Changes to disability grants in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council is set to introduce some flexibility into how Government grants for disabled people to adapt their homes can be spent.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 9th November 2020, 6:00 am
Chiefs are trying to bring some more flexibility into the scheme
Chiefs are trying to bring some more flexibility into the scheme

The Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) scheme creates an entitlement for disabled people to receive support for the cost of adaptations necessary to meet any of a specified list of needs.

The statutory scheme creates a mandatory duty for the council to provide grant assistance, but the local authority says that while it meets many people’s needs, ‘it is in some respects inflexible and its rules can become an obstacle to meeting people’s needs in the most effective way’.

The council is not allowed to provide grants outside the rules of the mandatory scheme unless it has adopted and publicised a formal policy for discretionary grants.

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And this is what is being proposed in Northumberland, with the scheme discussed at the health and wellbeing committee on Tuesday, November 3, before it goes before the decision-making cabinet on Tuesday, November 10.

Cllr Veronica Jones, the cabinet member for adult wellbeing and health, described it as ‘very positive’, adding: “This money comes from the Government and it will provide more flexibility as to how we make people’s homes fit to meet their disabilities.”

Neil Bradley explained that the council’s share has increased in recent years to £2.9million in 2020-21.

However, the threshold for the means-tested grant is £30,000 and there are ‘more cases with people we are struggling to assist, because they are near their cap’.

“They are not very frequent, but they do happen and they can affect people’s lives,” he added.

The authority is proposing that it has discretion in three specific areas – to provide an equivalent amount of money for people to buy or rent a new home rather than making modifications; for works that are more expensive than the DFG limit; and to provide some flexibility with the means testing.

On the latter issue, Mr Bradley that the means testing is ‘quite punitive’ and that there are people who do not meet the criteria but are ‘in some difficult situations’.

He added that the alternative to these changes is to access care management budgets in adult and children’s services – both areas which are facing significant pressures both in Northumberland and for councils nationally.

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