Disabled people who want to adapt their homes could face new hurdle

A walk-in shower
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Means-testing people who apply for a disability grant to adapt their homes could be re-introduced in Carmarthenshire because of surging demand and costs. It was one of five recommendations approved by a council scrutiny committee which has been examining the authority's role in making properties more suitable for people with a disability.

People who rented or owned their homes in Carmarthenshire used to be means-tested when they applied for a medium-sized disabled facilities grant for things like walk-in showers and stairlifts. Means-testing was dropped by the council in February 2022 following guidance from the Welsh Government. Since then council officers have dealt with more and more grant requests and there is a growing backlog to assess them.

A report before the communities, homes and regeneration scrutiny committee said there have been 65 repeat applications for medium-sized grants - worth nearly £575,000 - from people who hadn't applied prior to February 2022. It said the 15-strong adaptations team was working overtime and that there were 499 enquiries awaiting assessment by an occupational therapist.

READ MORE: The grade II listed ancient town centre chapel that's now an 'underage drinking den'

READ MORE: MP cautioned for assault on wife confirms he won't stand again for election in scathing letter about Plaid Cymru

The report added that it was taking just over a year for medium-sized adaptations to be completed in private rental or owner-occupied homes, and just under a year in council properties. The proposed reintroduction of means-testing would not apply to council house tenants.

Speaking at a committee meeting on May 28, the council's head of housing, property and strategic projects Jonathan Fearn said he believed means-testing would act as a deterrent and help reduce demand. "What we are seeing at the moment is a significant increase in applications," he said.

Mr Fearn said he expected a net benefit financially to the council because although it would lose a pot of Welsh Government funding there would be less pressure on diminishing resources due to fewer applications. The committee report also cited a Public Health Wales study which said every £1 invested in home adaptations generated a £7.50 health and social care saving.

It said home adaptations helped speed up hospital discharges, with a hospital stay costing some £350 per day. Cllr Martyn Palfreman asked if Hywel Dda University Health Board could be approached to contribute towards home adaptation costs as they helped prevent hospital admissions.

Mr Fearn said the council was in regular dialogue with health leaders about this and other issues, and that there were also "opportunities" for the authority to increase staff numbers. Cllr Kim Broom said a lot of people in need of home adaptations arranged the work themselves because they couldn't wait for the council, while Cllr Russell Sparks felt the key priority should be helping those with the most need.

Mr Fearn said: "The intention is to divert these grants to those who can't do it themselves." The committee's five recommendations also included a review of staffing levels, grant repayment conditions on work costing more £5,000 if the property was sold within 10 years, with exemptions. The recommendations will be considered by cabinet in due course.