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In practice, the delivery of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) often focuses on the provision of showers, stairlifts and ramps. They are essential adaptations that support thousands of disabled people every year to live more independent lives.

But where DFG works best it is part of an integrated range of services, all delivered in a person-centred way. This DFG Quality Standard sets out what that should look like by taking little pieces of good practice and fitting them together like a jigsaw puzzle to build the bigger picture. It’s intentionally brief so you can see that bigger picture without getting lost in the detail.

None of this Quality Standard is about the mechanics of managing DFG applications – that’s covered in the 117 pages of the Detailed Guide to Related Legislation, Guidance and Good Practice PDF. (opens a new window)

How to Navigate

We’ve included links to other guidance that you may find useful on each page. You can see these when you see this image:

Guidance icon - A Blue circle with a way finder

 

You’ll find links to practical examples so you don’t need to “reinvent the wheel”, these are shown with this image:

Examples icon - A Blue circle with cogs

This Standard sets out what good looks like, to help you spot which parts of your current practice could be improved. If you recognise any of the following, then you are recommended to read on.

Common areas for improvement:

  • DFG is not an integral part of a local strategy for housing, health and social care
  • Home adaptation services are not co-produced with disabled people
  • There is little accessible public information on how to access DFG
  • There are separate waiting lists for Social Care assessments and DFG applications
  • Occupational Therapists and housing staff are based in separate offices and work independently of each other
  • DFG applicants do not know how long their application is likely to take
  • There isn’t a published Housing Assistance / RRO Policy
  • The quality of service you receive depends on the tenure of your home
  • There’s no information or support for people who might want to move instead of adapt
  • There’s a separate tender process for every grant application.

We hope you find this approach more helpful than traditional case studies that are often written more to promote than inform.

If you have a nugget of good practice to share and help others to improve please get in touch…

 

e: info@foundations.uk.com    t: foundationsHIA    f: HIAfoundations

And if you think we’ve got anything wrong then please challenge us. We’re always looking to move from ‘best practice’ to ‘next practice’.

Commissioning

Before setting up or reconfiguring services it is important to understand the needs of the local population, what already works well and where the gaps are. Equally important is a joint commitment to meeting those needs across organisations and departments.

Commissioning is different to procurement. It offers a means of joining up resources to focus on improving outcomes for citizens in the most efficient and effective way both now and into the future – and may not involve any tendering whatsoever.

LGA Guidance – Commissioning for Better Public Services(Opens in a new window)

Needs Analysis

Needs analysis is key to any commissioning exercise. If you don’t know what is required it’s going to be much harder to provide a rational solution.

Do you produce Joint Strategic Needs Assessments for Housing?

Joint Commissioning

Responsibility for meeting the needs of disabled people falls across a number of public sector bodies, including district councils, county councils and health services. Without a commitment to work collaboratively there will inevitably lead to poorer services for residents.

Do you have agreed joint strategies for action?

District Councils in Dorset have signed up to a partnership arrangement where any unspent DFG allocations are redistributed around the County at the end of each financial year.

Co-Production

Co-production is a simple concept: combining the expertise of the professionals who provide services and the people who have experience of using them should mean that they work better.

Do you co-produce your policies and strategies for home adaptations with the people who need them?

Guidance icon - A Blue circle with a way finder

Co-production Toolkit Commissioning (opens in a new window)

Co-production doesn’t just apply to policy and strategy. It also works well for individual adaptation projects.

Do you co-produce the design and specification of home adaptation projects with the disabled person and their family?

This is about more than getting a signature to accept a small scale 2D plan that they may or may not completely understand. It’s about developing a design solution with them that suits them.

Budget will inevitably be a factor, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for imposing an unpopular scheme.

Pubic information

Before a disabled person can even consider applying for a DFG, they need to know about it.

Do you provide accessible, accessible, relevant and up to date forms and guidance, available both online and in the community?

All information should be presented in Plain English that’s accessible, easy to understand and clear. People want to be able to understand all emails, letters, websites, leaflets and forms produced by the public sector. Using plain language means that most people should get a basic understanding the first time they read something.

