to:
- purchase a new home (whether within or outside their area) where the authority either purchases their existing home, or is satisfied that purchasing a new home would provide a similar benefit to adapting their current home;
- adapt or improve their home (including by alteration, conversion, enlargement, or installation of equipment or insulation);
- repair their home;
- demolish their home and build a replacement.
This can include funding adaptations to be added to the design of a new build home where the prospective owner has applied for assistance.
Assistance can also be given to pay for any associated fees and charges, including in cases where the work does not in the end proceed, as long as the authority is satisfied those fees fall within the terms of their local Housing Assistance Policy.
By publishing a Housing Assistance Policy under the RRO, housing authorities can use Government funding for the DFG more flexibly. This funding is primarily for the provision of home adaptations to help people to live independently, so it is important for any local Housing Assistance Policy to clearly set out what additional adaptations assistance is to be provided. However, the wide powers enable local authorities to offer other forms assistance such as repairs, or assistance to move, if an applicant’s home is unsuitable for adaptation.
Policies can also include measures to speed up DFG delivery. For example, a local authority could develop a simplified system to deliver small-scale adaptations more quickly, for example, to deal with access issues, to enable rapid discharge of people from hospital, or to prevent admission to hospital or residential care.
While the RRO gives discretion to local authorities, it is important to note that authorities still have a statutory duty to approve DFG applications which meet the statutory requirements.
Improving delivery through a local Housing Assistance Policy
Housing Assistance Policies can be used to streamline the application process for home adaptations, particularly for the most common types of work such as those to modify a bathroom, create a ramped access or install a lift. This may include a brief application form, limiting the situations when the means test applies and varying the requirements around contractors.
Providing a Home Improvement Agency to help and support with making a valid application is also likely to improve take up of the grant and ensure that adaptations are fit for purpose. Authorities may consider making it a condition that any discretionary grants or loans are managed by an approved agency service.
For counties, it is good practice for district councils to collaborate in aligning their policies to provide a consistent approach. There may be specific issues that apply to individual districts but the main provisions should apply across the county, including the role of the county council and situations where social care funding will apply.
Aligning with social care, health and older people strategies
Housing, social services departments and the National Health Service (NHS) are delivering increasingly integrated services for vulnerable households that recognise the benefits of enabling people to stay in their own homes wherever possible. Poor housing can be a barrier for older and disabled people, contributing to immobility, social exclusion, ill health and depression. Housing assistance policies can contribute by enabling people to live with greater independence in secure, safe, well-maintained, warm and suitable housing.
Through local Better Care Fund plans, health, and social care authorities are required to agree a joined-up approach to health, social care and housing support to improve outcomes for residents. Housing authorities should also be involved in the discussion on the use of DFG funding. A Housing Assistance Policy that considers the more strategic, flexible use of DFG funding alongside other sources of funding to provide home adaptations including minor adaptations can support this aim. In developing a Housing Assistance Policy, housing authorities should work with health and social care partners and look to align objectives with existing local social care, health and older people related strategies.
Working with local partners
Partnership working lies at the heart of any successful Housing Assistance Policy. Strategic partnerships enable a common vision backed by commitment of resources from the principal delivery agencies.
When considering how best to deliver the key outcomes, authorities may wish to consider the following types of partnerships:
- Local authority partnerships: In developing new housing assistance policies, local authorities may benefit from working together. For example, a group of local authorities could share the costs of developing new policy tools.
- Partnerships to address housing need: Planning to meet housing needs within an authority’s area could involve close liaison with housing associations, private landlords, developers, providers of support and advice services, social services, the NHS and planning colleagues.
- Health alliances: there is a clear linkage between poor housing and ill health, especially with an ageing population and more people choosing to live independently within the community. This generates a need for partnership working between housing authorities, health authorities, health commissioners, local GPs and social services.
- Home improvement agencies (HIAs) can play a major part in helping an authority achieve its client-focused objectives.
- Working with the voluntary sector: within any strategy LAs should think about the provision for the supply of a range of complementary formal and informal advice and advocacy services.
