The positive impact of disabled facilities grants is being hampered by austerity economics
Disabled facilities grants (DFGs) are not, perhaps, the most well-trodden field of social welfare law, straddling as they do two of its most impoverished regions: social care and housing. However, the law and practice concerning DFGs exemplifies the dysfunctional perversity at the heart of our welfare system.
There is almost complete agreement that DFGs are good things: central government has recently increased funds for them; the research shows that they are remarkably cost-effective; and, of course, for disabled people they can be of incalculable importance in promoting independent living. Yet many councils are trying to curtail the number of awards they make. Looked at from their perspective (through their end of the ‘targets and terror’ telescope), this can be seen as entirely rational.
Local authority responses
The evidence for the benefits of DFGs seems overwhelming, so what have councils done?
In response to the duty to process and pay grants within 12 months of the application form being submitted, almost half of all English councils have simply restricted access to their application forms,3Luke Clements and Sorcha McCormack, The accessibility of disabled facilities grant application forms in England, Cerebra, July 2018, page 3.
, and even when a form is obtained and submitted, it appears that the time limit is, in practice, routinely missed.4The long wait for a home, Leonard Cheshire Disability, April 2015, page 2.
In response to the new central government funding, some authorities have cut their contributions, leaving their budgets unchanged or even reduced.5The accessibility of disabled facilities grant application forms in England, ibid, page 8, para 2.17, Disabled facilities grants for home adaptations, Briefing Paper No SN03011, 22 July 2018, page 11, table 2, The long wait for a home, ibid, page 9, and Sheila Mackintosh and Philip Leather, The disabled facilities grant: before and after the introduction of the Better Care Fund, Foundations, June 2016, page 6.
Since the central government funding is not ring-fenced, some councils are not spending the allocations on DFGs.6The long wait for a home, ibid, page 9.
In the context of austerity economics, these responses may be rational. Councils often have to forgo cost-effective investments in favour of short-term crisis payments. Managers are under enormous pressure to stay within budget. Almost all the savings that flow from a DFG payment (ie, from the housing budget) will appear in another budget (ie, social services or the NHS). In the absence of integrated decision-making, the housing manager has little or no power to act outside their mandate, which is to stay within budget.
The government response
Time alone will tell. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care commissioned the University of the West of England to conduct an independent review, to report by the end of May 2018.7See Housing for older people. Second report of session 2017–19, HC 370, Communities and Local Government Committee, 9 February 2018, page 21, para 43, and the Foundations website.
The unpublished report sits on the government’s table.