Published: 05:00, 22 April 2022
A borough has been rated one of the top three worst places in Kent for a disability assessment.
A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that Swale has one of the poorest turnarounds when people apply for a disability assessment, with many waiting over a year to receive adaptations to their homes.
Being able to access your bathroom or even getting in and out the house everyday is something all we take for granted.
However, many disabled residents across Swale are having to wait months just to be assessed for an adaptation to their home, and even longer to get the work completed.
A Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) is administered by local authorities to fund changes to the homes of disabled and older people, which are often key to their quality of life.
The DFG can be used to pay for works such as widening doorways and inserting ramps for wheelchair access, or installing a suitable heating system, providing access to bathroom facilities by means of a stair lift or a new ground floor bathroom.
In Kent, Swale had the third worse waiting time, with an average completion of 13 months.
Across the borough, the DFG initial application process takes on average 9.1 months, with an additional 3.9 months to complete the work, meaning that the average length of the full process takes 13 months to complete.
In Maidstone, the average length of the full DFG process takes almost 22 months to complete, meanwhile in Dover, it takes around 19 and a half months.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to all 331 local authorities in England and Wales that are responsible for Housing. Out of this, 281 authorities responded.
The findings show huge variations across the UK, with some seeing work completed in less than a year, while others wait much longer for everything to be finalised.
The worst affected is Southend-on-Sea in Essex, where the time taken from first contact with the council to adaptation completion an average of more than two years.
Sophie Fournel, chief executive of Disability Assist in Maidstone says she isn't shocked by the new findings.
She said: "We have had quite a lot of people contacting us over the years regarding their housing and it being not as accessible as it needs to be, certainly more as people's conditions deteriorate or change.
"It can take a very long time to get those homes adapted so that they are more usable.
"We also have a lot of people who are living in inappropriate housing, and the wait on the housing register for social housing which is accessible - like bungalows - is incredibly long.
She added: "The DFG can be a very strenuous and complicated process.
"Mentally it can be very devastating on people, where they become really frustrated and unable to move forward with their lives.
"It can have a real impact on their physical health too - if they are unable to get around they may be confined to a bed for a long period of time, where they can't use their home they are living in."
Sophie revealed that she also applied for a grant when she moved to Kent in January 2011.
"I did apply for a DFG at the time, as I have multiple sclerosis.
"What I needed was a downstairs toilet in my house, but when they did my assessment they tend to look long-term at a situation.
"If they were going to do something, it would have to be a whole downstairs wetroom - I don't need that now, and I am hoping I will never need it.
"My contribution towards having a wetroom that I didn't really want would cost more than to get a downstairs toilet done.
"I pulled out of the whole DFG process, but I was lucky because I work and have a steady income. I had to save up for it, but I can do that, it's not beyond my reach.
"Whereas for a lot of people if they are relying on benefits, it's not that simple."
According to charity Scope, there are more than 14 million disabled people in the UK and over 250,000 residents in Kent have a health problem or disability which limits their day-to-day activities.
Another woman who knows this issue all too well is Miss Holmes from Twydall in Gillingham.
The 51-year-old, who KentOnline has agreed not to use her full name, said: "I moved to this house two years ago and signed the paperwork last year for a DFG.
"I was told the adaptions would be done by Christmas last year and I am still waiting. A few weeks back I had someone round to look at my bathroom to price it up.
"I struggle with stairs and getting in and out of baths, so I need a wet room and chair lift."
She has arthritis in her knees, an under-active thyroid and also manages diabetes.
She added: "It has taken a toll on my mental health and some days I have had to sleep on the sofa because I can't manage the stairs - most of the time I have to ask my son for help.
"It is a joke having to wait - I know we have been in lockdown - but it's a joke."
A spokesman from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said: “It is vital that disabled people are fully supported with adaptations and improvements so they are comfortable and secure in their homes.
“Since 2010, we have provided councils with over £4 billion to deliver around half a million home adaptations and an expert body is on hand to help any council reduce backlogs so older and disabled people can live independently and safely.
“We appreciate the challenges councils have faced to deliver these grants during the pandemic, but it is now crucial that adaptations are delivered at pace and the backlog on waiting lists reduced.”