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Age UK calls for improvements to deliver adaptations

According to Age UK, older people are at risk of being forced into residential care due to massive delays in making adaptations to their homes.

Two-thirds of local authorities took longer than the recommended six months to deliver an adaptation through the Disabled Facilities Grant, with the longest taking more than 24 months.

In a new report, Age UK calls for all local authorities to radically improve the way they deliver adaptations. The Charity says an overhaul of the system is required to help older people live independently for longer and reduce pressure on NHS and care services.

The report, ‘A step change: improving delivery of the Disabled Facilities Grant’ says that increasing the amount of age-friendly, accessible housing and providing quicker access to appropriate aids and adaptations should be central to the UK’s vision for the future of older people’s housing.

Surveys consistently show that older people are keen to remain living independently at home. Accessible housing, aids and adaptations are key to this independence and give people the autonomy and confidence to live a full and active life. They are also important in reducing pressure on the NHS and social care services.  Adaptations such as walk-in showers and stair-lifts help to reduce falls, sustain better health, lessen dependence on others for care and ease hospital discharge.

However, in 2021/22, the most recent year for which figures are obtainable, over two-thirds of local authorities took longer than the six months recommended by the Disabled Facilities Grant guidance issued by the government to install most adaptations through the grant. The longest took more than 24 months. These are average figures and so some individual cases will have taken even longer. Anecdotally, there have been further delays since, due to a backlog of cases post-COVID. Sadly, there is little sign of improvement.

There are a number of reasons for these lengthy delays, according to the charity, but many seem to come down to poor administration and customer service, and a lack of communication between local authority teams. The case studies included in the report set out a catalogue of unreturned calls, incorrect information, and endless delay. Responsibility is often split between multiple busy local authority departments, and cases fall between the cracks. Many adaptation teams are working to make their part of the process effective but admit to being severely stretched. Some teams have focused on making their administration of the grant more efficient and are achieving much better results, proving this is possible, but in too many areas this hasn’t happened.

In April 2023, the Government announced an additional £102m of funding for the Disabled Facilities Grant, which was a welcome injection of cash. However, to get the most from this funding, the charity says it is crucial to get its local delivery right. The fund is run by local authorities, and administration therefore varies from area to area. As Age UK has found, outcomes are very mixed. The budget for 2023/2024 is now £623m, almost triple the £220m budget seen in 2015/2016 and 8.7% up on 2022/2023.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said:

“Our report highlights the horrific delays older people often face when trying to get the adaptations they need through this funding. Better off people tend to give up and buy their own kit instead, but if you are on a low income and don’t have many savings this isn’t an option and you are condemned to wait for as long as it takes. Sometimes the delay is so pronounced that by the time an older person finally has the opportunity to explain what they want, the adaptation they requested is no longer relevant, because their health has declined to the point that they can no longer make use of it. In the meantime, while older people endlessly wait, they have to endure discomfort and inconvenience, and they may be at increased risk of falls. This is so frustrating when installing an adaptation could have made all the difference.

“The Disabled Facilities Grant is one of the few sources of Government funding directed at supporting older people to live in their own homes which has actually significantly increased in recent years, and with public money so tight it’s crucial that we make best use of it. Speedy installation of the right aids and adaptations is not only good for older people, it can also pay back in terms of the savings to the NHS and social care from enabling them to stay fit and well.”

“We know that falls cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion per year, with 30% of people aged 65+ and 50% of people aged 80+ falling at least once each year, so you can see how important home adaptations can be. Something as simple as a grab rail or a walk-in shower can make the difference between someone being able to remain at home, living independently, and having to move into a care home, at substantial cost to the taxpayer or to themselves if they have to pay their own fees.”

“We also need to improve the accessibility of our new and existing housing stock so there is less need for expensive adaptations in the first place. There is a massive shortage of accessible housing and we should be making better use of new build and renovation work to provide more homes that can easily flex to meet our changing needs as we age.”

“Where adaptations are required however, many people will need to continue to rely on the Disabled Facilities Grant. It’s delivery would be transformed if each local authority made a conscious effort to speed up the process, learning from the practice of the best. Better communication within local authorities and between them and older applicants is also essential. The frustration some older people experience when applying for this funding adds insult to injury. At Age UK we fully recognise that local authorities are underfunded and under enormous pressure, but that makes it all the more important that they make the best use of the money they do have.”

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