Waiting list for disabled home adaptations soars by more than 50% in two months

Grants for home adaptations like stairlifts are being discussed by a council committee
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The number of people applying for grants to adapt homes for disabilities has soared by more than 50% in just two months.

The waiting list is "rapidly increasing" despite the fact that Stockton Council does not promote the grants for home adaptations. And people have seemingly died while waiting, a meeting has heard.

The council is reviewing disabled facilities grants (DFGs), which contribute to the cost of home adaptations like ramps, stairlifts, showers and extensions. The grants, funded through NHS and council budgets, allow people to live in their homes independently and prevent them going into hospital or care homes.

However councillors on the people select committee have been told the system for home owners, landlords and tenants is "sinking" with rising costs and demands. They were previously warned they could be "sleepwalking into disaster" if they did not plan ahead and tackle the issues.

Housing, regeneration and investment manager Sam Dixon said: "We've got to provide options to residents to show how they can meet their needs through different avenues of adaptations. We've got to meet the minimum requirement of the client's needs. Sometimes expectations can be quite high but unfortunately we can only provide the minimum really.

"People want more than what they can have but it's an assessment of need. We do have to explain we have only got a limited amount of money." For example she said one team installed around two showers per week.

"That's all we can do within the budget we've got. We operate a waiting list. We had 181 at the end of March. We've now got 284 people on our waiting list. It's rapidly increasing.

"The person at the top of the list at the moment has been on there since last June, so it is a very lengthy process until we get around to even speaking to them. We normally contact the residents every three months to let them know, you're still on the waiting list however it could be another probably 12 months before we get around to seeing you."

She said the formal grant process started when people were at the top of the waiting list, applications had to be approved or refused within six months, and adaptations were provided well within a year of approval. The means-tested grants provide up to £30,000 - a maximum unchanged since 2008. Residents could be fast-tracked and offered loans offered to help residents.

She added: "We don't promote DFGs if we're being brutally honest because of the demand at the moment. It's something that we're already picking up, to do a bit more promoting of it."

'Quite frustrating'

She said landlords could apply for the grants, bypassing a means test for tenants. She told how they were looking at how to work better with housing providers and were meeting with them to talk about budgets and sharing information about adapted homes to help people with medical needs.

She said housing providers sometimes wanted adaptations to higher specifications: "They're pushing back on us at the moment. It's quite frustrating.

"The landlord can apply, however we can't force them to apply. They might think it's too much trouble, they might not want the property adapted."

She suggested drawing up a database of which properties were adapted, as they found equipment had been ripped out of properties when it was no longer used, and the "quick win" of an assessment where people could find out if they qualified for adaptations without going on the waiting list for months.

Councillors (l-r) Eileen Johnson, Marilyn Surtees and Lynn Hall from Stockton Council
Councillors (l-r) Eileen Johnson, Marilyn Surtees and Lynn Hall from Stockton Council -Credit:Stockton Council

Councillor Lynn Hall said: "I'm shocked at the wait and the frustration that many of them must be feeling." She asked whether applications were "triaged" at an early stage.

Ms Dixon replied her support staff would ring people towards the beginning of the list. She added: "I know it sounds awful but we do have people who pass away as well.

"We would say, 'Can we send you out this application form to see if you would qualify rather than you sitting on the list?' At least they know they qualify rather than waiting for 12 months."

Cllr Eileen Johnson said: "We may be adapting properties, particularly our social housing, which then we rip out again. There's got to be a better way of doing it. The social landlords should be able to have a register of what adaptations are in what properties and match the people."

Committee chair Cllr Marilyn Surtees said: "I think the negotiations with social landlords is a crucial hurdle. It seems that they are crucially important to the progress of this because they seem at the minute to be blocking progress."