Hundreds in Suffolk facing delays for adaptations to their homes

Elizabeth is pictured in her adapted house in Suffolk. Elizabeth has MS.

Elizabeth is pictured in her adapted house in Suffolk. Elizabeth has MS. - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of disabled people in parts of Suffolk are facing unacceptable delays for vital adaptations to be done on their homes, an investigation can reveal.

Elizabeth and Barry are pictured in their adapted house in Suffolk. Elizabeth has MS.

Elizabeth and Barry are pictured in their adapted house in Suffolk. Elizabeth has MS. - Credit: Archant

A probe into how quickly our councils are dealing with Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) has found people in Waveney and Suffolk Coastal are having to wait for months longer than they should be to receive the cash and have the work completed.

The councils, which share services, said today they were doing 'everything within their powers' to improve timescales from DFG applications.

A spokesman added: 'Both councils are doing this against a backdrop where the available funding is simply not large enough to meet the considerable demand in our area.'

Every year thousands of disabled people across the region receive grants to try and make it easier for them to stay in their homes.

Under government regulations, a decision on an application should be made within six months, and it should be paid out and resolved within a year.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that in the past four years, Suffolk Coastal has dealt with more than 1,000 applications and Waveney 500.

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But only around one in ten have been completed within those timescales.

In 2014/15 the average wait time for approval at Suffolk Coastal was 338 days and 322 in Waveney. The average time for payment was 528 and 435 days respectively. The grants averaged £5,100 in Suffolk Coastal and £9,100 in Waveney.

In other parts of the region, there were some variances in the time taken, but councils were found to be broadly meeting the targets,

Sarah Adams, Labour's health spokesman at Suffolk County Council, said the delays in accessing grants had a detrimental effect on other services and she would be highlighting the matter at the next health scrutiny committee meeting.

'There are more and more people not getting the facilities the need so they find it very difficult to live independently, which in turn puts more pressure on social services,' she added.

Both councils said the new 'Better Care Fund' had provided a significant increase in funding to improve DFG delivery, though it was still not sufficient to keep up. The two authorities have been working with Waveney MP Peter Aldous to push for a review of the legislation to allocate more of the Better Care Fund to high demand areas.

Pat Ramsey, manager at the Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau, said many disabled people did not know they were eligible for DFGs and there was little information available to guide them.

Earlier this year, research from the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity echoed our findings. Its report, The Long Wait for a Home, found demand for home adaptations had risen by 6% since 2011/12, while the number of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) reduced by 3% over the same period.

Andy Cole, campaigns director at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: 'This will mean even more disabled people will be left stuck in homes that are damaging to their health, and their independence.'

Do you have a story for the Investigations Unit? Contact editor David Powles at david.powles@archant.co.uk

CASE STUDY

Multiple sclerosis changed much about Elizabeth's life.

It drained her energy, meant she could not walk and gave her double vision – but it was the indignity of her living arrangements that she found worst of all.

For nine years, the 60-year-old would wash in her kitchen sink, sleep in the dining room and never once set foot in her children's bedroom – all because her Bury St Edmunds was not fit for her disability.

'There was no privacy,' she said.

'I couldn't go anywhere in the house to be alone.

'My bedroom was the dining room, so we had to eat in the lounge off our laps.

'The children couldn't have their friends over because I could not look after them.

'I got so depressed from it all but there seemed to be nothing I could do.'

Elizabeth, who asked not to be named in full, said she made regular requests for alterations to meet her needs only to be offered other unsuitable options such as a home with steps she could not negotiate to reach the front door.

After years of campaigning, she was eventually offered a purpose built bungalow, which she said was 'wonderful'.

Elizabeth says she fears other disabled people may be dissuaded from seeking the home alterations they need due to the difficulties in applying and the bureaucracy of the process.

'If you know how the system works it seems you can get what you want,' she said.

'But we didn't know how to work the system and we had to fight for nine years just to get what we needed.

'We kept on saying it's not suitable for, it's not suitable for the children and eventually it worked.

'If you fight, it might take nine years but you get what you need.'

WHAT ARE THE GRANTS?

Disabled facilities grants of up to £30,000 are provided by councils to people with a registered disability living in a property to carry out work deemed necessary and appropriate to meet their needs.

Improvements covered by DFGs include:

n widening doors and installing ramps

n installing a stair lift to improve access

n building a downstairs bathroom if upstairs is inaccessible

n providing a suitable heating system

n adapting heating or lighting controls to make them easier to use