- Fuel poverty and energy efficiency partnerships: fuel poverty and energy inefficient homes can only be tackled effectively through partnerships at the local level with housing authorities working closely with HIAs, NEA (National Energy Action), the Energy Saving Trust and energy suppliers.
Identifying local issues, needs and expectations
Identifying local issues, needs and expectations of local residents is the first step in establishing a robust Housing Assistance Policy. This depends on accurate and up-to-date information. The following list sets out the minimum requirement:
- details of the prevailing social and economic conditions, including fuel poverty;
- profiles of the age, health, health inequalities and disabilities of the local population;
- data indicating demographic changes and trends;
- knowledge and understanding of the local housing market;
- stock condition data, including energy efficiency;
- complaints data, and customer satisfaction surveys among existing home adaptation clients; and
- issues of concern raised by partner organisations and other stakeholders.
Setting policy priorities
Authorities will want to consider policy options, establish priorities for action, and subsequently review the policy on a regular basis. The priorities selected will be influenced by the strategic context for housing assistance and by the issues, needs and expectations identified. The local challenges facing individual local authorities will vary widely, and to ensure that resources are well used a careful appraisal of priorities is essential, involving residents and other partners before a final policy is adopted. The following provide some example priorities:
Depending on local need, provision of assistance may target additional help for specific groups:
- Older people; by seeking to assist with maintenance, repairs, improvements or the provision of basic amenities. Older people are more likely to live in substandard and poorly heated homes and are also vulnerable in terms of home accidents or crime.
- Specific conditions; by providing a package of additional assistance outside the mandatory disabled facilities grant system, e.g. for those needing palliative care.
- Housing needs of black and minority ethnic communities or others with protected characteristics; in line with public sector equality duties, authorities should consider whether particular groups are facing disadvantage in accessing home adaptations and recognise the cultural needs of particular groups.
Sector-based: Assistance to landlords
Homelessness, and housing need should be an important consideration for a local authority. The private rented sector often plays a key role in providing accommodation including for homeless families, and supported lodgings for young care leavers. Assistance may therefore support landlords or other partners to increase the supply of adapted accommodation.
Authorities may want to consider a policy to retain nomination rights to a rented property for a specified period of time where a landlord applies for assistance. This could mirror the option to secure nomination rights where a landlord applies for a mandatory DFG.
A policy may target assistance against themes. Examples could include:
- hospital discharge schemes; and
- home accident prevention or health and safety initiatives.
The policy should set out the nature and extent of housing assistance that will be available, based on the evidence of needs identified. It should set out how the strategic aims and objectives of an authority will be met by appropriate and effective actions.
Authorities must also avoid fettering their discretion to provide assistance. This means that they must include a mechanism in place to consider applications for assistance which fall outside their policy. They may legitimately turn down an application for assistance that falls outside their policy, but only after individual consideration on a sound and informed basis. Such applications should be approved where appropriate.
It would be best practice for the full policy document detailing the assistance to be made available under the RRO to include the following:
- how the policy will contribute towards the fulfilment of the local authority’s strategic aims, objectives and priorities;
- a statement of the key priorities which the policy will address and the reasons for selecting them;
- the amount of capital resources that will be committed to implementing the policy, including resources provided by partner organisations;
- a description of the types of assistance available, what the assistance will be used for, and what key outcomes will be achieved by each form of assistance;
- the circumstances in which persons will be eligible for assistance;
- the amounts of assistance that will be available to eligible persons, and how these amounts will be determined;
- the types and amounts of preliminary or ancillary fees and charges associated with the provision of assistance that will be payable and in what circumstances;
- the process to be used to apply for assistance, including any preliminary enquiry system;
- how persons can obtain access to the process of applying for assistance;
- details of conditions that will apply to the provision of assistance, how conditions will be enforced and in what circumstances they may be waived;
- advice that is available, including financial advice, to assist persons wishing to enquire about, and apply for, assistance;
- the arrangements for complaints about the policy and its implementation;
- the arrangements for applications for assistance to be considered where these fall outside policy;
- key service standards that will apply to the provision of assistance e.g. how long it will take to approve an application for assistance once submitted, how long it will take for assistance to be completed once approved;
- local performance indicators and targets that will be used to measure the progress made by policy implementation towards meeting the authority’s strategic aims, objectives and priorities and the fulfilment of corporate strategies; and
- a policy implementation plan that will, amongst other things: state the policy commencement date; the planned date when a successor policy document will be issued; the frequency with which policy implementation (including performance against indicators and targets) will be reported and publicised; and the circumstances that might necessitate an earlier review of the policy document.
