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Increased council cash for adaptations ‘will be swallowed up’

Increased funding for adaptations to people’s homes will be swallowed up by cash-strapped councils because of the government’s decision to stop “ring-fencing” the money, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation.

Housing minister Grant Shapps has confirmed that funding for disabled facilities grants (DFGs) in England will rise from £169 million to £180 million in 2011-12.

But he also confirmed that the money would “no longer be ring-fenced”, which means local authorities will not be forced to spend it on funding adaptations such as installing ramps or stair lifts, providing a downstairs bathroom or adapting lighting controls.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL), said the decision to remove the ring-fencing was “ridiculous”.

But she said there were also problems with the implementation of the government’s decision to allow disabled people to claim extra housing benefit from April 2011 if they need a room for an overnight care worker.

She said disabled people were already contacting NCIL to say their local authorities were asking them to “justify” the extra space and saying they would only allow them to claim the money if they received council care and support services.

With many councils restricting such services to disabled people with substantial or even just critical needs, this was “a real worry”, said Bott.

Campaigners have repeatedly warned that the government’s housing benefit cuts and reforms will “inevitably” lead to “evictions and increased levels of homelessness” for disabled people and other groups.

Bott said councils might now question whether it was worth adapting properties to make them accessible if the disabled person who lives there might not be able to cover their housing costs.

She warned that cash-strapped councils would have little incentive to use the DFG grant on providing adaptations – particularly as disabled people’s lobbying power “is not that great” – and would be tempted to use it instead to fill holes in other budgets.

She added: “It is giving with one hand and taking away with another. That’s what it feels like.”

No-one at the Department for Communities and Local Government was able to comment.