The biggest benefactors of Rother’s £1.3m surplus looks likely to be disabled people as the grant scheme for home adaptations was given a £543,000 boost.
Despite most of the surplus due to be spent on buying the former Bexhill high school site, a government grant that funds the disability facility grants (DFGs) is set to increase by £555,550 for 2016/17.
This means Rother District Council’s (RDC) overall pot for disabled people to apply for grants to make their homes easier to use will be £1,314,470 – up from £771,647.
Cllr Joy Hughes welcomed the extra provision at the meeting on Monday and pointed out it is not just elderly people who can benefit from DFGs.
“I would for members to think we’ve hit the jackpot but we haven’t,” she said, referring to the £1.3m surplus and boosted DFG pot.
“The thing is sometimes the DFGs come at a certain price but this allows it to go that little bit more for other people. It’s not just elderly people, it’s young people as well.
“Frankly I am involved with it quite a bit and I’m so pleased there’s more money we are able to use for DFGs.
“Believe it or not, I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who are very grateful for what we’ve done and if you’ve ever seen a DFG after it’s been done, and you see the people concerned, you’d be surprised.”
DFGs are available to disabled people, or those living with them, allowing them to adapt their property to enable them to live as independently as possible.
The money can be used for a variety of things including modifying certain rooms in the house like the bathroom, or installing easier-to-use heating systems.
RDC paid out £727,729 in grants during 2015/16, with an average value of £8,500, £43,918 less than allocated.
But with the increased government grant, which is ring-fenced specifically for DFGs, RDC can afford to hand out event more money to disabled people in the district to adapt their homes.
Service manager for finance and welfare Robin Vennard also claimed at the meeting the boost would reduce pressure on the NHS as theoretically less disabled people would get injured or struggle if they had suitable homes.
Plus people who needed a wheelchair after an accident could be discharged from hospital sooner if their homes were ready for their new needs.
However there were concerns raised about the extra work necessary to examine the funding to make sure what it can and cannot be used for, as well as the anticipated increase in applications.
Mr Vennard said there is currently only one person at RDC responsible for DFGs and wondered if there was even the need, and wanted to explore whether the funding could expanded to include more groups.
RDC leader Carl Maynard also expressed concerns about handing money out and elderly people being taken advantage of by rogue traders.
“Whereupon there are elderly people who are asset rich but cash poor, who might not be eligible, but it would be useful if their council could signpost appropriate attractive business,” he said.
“I know one that happened near me in my own division a couple of years ago where a 95-year-old lady paid £20,000 to have her bathroom adapted and it’s an open door isn’t it for cowboy builders in caring for the need, and urgent need sometimes, for a proper adaptation.
“Whilst I don’t want us to be hugely engaged, I want us to signpost help because this is something frankly that most elderly people need to do at some point.”
DFGs are part of the department of health’s better care fund, which is managed by East Sussex County Council, but organised through the district and borough councils.
According to the capital programme outturn 2015/16, the government grant for DFGs comes from the discontinued funding for social care, and Westminster has stated the money could be redirected but no plans to do so at the moment.
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