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A new report has revealed what the average local authority achieves through Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) and key factors in maximising the grant’s ability to help people to live in their own home.

The study, published by Foundations, the Government-funded national body for home improvement agencies, looked at how councils delivered DFGs during 2018-19.

It comes as record amounts of funding are allocated for DFGs via the Better Care Fund: £505 million in 2019-20 and the same for 2020-21.

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This major funding boost from the UK Government for the Disabled Facilities Grant comes following a letter written by the Home Adaptations Consortium, and backed by 23 major organisations, to Matt Hancock MP pledging for support for an increase in funding for the DFG.

Key findings from Foundations’ latest report include:

  • DFG funding was used to support around 53,500 people in England, primarily via adaptations
  • The average local authority spent £1.2 million, adapted 110 homes and kept 11 people out of care homes
  • On average, each council had five FTE staff dedicated to administering DFGs, spent £9,750 per DFG and took 116 days from grant application to completing the work
  • Councils that use a home improvement agency, charge a fee to provide additional support and have a Regulatory Reform Order policy in place are 25 percent more efficient at delivering DFGs

The study, ‘Disabled Facilities Grants: Structures & Staffing, involving more than 200 local authorities’, looked at each element in the DFG process to see how ‘inputs’ lead to the ‘outputs’ needed to achieve the desired goals.

It found there was a generally positive correlation between the number of staff employed and the number of homes adapted. However, bigger isn’t always better, Foundations stresses, it also comes down to the type of staff employed.

For example, an increasing number of district councils are employing occupational therapists and trusted assessors. One authority reported they had cut their backlog of DFG assessments from 450 to 130 within a year as a result of bringing an OT into the team.

Councils can use the DFG more flexibly if they set out their plans in a Housing Assistance Policy. These polices were originally introduced by the Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002 and are often called “RRO policies”.

They allows councils to use their discretion to do things like topping up DFGs over and above the upper limit of £30,000, removing means testing for lower cost works or fast- tracking adaptations for hospital discharge. Some 85 percent of local authorities now have an RRO policy compared with just 53 percent in 2016.

The report also shows councils that use a home improvement agency – either in-house or commissioned externally – and charge a fee (that’s included in the grant) are able to support more DFG spend than those that don’t.

It explains: “Their [agencies] role in the delivery of the DFG includes using the expertise of caseworkers, technical officers – and increasingly occupational therapists and trusted assessors – working together to identify the needs of the individual and help with the provision of aids and adaptations to improve the person’s wellbeing.”

Paul Smith, Director of Foundations, commented: “Through our research we have found that councils that have a home improvement agency, charge a fee and have a regulatory reform order are more efficient and effective at delivering DFGs.

“But overall more staff are needed to fulfil the demand that is out there. That’s because despite annual increases to the DFG budget, demand for adaptations has often outstripped supply and this is set to continue as the population ages.

“It’s therefore vital that local authorities do everything they can to maximise the impact of DFG to support the most vulnerable people – it’s a key part of the prevention and early intervention agenda.”

The report outlines a series of recommendations for local authorities to help them maximise the impact of DFG support to local residents, which are:

  • The smallest local authorities should consider partnering with neighbours to improve the efficiency of DFG delivery
  • Councils should charge a fee which is used to employ sufficient staff to enable delivery of an efficient and effective service
  • All local authorities should provide proper support through an agency-led approach to DFG delivery that is person-centred and focused on outcomes.
  • Any additional revenue funding should be invested into agency services

Foundations is the national body for home improvement agency and handypersons services and DFG and is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It provides support to nearly 200 not-for-profit home improvement and handyperson service providers in England who cover more than 80 percent of local authority areas.

Home improvement and handyperson service providers are local organisations dedicated to helping older people, people with disabilities and vulnerable people to live in safety and with dignity in their own homes. Services are focused on ensuring existing housing is fit for purpose and vulnerable people, predominantly homeowners, are able to continue living independently as long as possible.

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