Southend Council to consider removing means testing for disabled facilities grants

Councillors are set to discuss plans to remove the need for means testing for grants of up to £6,000 for equipment to improve the lives of the disabled in Southend.

The process for applying for current disabled facilities grants is a lengthy and cumbersome one, with many giving up before completing the process. This particularly applies when people realise their income may mean they have to contribute to the cost.

The cabinet will be asked to approve the removal of any means tests for facilities under £6,000 or £6,500 for a curved stair lift.

Disabled Facilities Grants are mandatory grants available to disabled people to adapt their home for their needs. Occupational therapists working with Southend Council decide the best available adaptation options for the disabled person.

They are generally subject to a means test which means that the applicant’s income and savings have to be assessed to determine whether any contributions are required to be made by them towards the cost of the required work. The maximum amount of grant is £30,000.

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Southend Age Concern, said: “Anything that reduces barriers to access and any sort of assistance technology has to be a very good thing.

“Most applications for anything like this are pretty bureaucratic and put people off. It will encourage people to come forward because most people are put off of applying. It makes it more accessible regardless of age and anything that reduces barriers is welcomed.”

The grants can be used for the provision of a safe play space for a disabled child, to provide an area for specialist care or treatment like a dialysis room or provision of a storage facility for a mobility scooter or a shower room.

A report to councillors said: “The existing means test is based on the eligibility test for housing benefit and was designed to target funding on “needy” households. It has long been criticised for being complicated, unfair and, in recent years, out of date. The delivery process is often slow and cumbersome, with numerous handovers.

“Too many people drop out of the process, often because they must contribute to the cost. Nearly nine out of every ten applications relate to physical disabilities and 90 per cent of adaptations provided are either level access showers, stair lifts or ramps. The average nationwide cost is around £9,000 but most work in Southend is under £5,000.”

The council’s people scrutiny committee will discuss the plan on Tuesday.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter