Thursday, 3 February 2011

Disabled Facilities Grants

A four year old Bradford girl who lost her eyesight during cancer treatment can’t play in the family garden after her families request for a disabled facilities grant, that campaigners say should be mandatory, was ignored by the local council.

Disabled rights campaigners are now worried that Blyss Knowles’ case will, with spending cuts yet to fully hit home, be duplicated elsewhere.

Diagnosed with a genetic condition known to cause optic nerve tumours Blyss began a course of chemotherapy in July 2009 after an eye squint revealed she had cancer behind both eyes.

Now blind in her right eye she has just 2% vision in the left, enabling her to see someone’s shadow. Just after starting hospital treatment Blyss, her mother, father and three siblings moved to the Tyersal Estate, Bradford where it was hoped she would be able to use the garden.

However unsteady on her feet she found it an unsafe place with her mother, Fiona, complaining it is “uneven, with holes and dips in it. Consequently last summer when other children were in the garden she sat alone in the house. This upset her. Its use will give Blyss a sense of normality, especially as she does not always have the energy to go to activities elsewhere.”

To help the family has conducted a fund-raising drive to raise £6,000 to kit out a sensory room at home. This will provide a chill out space and assist the 4½ year old to improve her fingertip feeling, thus aiding the learning of Braille. About a quarter of the funds have so far been found.

Meantime the family has made requests to their housing association and Bradford Council to make the garden accessible. The Council’s housing stock was transferred to Incommunities in 2003 and they have made some cosmetic improvements by tidying up the garden and putting on a new gate to keep dogs out.

Further improvements could be made through a Disabled Facilities Grant [DFG]. These fund adaptations to enable disabled people to live as comfortably as possible in their homes. Eligible work is wide ranging, providing for access to and within the property, stairs lifts or access to the garden.

Last year Lord McKenzie of Luton, then Parliamentary Under Secretary for State in the Department for Communities and Local Government, confirmed that DFG, which is managed by local authorities, was a mandatory entitlement.

In May 2010 Blyss’s family met with Bradford’s Deaf Blind Services Coordinator to assess the young child’s needs. The completed form makes specific reference to wanting to apply for a DFG but appears to have immediately ruled out any chance of the family receiving one when it states, “the levelling off of the garden by the council is not available.”

Bradford Council was asked why the family was not being considered for a DFG and after a press officer initially suggested the question had nothing to do with them and should be re-directed to Incommunities they were unwilling to respond to further enquiries.

The case has angered Tim McSharry of the Access Committee for Leeds that provides information and support for disabled people who said: "Whilst appalling, it’s not unique. Increased numbers are contacting us about the failure of some Local Authorities and Social Landlords to carry out disability related adaptations. We are seriously concerned though that things are going to get even worse due to Government cuts, and the removal of the ring fencing that protects funding such as the DFG.”

Tim McSharry 

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