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The home front: accommodation issues post-discharge after spinal cord injury

View profile for Jon Rees
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Jon Rees is Partner and heads the Spinal Injuries team at Brethertons Solicitors. Brethertons is a SIA Gold Corporate Partner and proud sponsor of SIA peer support officers Paul Rhodes (West Midlands) and John Leonard (East of England).

The level of disability and the level of independence that can be achieved will help inform whether the accommodation is suitable.

This involves assessment as to whether the accommodation allows sufficient access (gates, driveways, pathways, steps, door width); room and ability to circulate around the house (doorways, stairs, location of toilet, bathroom, bedroom); space (equipment storage, accommodation of carers, and so that other occupants’ living conditions are not disrupted); reducing dependence on others and preserving privacy and dignity wherever possible.

What might suit now might not be so suitable later on – needs can change. Locality and availability of local amenities and a social life are also likely to need to be factored in as will the views of others who share (or perhaps own) the house.

Some need to organise only minor adaptations to the accommodation they were living in at the time of the injury or illness. Some will need moderate alterations and adaptation (lifts, conversion of downstairs loos to wet rooms, door widening, access ramps, change of flooring). For others major alterations are indicated. Sometimes a new property that can be adapted is needed or it might be that land is needed on which to build a new property specifically designed to meet needs identified.

You should not have to pay VAT for some building work and you may also be entitled to a Council Tax reduction.

Mandatory disabled facilities grants of up to £30,000 in England (£25,000 in Northern Ireland and £36,000 in Wales) are available from local authorities. Local authorities can also sometimes assist by exercising discretionary powers to assist with housing repair, adaptation and improvements. Grants are awarded for facilitating access (to property and principal family room, room for sleeping, lavatory, bath or shower room); making dwellings safe; facilitating preparation and cooking of food; improving or providing a suitable heating system; facilitating use of a source of power, light or heat; facilitating access and movement around the home for someone dependent on the person to whom the grant is made; and facilitating access to and from a garden or making access to the garden safe.

A grant, which may involve making a financial contribution and will almost certainly take time to process (local authorities have six months to make a decision on the grant from the date of the application) can make some difference in making accommodation more suitable than it was. Sometimes home improvement agencies are also able to help.

Those who seek social housing assistance should ensure they are on a housing register. It is important to be clear about your requirements on that register. Most housing association properties are allocated via local authorities but some operate their own waiting lists and so it is worth contacting those directly. Aspire might also be able to assist. Such is the shortage of suitable accommodation, it is increasingly the case that that some people are discharged into nursing or residential care homes while more suitable arrangements are explored.

Those with compensation claims often find the opponent’s insurer’s willingness to assist in financing adaptation or more suitable accommodation frustratingly slow, particularly where liability in the claim is contested as it often is. Early engagement is vitally important.

In a compensation claim alteration costs, costs of moving, and additional maintenance costs can be claimed together with the additional cost of capital. The way the law works means that frequently claimants have to divert money from other parts of their compensation award to plug the gap between what they will recover for accommodation and what it will actually cost to acquire the new property and adapt it or build a new property. Tragically the law often leaves older people in particular with far less compensation in respect of the part of the claim relating to accommodation than they are likely to need in order to purchase a new property where that is indicated. Alas that is for another article.

Wherever possible engaging with an architect specialising in accommodation adaptation and design for those with spinal cord injuries is vitally important. Equally working with a project manager to ensure the building work runs smoothly is worth exploring. Help from the spinal centre, from case managers, disability rights specialists, and home improvement agencies is almost always going to be useful.

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