The forms of assistance should adhere to the powers set out in article 3 of the order (see para 3.1). The following are examples from existing policies across England:
- Relocation assistance: financial and practical support to move where that is more cost effective or delivers better outcomes compared to adapting the existing home.
- Hospital discharge grant: funding for urgent adaptations, repairs or modifications that will allow someone to be discharged from hospital sooner.
- Waiving the means test: for example, not requiring means testing for stairlifts to prevent falls or where the cost of the adaptations is below a certain amount.
- Home safety grant: funding to repair hazards in the home that can reduce risks leading to fewer falls and other accidents around the home.
- Pooled funding: For example to fund ramps where otherwise there would be delay while deciding if it is to be funded by DFG or social services.
- Fast-track adaptations: where an urgent need has been identified, bureaucracy is minimised to speed up assessment and delivery
- Palliative care: Assistance with fast-track works for terminally ill people being discharged from hospital or hospice.
- Dementia grants: small grants to fund modifications that would allow someone with a diagnosis of dementia to remain living safely in their home for longer.
- Smart Home Kits: such as a smart thermostat to control heating and hot water, video doorbell, smart switches, smart lightbulbs and an Alexa or Google Home for voice or other assistive technology grants (see The Disabled Facilities Grant and assistive technology)
- Funding more than the Maximum Amount: funding towards adaptation schemes where the cost exceeds the maximum amount for a DFG.
Fees and charges
Within their policies, local authorities should state what associated preliminary or ancillary fees and charges will be paid. This might include fees charged by agency services, private architects and surveyors, and could include either in-house or outsourced loan administration costs.
Clearly only reasonable and necessary fees and charges should be eligible for assistance. Authorities should actively compare these costs with other local authorities and service providers, and carry out market testing where appropriate. Authorities should seek to keep the cost of eligible fees and charges to a minimum but without compromising the quality of service provided to the customer.
Local land charges for DFGs
As part of their Housing Assistance Policy authorities should set out when it will use discretion to place local land charges for an owner-occupier’s application and the cases when it would not demand repayment if the recipient of the grant disposes of the property (see Appendix B, B123 to B125).
Authorities should particularly consider whether it would be right to demand repayment in cases where:
- repayment of the grant would cause financial hardship;
- they have to move for their job;
- the move is related to their physical or mental health or well-being; or
- they need to move to provide or receive care from others.
Authorities are encouraged not to place local land charges where the application is being made for a child in a long-term foster placement.
Motor neurone disease
Housing assistance polices can be used to respond to rapidly progressing and highly debilitating conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND). Often people with MND want to continue to work during the early stages of the disease, which can make them ineligible for a DFG through means testing. But by the time they can no longer work an un-adapted home can make day to day activities very difficult to manage.
Some local authorities include provisions within their policy, such as:
- a fast-track process with no means testing for works up to £5,000.
- ignoring the earnings of the person with MND in the means test where larger scale works are assessed as being necessary and appropriate.
These provisions apply to a relatively small number of people but can have a significant impact upon their lives at a time of major upheaval.
Working with private landlords
Research undertaken by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) shows that only 8% of landlords let properties to people with accessibility needs and the biggest barrier to installing adaptations is the cost. However, 79% of landlords did not know that funding is available through the DFG.
The NRLA is working with a number of local authorities to provide more information to private landlords with the aim of encouraging more DFG applications and supporting landlords to make their portfolios more accessible for disabled tenants. It is good practice to include awareness raising a part of private landlord forums and other engagement regularly undertaken by local housing authorities.
