Northampton Borough Council at fault for its poor quality and delay of works carried out under a Disabled Facilities Grant, and its poor communication and complaints handling

Decision Date: 25 Sep 2020

What Happened

Mr Y complained on behalf of Mr X.

Mr X is disabled and lived in rented accommodation. Mr Y was his landlord.

An Occupational Therapist (OT) visited Mr X and referred him to the Council for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), as he needed to replace his bath with a level access shower.

Due to the condition of the existing facilities the award included replacement of the ceiling, WC and hand basin. The Council awarded the DFG in October 2017, and the work started in November.

Also in November, the Council carried out two inspections at the property, and on 4th December paid Contractor A £5,650 for completion of the work.

In February 2018, Mr Y complained to the Council about the quality of the work. He raised numerous points, including that:

  • water on occasions escaped from the shower area and migrated through the adjacent door
  • water spilt outside the shower area did not flow back into the shower area

Following a council inspection two days later, the Council wrote to Mr Y in March stating that it would remedy only two of the several issues raised, namely refitting of the WC cistern, and better securing the shower curtain to reduce water escaping from the shower.

The offer was not immediately accepted, and work did not commence. A further complaint made by Mr Y in July 2018, was rejected by the Council. Mr Y remained unhappy and raised the matter with his local MP. The Council responded to the MP, repeating its previous offer.

Further interaction between Mr Y and the Council, including a meeting with the Council Governance and Risk Team, were unproductive. These included points being raised regards

  • Mr X had suffered an injury due to water escaping from the shower area
  • Mr Y disconnecting the shower for safety reasons

After early October 2019 (unknown date), Mr X complained to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) that the Council had ignored their complaints and left the house in a dangerous condition.

The Council told the LGO that the independent survey had been completed and a meeting was being arranged with Mr Y.

The Council wrote to Mr Y on 14 January 2020 and accepted the work did not meet the Council’s expectations and therefore further remedial works were required. The Council made several recommendations and proposals, including remediation for the back fall adjacent to the door and bathroom areas which would address the two points highlighted above as part of the original complaint in February.

The Council met with Mr Y again on 7 February 2020 to discuss the proposals. Following this, the Council should have sent a letter to Mr Y.  In March, the Council told the LGO that it had not done so.

What was found

As the Council commissioned the contractor to complete the work, it was therefore responsible for ensuring that the work was completed to a good standard. The Council visited the property twice and signed the work off as satisfactory. There was no evidence that it discussed with Mr X or Y whether they thought the work was acceptable. This was fault.

The Council paid the contractor when the work had not been completed to the specifications. This was fault.

The Council also needed to issue Mr Y with a technical completion certificate. It did not do so. This was fault.

The LGO found through its investigations that there was a lack of record keeping from the Council. This was fault. There was no evidence that the Council communicated with Mr Y or Mr X for long periods of time, and it failed to log Mr X’s complaint as an official complaint.

The delay in completing the remedial work impacted significantly on Mr X’s life, as he did not have access to the shower without help, for a long time. He had indeed fallen, which the Council was aware of, but failed to take any follow-up action, causing avoidable distress and inconvenience.

Finally, although the Council has accepted that its work had failed to meet the expectations and remedial works were required, the LGO highlighted that the Council had not contacted Mr Y since February 2020.

The LGO recommended the Council:

  • Provide an apology to Mr X and Mr Y.
  • Pay Mr Y £500 to recognise his distress and time and trouble taken to pursue the complaint; and
  • Pay Mr X £950 to reflect his distress and inconvenience.
  • Improve record keeping including reasons for delay in taking action and agreeing remedial work.
  • Consider how the Council can ensure it meets the requirements of the DFG process including inspections, signing off work and providing completion certificates.
  • Review its complaint handling procedures with regards to DFG applications and process.

Points to note for councils, professionals, people who use services and their carers, advocacy providers, members of the public

The couple in this complaint spent two years trying to get their situation resolved with the Council. The Council had assessed that physical adaptations would be the best way to meet Mr X’s needs but failed to provide good quality contractors and keep appropriate records of progress along the way.

The complaint illustrates how the contract for the works is not necessarily one to which the recipient of the grant is a party. It CAN be arranged that way but in other council areas the route of contracting as between the council and the building contractor, is the norm.  In these cases, the authority will manage contractors and is responsible for making sure work is carried out correctly. That makes for a backstop remedy against the council, but each alternative has its pros and cons.

‘Home adaptations for disabled people: a detailed guide to related legislation, guidance and good practice’ is non-statutory guidance, published by the Homes Adaptations Consortium.

It says all major adaption work needs to be visited by a supervising officer at least once whilst they are in progress and, where work continues beyond a week, more often. In all visits, the disabled person and carer should be involved and given the opportunity to comment on the progress of the work and raise difficulties or queries.

Problems arose due to the works, yet the Council had no evidence of the contact it had had with the contractor, nor with Mr X about the difficulties he was having with the works.

A DFG is a mechanism for councils to meet needs by providing funding for physical adaptations, but as with any service provided, this should certainly not put people at risk of harm. Mr X raised concern about safety risks, but it seems there was significant disagreement between him and the Council who did not remedy the offending issue.

In this complaint we see a good example of the range of recommendations the LO might make. Not only was this costly to the Council with a financial recommendation and payment to both Mr X and his landlord Mr Y, but also included amendments to complaint handling and internal procedures for DFG works.  

If you want help, please consider seeking advice from CASCAIDr via our referral form on the top bar menu of the site.

The full Local Government Ombudsman report of Northampton Borough Council’s actions can be found here

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