Disabled people face waits of more than two years for vital home adaptations


Disabled people face long waits for vital adaptations to make their homes more accessible, according to new research by leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire. 

Rene in her wheelchair in her living room next to a temporary toilet
Rene enquired about Disabled Facilities Grant in 2016, after a series of falls meant she could no longer get upstairs to the bathroom. Several delays meant that work was not completed until years afterwards.
  • 67% of councils report disabled people not having crucial home adaptations completed within the 12-month deadline.
  • 23% of councils report disabled people waiting over two years for completion of works.
  • Demand for home adaptations through Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) rose by 27% between 2015 and 2019.

More than two in three councils consulted in England (67%) show some disabled residents waiting longer than the 12-month statutory deadline for completing home adaptation work. Almost a quarter of councils (23%) show some disabled people waiting after council approval for over two years before accommodation changes are complete.

Crucial works such as widening doors, putting in grab rails or making kitchens and bathrooms accessible allow disabled people to wash, cook and clean safely and often more independently. The works can reduce or in some cases remove the need for social care. Without changes to make housing sufficiently accessible, people are at risk of physical injury and mental health problems.

Delays and missed deadlines persist as demand for home adaptations through DFGs rose by 27% over the past four years (2015 – 2019). By law, councils are required to approve or reject DFG applications within six months and then ensure that works are completed within 12 months. 

Almost half of councils (48%) had at least one example of missing the initial six-month deadline to approve or deny completed DFG applications.  The figure could have been even higher because some councils did not provide this information.

Rene Gollenberg-Ryder, 38, lives in Bristol and uses a wheelchair. The former children’s social worker has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which means she endures frequent dislocations and injuries. When she could no longer get upstairs to the bathroom after a series of falls, Rene enquired about a Disabled Facilities Grant in 2016. Several delays meant that work was not completed until years afterwards. 

Rene says:

“It was a very stressful period before the bathroom was done. For three years I didn’t have a shower in my own home. It was really hard to wash my hair in a bucket while sitting on the commode in the living room.”  

Rene found that construction work did not happen when planned, and it was of poor quality. She added:

“Unfortunately, it took a long time before the work started. Builders overcharged the council and did a really poor job. A few months on, it is falling apart and there are ongoing issues with the builders’ work being of a very low standard.”

Gemma Hope, Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire, said:
 
“Disabled Facilities Grants are vital for disabled people. Underfunded councils need more resources to ensure that demand for these vital adaptations is met, so that people can have homes that meet their individual needs.

"We want councils to ensure disabled people wait no longer than eighteen months for essential adaptations to their home.”

Several people who have experienced the DFG process also reported that they found the earlier application process challenging. An online survey conducted by leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire and Disability Horizons in spring 2020 revealed that 20 out of 35 disabled people (57%) found filling in a DFG application ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’. 


Media enquiries

For additional information and photos, contact Nick Bishop on nick.bishop@leonardcheshire.org or call 01202 747100 / 07889 976267. Out of hours press office mobile: 07903 949 388.

Notes to editor

Disability Horizons Survey

An online survey conducted by leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire and Disability Horizons in spring 2020 produced responses from 66 people to a series of questions around DFGs.  

Details on the DFG data from FOI request

The findings are based on Freedom of Information responses from 180 councils about Disabled Facilities Grants in England, 2015-19. A previous Leonard Cheshire investigation, The Long Wait for a Home, covering 2011-15, showed similar struggles to meet deadlines.

Leonard Cheshire sent a Freedom of Information Request to all 343 councils in England - 24 top-tier authorities took time to inform us that responsibility for DFGs was devolved to lower-tier councils. So that leaves a maximum of 319 councils who potentially could give a response.

We received 180 complete responses between January and May. This indicates a 53% response rate (out of all 343 local authorities) or a 57% response rate (out of 319). 

We tracked demand between financial years 2015/16 and 2018/2019. The completion rate is tracked between 2015/16 and 2017/2018 (some authorities submitted responses before the 12-month deadline for 2018/19 had elapsed). 

Under sections 36 and 37 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996

DFG works must be completed within 12 months, usually starting from the date of approval of the application. The start date may also be a date specified in a notice served by the local authority under section 36 of the Act. The grant is not then payable until the local authority is satisfied that the works have been properly executed and has been provided with an invoice, demand or receipt.  

Our findings show that across England, 67% of local authorities had at least one example of a disabled person waiting longer than 12 months for completion of works or payment of the grant. (Our 2015 study The Long Wait for a Home recorded 62%)

23% of councils gave at least one example of people waiting over two years for completion of works and payment of grant (Our 2015 study recorded 44%)

Between financial years 2015/16 and 2017/2018, across 180 councils, an average of over 1,000 people per year waited longer than twelve months for completion of adaptations.

Under Section 34 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 a council must approve or deny a completed application within six months. 

Our findings show that across England, from 2015-19, 48% of local authorities had at least one case where they missed the six-month deadline to approve or deny DFG applications. (Our 2015 study recorded 33%)

Between financial years 2015/16 and 2018/2019, across 180 councils, an average of over 2,400 people per year waited longer than six months for a decision.

Throughout England, demand for home adaptations under the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) rose by 27% between 2015 and 2019.

Demand stats in detail

Across 180 councils in England: Demand rose by 27% between 2015/16 and 2018/19.

Year-on-year demand: demand rose by 10% between financial years 2015/16 and 2016/17. It rose by 6% between 2016/17 and 2017/18. Demand rose by 9% between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Accessible housing

Housing adaptations are especially vital with most homes being inaccessible to many disabled people, now and in future unless housing plans change dramatically. See Leonard Cheshire’s response to Habinteg’s Forecast for Accessible Homes.