Provision can be made within a Housing Assistance Policy to streamline the grant application process where the landlord makes the application and takes the lead in managing the works. As with the mandatory DFG, the means test would not apply but nomination rights could be applied to ensure that the property could be available for let to another disabled person in the future.
Many local authorities already include dementia grants within their housing assistance policies. They are typically preventative in nature and allow for adaptations to be provided with a diagnosis of dementia and before the condition escalates to the point where a DFG would otherwise become necessary.
The extent and cost of the works are usually relatively small (often less than £1,000) and involve a streamlined application process. The most common types of modification are:
- Labels and signs on doors and cupboards
- Task focussed lighting in bathrooms and kitchens
- Items of assistive technology, e.g. to provide reminders and to monitor activity
- Safer flooring
- Decoration to improve contrast between walls and floors
- Installing coloured fixtures to create a contrast for items like toilet seats and grabrails
These simple changes can help to keep someone living safely at home for longer, delaying the need for more costly care services or a move into residential care.
Adopting and publishing the policy
Before providing alternative forms of assistance, a local authority should consider the expected life of the policy and plan capital resource allocations accordingly. The authority must then:
- adopt the Housing Assistance Policy according to its normal procedures for such matters;
- give public notice of the adoption of the policy; and
- ensure that the full policy is available on their website, preferably with a summary in plain English (and other languages as necessary).
Monitoring and revising the policy
Regular monitoring of the policy’s aims and objectives against performance targets, and customer feedback is essential to check whether policy implementation is satisfactory. Customers’ views and experiences of the services provided, and their needs and expectations for future services, will also be useful in considering whether revisions are needed.
Dealing with complaints and redress procedures
How clients initiate complaints and the appeals procedure when assistance is turned down should be written down and freely available.
Changes to policy
Where any significant changes are made to the published policy, these must also be formally adopted and published. Significant changes include those to eligibility and scope as well as any new forms of assistance introduced. Minor changes which do not affect the broad thrust of policy direction, can be accommodated without a formal re-adoption process.
The provisions of the RRO give local authorities wide discretion to provide assistance for housing renewal. Authorities should decide the most appropriate forms of assistance to best address the policy priorities they have identified. This section reviews the main policy tools which should be considered. Assistance may be unconditional or subject to conditions such as the requirement to repay a grant if the property is sold within five years.
The RRO contains important protections relating to the giving of assistance, whether it is given as a grant, loan or another form of help. It requires that:
- authorities set out in writing the terms and conditions under which assistance is being given; and
- before giving any assistance the authority must be satisfied that the person has received appropriate advice or information about the extent and nature of any obligation (financial or otherwise) that they will be taking on; and
- before making a loan, or requiring repayment of a loan or grant, the authority must have regard to the person’s ability to afford to make a contribution or repayment.
Local authorities can make grant funding available for home adaptations and associated works. This might be for minor items of work, works outside the scope of the mandatory DFG, or to reduce the bureaucracy involved.
Where a local authority offers grant assistance it will need to consider whether to apply a means test. The specific form of means test will be for the authority to decide. Means tests are inherently complex and are not always appropriate. A simpler ‘passporting’ method linked to entitlement for other state benefits may be an alternative. In addition, for owner-occupiers the amount of unmortgaged equity in the property might be an important consideration in whether to make assistance available.
The RRO also enables local authorities to offer financial assistance in the form of a loan. For example, an authority may wish to offer loans to help those required to make a financial contribution under the means test for mandatory DFG.
Types of loan assistance
There is a wide range of options available for local authorities to consider and it is important that they should seek proper, comprehensive legal and financial advice before offering loan assistance. The principal categories are:
- Interest bearing repayment loans: conventional loans either secured or unsecured with interest charged either at the current market rate or at a preferential rate and repayable in regular instalments over a period of time. Such loans are likely to be best suited to those with a regular income which would enable them to make the required repayments.
- Interest-only loans: conventional loans, usually secured, where the borrower only pays the interest charge on the amount borrowed in regular instalments. Repayments may vary as interest rates go up or down. The capital is repaid usually on the sale of the property. Again, this sort of loan is likely to be best suited to those able to meet regular interest repayments, and, where the loan is secured against the property where there is adequate remaining equity in it.