To reach all your audience, you need to make effective use of accessible communication formats. Involve disabled people from your audience in developing and reviewing a strategy for producing information in accessible formats. They will know their needs and could help you find the most effective ways of meeting them. You can also approach disability organisations for advice.

Guidance icon - A Blue circle with a way finder

How to write in plain English. (Opens in a new window)

Guidance to Accessible communication formats (Opens in a new window)

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Here are some helpful examples

Telford Adapting Your Home Leaflet (Opens in a new window)

Stockport Home Adaptation Leaflet (Opens in a new window)

Hertfordshire HIA Website (Opens in a new window)

Lancaster City Council– Facebook (Opens in a new window)

Do you also have an accessible contact point to find out more information and start an application?

This is likely to be a call centre, but in any case, it should provide an initial assessment followed by appropriate referrals and signposting.

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Calderdale Gateway to Care (Opens in a new window)

Dorset Accessible Homes Service (Opens in a new window)

Collective Services

Local Authorities provide a wide range of support services to people with disabilities. Often these services are provided completely separately with different access points, criteria, application forms and waiting lists. Some of these differences are created in the governing legislation and regulations, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be delivered in a more person centred way.

Do you ensure that an assessment / application for a DFG considers other services that may be available?

These other services could typically include:

  • Equipment and minor adaptations
  • Handyperson services
  • Repairs and affordable warmth
  • Home from hospital
  • Telecare and assistive technology
  • Wheelchair services

Examples icon - A Blue circle with cogs

Dorset Accessible Homes (Opens in a new window)

Cornwall Home Solutions (Opens in a new window)

Lightbulb Business Case (Opens in a new window)

Staffing

The people who deliver DFG and related services are a vital element of a quality service. But having good people is only part of the solution, they also need to be deployed efficiently and effectively.

Many reports have noted the split in responsibility for adaptations between districts and counties, housing and social services departments. However these organisational divides do not have to mean disjointed services for customers.

Do you have housing and occupational therapy staff in the same team and same location?

Having a single point of contact helps to build trust with customers. DFG applicants can become frustrated by being passed between people and departments without anyone taking responsibility for a problem. Some areas have multi-skilled staff who are able to assess, design and support for the majority of standard adaptations.

Do you identify a key worker as the main point of contact throughout the process?

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Warwickshire HEART Business Case (Opens in a new window)

Effective staff will need well trained so that they are competent to act upon their own authority, within tolerances. This will include formal training as well as opportunities to network with and share experiences with other practitioners.

Do staff have opportunities for training and networking?

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DFG Champions Roadshows link (Opens in a new window)

Foundations Training in Trusted DFG Assessor link (Opens in a new window)

Skills Audit Toolkit (Opens in a new window)

Timescales

The Disabled Facilities Grant is often criticised for being slow and bureaucratic. The current guidance suggests that urgent adaptations should be completed in 55 working days (11 weeks) and non-urgent within 150 working days (30 weeks). Both should include the whole process from initial inquiry through to completion. In many areas these targets are not consistently achieved meaning delays, frustration and, in some case, a fall or other injury that could have been prevented.

Do you publish expected timescales as part of their service standards, and monitor and report on their actual performance?

To start showing the true impact that home adaptations have for health and social care it will be important to link DFG data. The NHS and social care use the NHS Number of patients/service users and this should be extended to housing interventions including adaptations. Where care assessments are held on separate systems to DFG applications this would also allow the start to finish times to be measured.

Do you record the NHS Number with every DFG Enquiry/Referral?

Guidance icon - A Blue circle with a way finder

If you have robust data recording, you can then start to plan how you will improve. Benchmarking (Opens in a new window) is a tried and trusted method of comparing your own performance to others to identify areas for improvement and also share learning and best practice.

