Council blamed for 'avoidable' delays in approving grant for disabled child

Redbridge Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears

Redbridge Council was told to apologise to the child's father and pay more than £5,000 - Credit: Ken Mears

A disabled child suffered "significant injustice" after Redbridge Council caused "avoidable" delays of almost three years in dealing with a funding bid by the father, an ombudsman has found.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was asked to examine a complaint against the council by the child's father, referred to as Mr X in its report.

The child's disability means that they require support when using the toilet and can need multiple showers a day.

An occupational therapist assessed the child, referred to as Y in the report, in April 2017 and among the needs identified at home was a downstairs wet room to help Mr and Mrs X to support their child in keeping to the toilet programme.

The therapist recommended converting a cupboard at the front of the house to become the wet room. 

The ombudsman's report said the child would resist going in the shower when upset, meaning Mr and Mrs X had to carry them to the bathroom.

The council sent Mr X an application pack for a Disabled Facilities Grant in October 2017, five months after a panel approved the therapist's proposal.

Most Read

Mr X did not apply for another year after "difficulty getting quotes" for the work, the ombudsman said, but he did submit the funding bid in October 2018 along with a contractor's report which said drainage at the home made a wet room at the front of the house infeasible.

The ombudsman found that in September 2019, a home improvement officer for the council wrote to Mr X accepting that the wet room would need to be at the back of the home.

After this officer left the authority, a new one was allocated to the case in April 2020 but the council reverted to the original plan after saying it found no decision to move the wet room to the back of the property.

Mr X complained to the council in August 2020 and the council apologised in its response for the delay in progressing the grant.

It also admitted its records about the change of scheme in September 2019 were incomplete, the ombudsman found.

The ombudsman wrote: "I find fault by the council caused avoidable delays of 32 months.

"The injustice to Y is significant. The purpose of the adaptation was to support Y’s increased independence with toileting and this has been significantly delayed.

"Y was a small child in 2017 when the council first identified the need for adaptations. As Y got older, the lack of necessary adaptations made it increasingly difficult for Mr and Mrs X to manage Y’s toileting needs.

"Mr X says both he and his wife have suffered back pain from carrying Y upstairs to the bathroom.

"Therefore, I find the injustice to Mr X and the rest of the family increased over time."

The ombudsman also found fault with the council's decision to continue with the original scheme with the wet room at the front of the house.

"The council should have communicated with Mr X about the situation. Mr X may have been able to provide the necessary evidence of the council’s agreement to change scheme.

"Alternatively, the council could have agreed to review the feasibility of the scheme before proceeding any further, thereby avoiding any more delay.

"As well as avoidable delay, this fault caused Mr X significant frustration and confusion."

The council also took 41 days to respond to Mr X's complaint, despite its policy stating such complaints should be replied to within ten days.

The new scheme was approved last January by the authority, which also gave the green light to the grant application in May.

It also agreed to a discretionary grant of £12,000 to prevent further delays to the project and reimbursed Mr X for the cost of architect's plans he obtained in 2019.

But the ombudsman felt that the council should pay Mr X £4,960 to recognise the financial loss caused by the delay.

It should also apologise to him and pay £500 "to acknowledge the avoidable frustration caused by its failure to keep proper records and delays in complaint handling".

The council was also told to make an action plan setting out what steps it was taking to ensure similar delays did not happen again.

(Add council response)