Campaigners are worried vital funding that keeps people out of hospital could disappear
David Brindle the Guardian
When their boiler broke down, Trudy and Brian Urquhart couldn’t afford to replace it and managed for months with heat from a coal fire and water boiled on the stove. But when Brian faced a major cancer operation last winter, it looked unlikely that the hospital would allow him to return home to such conditions.
Thanks to a Macmillan nurse who was supporting the Urquharts, the couple discovered that their local council, Carlisle, might help them through the creative use of the disabled facilities grant (DFG).
With the assistance of Homelife Carlisle, the council’s award-winning home improvement agency, they successfully applied for discretionary funding for a new boiler, and subsequently a replacement fire surround and repairs to their leaking roof.
The boiler work was carried out within three weeks. Brian, 60, spent just five nights in hospital – while the boiler was being fitted – and was able to return to a warm home to convalesce. He has since completed a course of chemotherapy and is doing well.
If we are improving somebody’s health or wellbeing, or helping people get out of hospital, that’s got to be good for everyone
“We didn’t know anything about these grants,” says Trudy. When the nurse mentioned it, Trudy thought they wouldn’t be eligible because they own their home. But Brian, a former security guard, is no longer able to work, and Trudy earns the minimum wage on a zero-hours contract for a homecare agency.
The grant is one of the best-kept secrets of the UK welfare system. It is also a rare example of a benefit that has not been cut under austerity. In fact, since 2015, government funding of the grant in England has more than doubled, to £468m. This is because its purpose fits with the policy goals of keeping people out of hospital and costly residential care.