Disabled and older people have been waiting up to eight years for their councils to carry out the adaptations they need to live independently at home, according to new figures.
The statistics – revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests – show the time taken between an assessment of a request for support, and the adaptation work taking place.
Of the 84 English councils that provided information about their longest delays in 2008-09, 47 admitted their longest waits were at least two years, 28 said they were more than three years and 15 had longest waits of more than four years.
The investigation into the system of disabled facilities grants (DFGs), which fund improvements such as installing a downstairs bathroom, a ramp, or better lighting, was carried out by the Sunday Telegraph.
Staffordshire County Council said its longest delay was eight years, while in the London borough of Barnet it was more than six years, with another seven councils saying their longest delay was more than five years.
A Staffordshire council spokesman said the system was “fundamentally flawed”, with county council occupational therapists responsible for assessments, while Staffordshire’s eight district councils administered DFGs.
But it said it had halved its backlog since 2007 – following an £800,000 investment – with average waits falling by 28 per cent.
A pilot scheme involving one of the districts cut average waits from 80 weeks to 14. The county council is now hoping to roll this scheme out across Staffordshire.
Barnet council said its longest wait of more than six years was an exceptional delay caused by a dispute with the applicant, which failed to “accurately portray the experience of residents in the borough”, where average waits are about 26 weeks.
But the council was unable to provide details of the next longest wait after six years.
Dexter Hanoomansingh, director of Disability Action in the Borough of Barnet (DABB), said six months was still a “disappointing statistic”, while DABB had received reports of lengthy waits just to secure initial assessments.
He said: “We hope more can be done to bring down that waiting time and address need in a shorter time frame.”
He said he believed such problems were shared by councils “up and down the country”.
And he said increasing numbers of disabled people were seeking advice from a solicitor specialising in housing issues – including problems with DFGs – who held a monthly clinic at DABB.
In March, the government announced a seven per cent increase – to £167.3 million – in the annual payments it makes to councils in England to help them fund DFGs.