Braintree District Council, working with Essex County Council and Greenfields Community Housing Association, focused on how best to make essential home adaptations for disabled residents. Together they hoped design-led thinking and planning could hold the key to improving their services while also reducing costs.
The council’s current system involves several agencies who work independently, making it an extremely fragmented experience for the customer, resulting in stress and frustration for both them and staff. The council knew it needed to work more efficiently with partner agencies to deal with referrals.
In recent years, referrals had increased significantly from 105 in 2012-13 to more than 230 in 2014-15. At the start of the review process in July 2015, this had resulted in waiting lists averaging three months and left current funding – approximately £1m (BDC and Greenfields) – insufficient to meet demand for the service.
With future funding uncertain as organisations face financial constraints, and the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) a statutory responsibility of the council, the challenge was to better understand the customer experience, make the process of applying for adaptations easier and get the works carried out more efficiently.
The council undertook a fundamental review of the whole system. It placed the customer at the heart of the process with a view to making the application for aids and adaptations easier and more efficient. The council wanted to ensure that customers had the information they needed, and that funding was sufficient to meet demand on the service, thus enabling the service to become more proactive.
Engagement and action
The team reviewing the DFG took part in the Design in the Public Sector programme, during the course of which Design Council’s Design Associates supported the team with practical skills and tools to recognise and reframe their challenges and support them in identifying realistic solutions. The programme also involved networking with other councils and meeting a network of sector enablers such as NESTA and FutureGov that provide support to the public sector.
One insight gained during the programme was that Essex County Council, Greenfields and Braintree District Council are not always aware of the strains on the service and the customer base. The team realised this resulted in the service being responsive, rather than proactive, and therefore difficult to target customers in actual need of adaptations. They realised that, collectively, they needed to be more creative and innovative to resolve the issues.
A number of improvement opportunities were highlighted and, in some cases, recommendations and ideas have been implemented, while others are currently being considered.
The research carried out as part of the team’s review showed that it is possible to have joined-up services that are more efficient and provide value for money and that it would be interesting to see how Essex County Council, Greenfields and Braintree District Council could provide an integrated service.
Braintree is also interested in the possibilities of taking this one step further and providing a fully integrated service at Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level – which is a more holistic approach and would involve more than just DFGs – bringing together assessments and budgets while reducing paperwork and governance.
Other authorities across Essex have become increasingly interested in the work that Braintree has been carrying out and a recent presentation to occupational therapists and local authorities across Essex has received positive feedback.
Results Andy Wright, Corporate Director, Braintree District Council, said: “I am delighted with the results of this project. By placing the customer at the heart of the project, and utilising Design Council’s processes, it has led to greater partnership working which has delivered real benefits for our current and future customers. It is also extremely encouraging that the improved working relationships will also lead to further improvements in customer outcomes.
The council has successfully reduced timescales from the first enquiry through to completion by an average of 56 days. This has included the prioritisation of stair lifts to reduce slips, trips and falls. It has also taken steps to provide more information to customers at the beginning and through key stages of the process, improving the customer service thoroughly.
In order to better understand and manage the demand on the service, which may have previously gone unseen, the council now plans to actively promote it more.
Through these and other measures, Braintree has made reductions in the bureaucracy of the governance process, provided improved information to builders and clients, and is now considering the possibilities of providing a fully integrated service at CCG level paying attention to co-locating services with a single point of contact; carrying out a single assessment; and pooling budgets.
Funding from the Better Care Fund has been increased and a 10% fee (capped at £500) now applies for all adaptations. Braintree continues to explore other areas of funding from additional housing associations and is investigating contributions from CCG, special care funds and others.
Furthermore, the council is now looking into whether it can extend the existing ‘handyman’ service to provide minor adaptations works at an agreed fee and charge for private works. It also plans further lobbying of the government once it is able to demonstrate the need on the district and the gaps in funding provided.
Update: October 2016
Since August 2016, the project team has started a dialogue with adjoining Authorities within the Clinical Commissioning Group, specifically looking at separating ‘easy wins’ from the more difficult elements of a single grant to facilitate critical improvements.
Information on passporting benefits is now being provided, on receipt of referral, in order to facilitate earlier financial assessments where required.
Essex County Council has produced a leaflet on Child DFGs and are working on a leaflet to provide customers with more information on Adult DFGs.
Meanwhile, Greenfields has started working on an official revision of its aids and adaptions policy. Braintree District Council is now held in high regard amongst the Essex County Council Occupational Therapists regarding the model it uses for dealing with DFGs.
Performance and improvement manager
Braintree District Council