Average DFG council spending shows steady growth

As Freedom of Information (FOI) requests find that councils in England have collectively spent more than £125m on Disabled Facilities Grants in 2018/9, The MJ analyses the regions issuing the most and least funding and the progress of DFG distribution

Image credit: Pixabay. DFG spending has increased from more than £85m in 2009/10 to £125m in 2018/9

Council spending on Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) in England has continued its steady growth within a 10-year period, according to data provided by 73 councils via Freedom of Information requests.

Commissioned by the retailer, A Wood Idea, the data shows that collective spending on DFGs, which were introduced more than 30 years ago, has increased from more than £85m in 2009/10 to £125m in 2018/9, indicating a rise in the number of grants issued as a way to fund essential areas such as accessibility improvements to their homes.

Further analysis also found that the highest spend on DFGs in 2018/9 was by Leeds City Council (£6,508,716) followed by Manchester City Council (£4,654,900) and Liverpool City Council (£4,523,800). These figures have stayed fairly consistent from 2009/10, whereby Leeds City Council spent
£7m exactly; Manchester City Council spent £4,694,000; and Liverpool City Council’s total spend reached £3,693,000.

Despite the overall spending increase and sharp rise in the average number of DFGs issued in 2018/19 (466), the stagnant level experienced between 2014/15 and 2016/7 (249 per financial year) suggests further awareness of the grant is potentially needed for those that were either born or lived with a disability for a considerable period.

Hollie-Anne Brooks, journalist and campaigner for disability rights, believes there needs to be more awareness on who can apply for a grant. She said: “Although it’s positive to see that spending across councils on DFGs generally seems to be increasing, it’s critical that the people who need it most are aware that these life-changing grants are available to them.”

Ami Ireland, disability blogger and Scope online community champion, also thinks medical professionals could do more to generate interest in DFGs. She waited two years before the possibility of being awarded a DFG was mentioned. “I think it would be a great idea if all medical professionals knew the basics,” said Ami. “For example, what the grant is and how can help a person with a disability, who or where to contact to find out more information.”

Ami also described her reluctance to apply for the grant due to negative perceptions of receiving benefits,“When I was accepted and found out how much would be paid for the adaptations, I felt incredibly guilty,” said Ami. “This was because I’ve read about negative stories in the past, and that those people needed the grant more than me. You always read about the negative experiences, but never the positive ones.”

The lowest average spend on DFGs in 2018/9 was made by Rutland County Council (£365,789; 16 DFGs issued), with the London Borough of Lambeth second (£437,006; 138 DFGs issued) and Slough Borough Council (£535,832; 51 DFGs issued) third from the lowest.

Although the increase in council spending can be seen as encouraging, there has been some recent examples where the DFG system has been scrutinised. A man in Coventry requested adaptations to his home in March 2016 and were later agreed by the local authority in August of that year. However, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found Coventry council had failed to meet the requirement to carry out all works
within a 12-month period, which included the installation of a downstairs bathroom. As a result, the work took a total of 16 months and Coventry Council had to pay the complainant £500. They also promised to ensure all records of meetings between complainants and home improvement officers were recorded.

Elsewhere in the UK, the local authority in Bridgend has been surveyed as 20 out of 22 in Wales with regards to the amount of time it takes to issue a grant. On average, it takes 500 days for a children’s DFG and 244 days for an adult, as reported by Wales Online.

The recent Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) and Other Adaptations: External Review report outlines several challenges including the DFG delivery system becoming complex and “reduces opportunities for preventative action”; the increase in resources to central Government has not yet benefited people due to the “reduced financial input from local authorities”; and the loss of contributions from health and social care can “sometimes result in solutions that are not effective”.

To make further improvements, the report suggests a new formula for DFG distribution should be implemented to be more “transparent”, based on how many people with a disability, regional building costs, income with benefits data considered and tenure split using data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Article submitted as an end-of-module assignment at Cardiff University in January 2020.