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On 25 November, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak presented his Spending Review 2020 to Parliament, which sets out how much the UK Government will spend on public services over the next year.

This year’s review prioritises funding to support the government’s response to COVID-19, including an additional £38 billion for public services to continue to fight the pandemic this year and a further £55 billion of support for the public services response to COVID-19 next year.

Importantly, the Spending Review 2020 also underlines important funding into the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). Rishi Sunak confirmed an investment of £573 million – up from £505 million last year – in DFGs to support elderly and disabled people to live independently for longer.

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This represents a 13.5 percent increase in the money local authorities will have available to deliver crucial adaptations to people’s homes to ensure they get the support they need.

What is the Disabled Facilities Grant?

Established just over 30 years ago, the DFG is a capital grant paid to local authorities in England that can meet, or contribute towards, the cost of adapting a person’s home to help them remain independent. The grant can be used to widen doors, install stairlifts and ramps, or make kitchens accessible for wheelchair users, for instance.

The annual DFG budget forms part of the Better Care Fund, a pooled budget seeking to integrate health, social care and housing services.

This grant is important because it can help to reduce the need for social care services, prevent a move into a care home and enable people to return home safely after an admission to hospital. According to Foundations, the National Body for Home Improvement Agencies, over the last 25 years, the Disabled Facilities Grant has helped over 40,000 people a year to live in more accessible housing.

The maximum grant that can be paid is £30,000 per application in England and £36,000 in Wales.

Who is eligible for the Disabled Facilities Grant?

An applicant must either be the owner of the dwelling or be a tenant and be able to provide to the local council the necessary ‘owner’s certificate’ or ‘tenant’s certificate’.

Disabled Facilities Grant allocations

After receiving a DFG application, the relevant council needs to check that the proposed works are necessary and appropriate to meet the disabled person’s needs. Usually, the local authority will consult an occupational therapist from the local social services department to make the assessment.

Councils also need to ensure that the proposed works are reasonable and practicable depending on the age and condition of the property.

The council needs to be satisfied about each of these matters, and the overall feasibility of the works, if it is able to award a DFG. A local council can refuse a DFG if it believes the scheme is not reasonable and practicable.

Calls for a Disabled Facilities Grant overhaul

Over the last few years, various organisations have called for a DFG overhaul, as funding allocated to councils has not kept up with the ageing population in the UK.

In 2018, a 292-page external review of the DFG commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and written by the University of the West of England, Foundations, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and Ferret Information Systems, examined challenges and potential improvements for how the grant operates.

According to the review, the majority of disabled people live in ordinary housing, with only seven percent of homes in England including basic accessibility features such as level access or a downstairs toilet.

Additionally, nearly nine out of every 10 applications relate to physical disabilities and 90 percent of adaptations are for the provision of level access showers, stairlifts or ramps, with an average cost of £9,000, the paper highlighted.

At the beginning of 2020, the Home Adaptations Consortium – comprising of 23 organisations across housing, health and social care – wrote a letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP pledging for support for an increase in funding for the Disabled Facilities Grant.

The letter outlined why DFGs are cost-effective, the importance of housing adaptations amidst the ageing population, and how an increase in DFG funding will support government aims to provide age-friendly homes.

Furthermore, in March 2020, Foundations published a report that looked at how councils delivered DFGs during 2018-19. It revealed that DFG funding was used to support around 53,500 people in England, primarily via adaptations. It also unveiled that the average local authority spent £1.2 million, adapted 110 homes and kept 11 people out of care homes.

However, Foundations said that despite annual increases to the DFG budget, demand for adaptations has often outstripped supply and that “this is set to continue as the population ages”.

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