Warwickshire HEART Business Case (Opens in a new window)

Assistance Policy

Since 2008 Local Authorities have been able to use more discretion in the way that they spend their annual DFG allocation from central government. To use this discretion, they must publish a Housing Assistance Policy underThe Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002 (opens a new window)

Many authorities use this discretion to:

  • Fund works costing more than the maximum amount (£30,000)
  • Relax means testing requirements
  • Reduce levels of bureaucracy
  • Fund additional works, such as major hazard repairs

Do you publish a Housing Assistance Policy?

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For guidance on producing a policy and some good examples click here (Opens in a new window)

You can also find guidance on developing a Housing Assistance Policy here(opens a new window)

Where legislation gives a Local Authority discretion to make decisions, as the Regulatory Reform Order does, the authority must be able to consider each ‘decision’ on its own merits. So, whether or not you have a published policy, you should not ‘fetter’ your discretion by applying a rigid or one-size-fits-all policy to all applications without considering the specific facts of each case.

A decision that is made by a local authority that has fettered its discretion in this way may be challenged as unlawful. It may also be challenged on the grounds that the procedure by which it was made was unfair, or on the grounds that it is unreasonable. For DFG this would apply where a local authority refuses all applications above the maximum limit without any further consideration.

Tenure Neutral Approach

In the legislation, there is no restriction on eligibility for a DFG based on tenure. However, there can be significant differences in practice, particularly for tenants.

Adaptations for Council tenants can’t be funded using the DFG allocation from Central Government and are usually paid from the Housing Revenue Account. In many areas, this also means adaptations for Council tenants aren’t means tested.

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Stoke on Trent Council Housing Adaptations Policy (Opens in a new window)

Private tenants can also apply for DFG but short tenancies and unsupportive landlords can make a successful application more difficult.

Islington DFG for Landlords (Opens in a new window)

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Do you ensure that all residents have equal access to home adaptations, regardless of tenure?

This does not necessarily mean that all adaptations are processed in exactly the same way but should mean the same outcomes are achieved in the same timescales regardless of the tenure of the property.

Housing Options

In some cases, it will not be feasible to adapt and in others it may be a better option for the disabled person to consider moving. Deciding whether or not to move can be difficult and emotional, but it should be considered even if immediately discounted.

There are three key components to a comprehensive housing options service.

Do you provide advice on housing options?

The Elderly Accommodation Counsel have developed the HOOP Tool (Housing Options for Older People) that is used by a number of Local Authorities including London Borough of Bexley, Cambridgeshire County Council and Northwards Housing in Manchester. It takes the form of a questionnaire, asking questions about the home – size, condition, comfort, location, managing, costs and so on. It is designed for use by older people themselves or working with an advisor.

Guidance icon - A Blue circle with a way finder

The most well-known register is the London Accessible Housing Register.

LAHR Good Practice Guide, Training Manual, and Survey Form. (Opens in a new window)

Do you provide access to services that provide practical and emotional support to disabled people choosing to move home?

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Foundations paper ‘From Staying Put to Moving On’ is coming soon. The paper considers the new role for Home Improvement Agencies with an aging population.

Salford’s Housing Choice Service provides support for older or vulnerable people who may be thinking about moving to a more suitable home. (Opens in a new window)

Value for Money

The Disabled Facilities Grant is public money which must be spent wisely. But this does not simply mean driving down costs to deliver the cheapest possible adaptations. It also requires an understanding of the comparative costs of health and social care services and the social value of the adaptations you deliver.

Do you understand and measure the Social Value of adaptations?

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Social Return on Investment of Adaptations (Opens in a new window)

HACT Social Value Tool (Opens in a new window)

Disabled Facilities Grant programmes often provide work for small local builders and play an important role in supporting employment in that sector. However, in many areas the procurement process involves traditional tender processes that are inefficient and create often unnecessary delay.

Framework agreements can be used to order standard items like stairlifts and through floor lifts without having to seek multiple quotations each time. This approach can significantly decrease fitting times and also allows for systematic recycling and refurbishment of lifts.

Online systems are available which allow small builders to pre-price standard adaptations like shower rooms or ramps. A technical officer can then pick the appropriate items for each job and create instant quotations from all the builders on the list. Another click and the job is awarded.

Do you have an efficient and timely process for pricing and ordering adaptations?