Adaptations for tenants
Paul Smith, director of Foundations, says despite the universal aims of the legislation governing Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), access to adaptations very much depends upon tenure.
During 2018 Foundations worked with the University of West of England and others to review the operation of the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) in England. The report was published in December 2018 and includes 45 key recommendations for change. However, we weren’t asked specifically to consider issues around tenure.
The DFG is, in theory at least, quite straightforward. It provides money (in the form of a grant) to pay for adaptations (facilities) in the home of someone with a disability. The main requirements are set out in the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 and provide a statutory right to make a grant application across all tenures. In practice, however, tenants often have a very different experience depending on the status of their landlord – and different to those who own their home.
Tenants of housing associations are eligible to apply for DFGs, subject to a test of resources, but in many local authority areas demand for DFG exceeds available resources and it also creates problems about who is responsible for maintenance and repair of the adaptation.
In 2008 the government and the Housing Corporation sent a joint letter saying that the Housing Corporation would no longer fund adaptations. It quotes from The Housing Corporation Capital Funding guide: ‘It is expected that housing associations build into their business plans the funding of adaptations as part of their core activities .... housing associations and local authorities are encouraged to work closely to identify likely need to help plan and deliver adaptations and to enter into clear partnership arrangements for the provision of DFGs’. In practice this can be quite problematic, particularly where a housing association has properties in different local authority areas leading to inconsistent approaches.
The picture is different for council housing as local authorities cannot use the DFG monies from government to fund adaptations to their own homes and must use their Housing Revenue Account (HRA). This means that many local authorities don't follow the standard DFG regulations for their own tenants. Guidance has consistently said this should not result in a worse service - both in terms of the level of support and timescales.
For ALMOs, adaptations to dwellings managed by the ALMO, but owned by the local authority, should still be funded from the HRA. Some ALMOs are also registered as social landlords and own other properties outside of the HRA. Tenants living in these properties can apply for a DFG on the same basis as any other housing association tenant.
Foundations issued a freedom of information request in 2018 asking local authorities to tell us about adaptations in their own housing stock in 2016/17. We found a total spend £137m which equates to an average adaptation budget of £85 per dwelling, adapting around 1.2 per cent of the stock. The average cost of an adaptation was £5,468, less than an average DFG of around £7,000. Further analysis shows that larger adaptations are far less common in council homes, with very few adaptations costing more than £15,000.
The age profile is also different for council Housing, with the disabled person far more likely to be of working age compared to other tenures. This may be because local authorities often manage sheltered housing schemes for older people that have already been adapted as part of refurbishment schemes.
So, access to adaptations very much depends upon tenure despite the universal aims of the legislation. Our review of DFG recommends setting up housing and health partnership boards to better coordinate adaptations along with a wider range of support services across all tenures.
For further information, visit the Foundations website.