Hunts council faces �1.1m black hole in disabled grants pot

HUNTINGDONSHIRE District Council’s cabinet will be asked tonight (Thursday) to cover a �1.1million budget shortfall so that frail and disabled people can stay in their own homes.

District authorities are obliged to pay ‘disabled facilities grants’ (DFG) of up to �25,000 if they are recommended by an occupational therapist to fund adaptations such as ramps, stairlifts and level access showers.

HDC’s head of housing Steve Plant said: “Occasionally, the work required is more involved and may result in an extension to a property, if this is the best solution.

“DFGs enable elderly and disabled people to live independently and, therefore, contribute towards their quality of life.”

But the council’s budget reduction for DFGs from �1.5m in 2010/11 to �1.2m in the current year coincided with a change of policy in the deployment of occupational therapists by Cambridgeshire Community Services, previously part of the primary care trust.

Instead of occupational therapists being used geographically, as previously, following pressure from HDC and new Whitehall targets, they now assess applications in the order they are received.

This has meant Huntingdonshire’s backlog of applications went straight to the top of the pile, leaving the council with just �70,000 left in this year’s pot six months into the municipal year – and needing an additional �1.1m before next April and at least �400,000 in the following year just to clear the current backlog.

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Mr Plant said: “When the backlog is out of the way, we shall find out what normality looks like and how much we need to budget for.”

He expects to make a bid for �1.8m when the budget for 2012/13 is set.

And the budget will have to increase in future years as the district’s population ages, he said.