People with disabilities who need adaptations to their homes have been let down by delays in providing grants to support them.
The leader of South Ribble’s Labour group has blasted the Conservative-led borough council for sitting on a pot of cash for a whole year, which could have been used to help some vulnerable members of society.
Coun Matthew Tomlinson believes it’s a ‘scandal’ that £300,000 in Disabled Facilities Grants hasn’t been spent yet, when more than 300 people have been on the waiting list for some time.
And leader of the council and the Conservative party, Coun Margaret Smith, admits he is ‘quite right’ to criticise, adding: “Nobody is more concerned than ourselves about this unfortunate situation.”
Coun Tomlinson said: “This is money which could be used to give people wet rooms or stair lifts, allowing them to stay at home for longer.
“The Disabled Facilities Grant is something the council gets every year from the Government, but South Ribble didn’t spend any last year.
“I think if you have got the money, it should be spent as soon as possible.
“It’s scandalous that we’ve got people who are really struggling to live at home, and the money’s just sat there.
“The council said it has been finding it difficult to find a contractor, but try telling that to a little old lady who has been waiting 12 months for a stair lift. People on the waiting list might have had to move into a home by now.”
The problems started when the contractor which the council employed to manage the money and the work got into difficulties.
Coun Smith explained: “It has been a very unfortunate situation. The contract we had for years was no longer performing the service; that was about 18 months ago.
“It left us in a position where we had to look for another outside contractor, and it took us a little while.
“We did find someone else, but unfortunately, maybe we weren’t quite as on the ball as we should have been, and they got themselves in quite a muddle. By the time we realised what was going on, time had passed, and there was quite a backlog. We have parted company with them now, and there is some catching up to be done, without a doubt.”
The funding allocation for 2014/15 is £249,715, and the amount carried forward from the last financial year is £305,901.
It means the total funding available for Disabled Facilities Grants this year in South Ribble is £555,616.
Another issue, Coun Smith said, is that some people on the waiting list were not actually eligible for the work, or should be going through other organisations.
Some people were on the list more than once, and since the council has started working through the backlog, the waiting list has reduced by around 60 per cent.
“When people were referred to us, we were just adding them onto the bottom of the list,” Coun Smith said. “That wasn’t really the most sensible thing to do, without checking their eligibility.
“In some cases there were duplications, with a number of applications from the same client. The waiting list looked unmanageable, but it is now well under 100 people.”
She explained new procedures have now been put in place to make it clearer for the council and the clients to understand who is eligible for the funding.
“We can see exactly where we’re going with it all now,” she added. “The money is there, so now we need to catch up. We have fallen behind.
“Matthew is quite right to criticise – he’s there to criticise us when it’s required.
“But we are on top of it all now.”