- Zero-interest loans: a conventional loan registered as a charge against the value of the property on which no interest is levied. The capital is repaid usually on the sale of the property. This type of loan may be best suited to those unable to make regular loan repayments, but who have substantial remaining equity in their home.
In deciding which is the right financial product for any circumstance, local authorities will need to make a careful assessment of the financial position of the applicant. In the case of equity release products they will also need to assess the current and possible future value of the property and other actual and potential charges on it. Where homes are already mortgaged the lender will insist on taking the first charge.
Local authorities must be aware of all aspects of consumer credit regulation and guidance. The principal regulators for financial services are the Financial Conduct Authority.
Any financial service providers including local authorities and housing associations may give advice about their own financial products. However, local authorities and housing associations must not offer financial advice on other financial products. They can only offer information on the availability of other products. Where loans are being offered, especially if the local authority is working jointly with another agency to promote any loan or equity release scheme, the person should be strongly advised to consult an independent financial advisor. Where appropriate, they should advise those considering equity release products to consult their family.
Local authorities and housing associations (but not their wholly owned subsidiaries) are exempt from the Financial Conduct Authority’s authorisation for mortgage lending and administration, arranging and advising. However, they must still adhere to the underlying key principles of mortgage regulation which will be taken into account in any case referred to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. These are that:
- authorities must ensure that their procedures are open and readily accessible to members and clients; and that
- loans are administered in a manner which is both reasonable and fair.
The RRO is also clear that local authorities must satisfy themselves that recipients have received appropriate advice or information on any obligations arising from the assistance. This applies whether the local authority is providing the assistance directly or through third parties.
Broader procedural considerations
Local authorities are free to decide their own policies and procedures through the general power to provide assistance. However, authorities should consider:
- duties under the Local Government Act 1999 to provide best value through the operation of customer-focused, cost-effective, and efficient procedures;
- obligations enshrined in administrative law such as the duty to act reasonably and fairly;
- ensuring that policies and procedures are robust enough to safeguard and secure value for money from public funds and to minimise the risk of fraud; and
- developing procedures that are transparent, fair, and efficient. This will help mitigate against legal challenges or allegations of maladministration.
Authorities are also subject to requirements of the Equality Act 2010 because they are discharging a public function and providing a service to the public. This means that they are required to make reasonable adjustments for service users who meet the Act’s definition of having a disability (see Appendix B, B5), including those who are applying for a grant. This means, for example, that DFG services must be accessible to those with a visual or mobility disability.
The reasonable adjustment duty is anticipatory, meaning that local housing authorities should not wait for a reasonable adjustment request, but should plan on the basis that, in a DFG application context, a substantial proportion of their clients will be disabled and therefore arrangements should be put in place to anticipate this.
Authorities must also not discriminate against or harass a person applying for a grant on grounds of or for reasons related to their disability or any other protected characteristic under the 2010 Act. Failure by an authority to make a reasonable adjustment to assist disabled service users make their application is unlawful under the 2010 Act, as well as other forms of unlawful discrimination and harassment, and can ultimately result in civil proceedings at County Court.
Local authorities are subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), and when carrying out their functions must give due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by or under the Equality Act, advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and others and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and others. It is for local authorities to decide what is required to fulfil their duty and the government does not have a role in overseeing this.
A local authority that is failing to comply with the PSED may be challenged via Judicial Review. Guidance on the PSED for public authorities in England, Scotland and Wales is available at the following link: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/public-sector-equality-duty-guidance.
Under section 343AA of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (inserted by section 8 of the Armed Forces Act 2021), local authorities are required to have due regard to the three principles of the Armed Forces Covenant when exercising certain housing functions, including allocating disabled facilities grants. Under this provision, special considerations for veterans may be justified in some circumstances. More information will be provided in the Armed Forces Covenant Duty statutory guidance to be published in 2022.
Speak to our Regional Advisors
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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.