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Adapting a Home for a Disabled Client
As a Deputy I will get involved in managing the budget for large adaptation projects relating to houses that have been purchased for my clients. Many of my clients are children who have received a compensation award for medical negligence. The house is one of their main assets and is a major purchase. It is usually their home for life.
I believe that it is important to always work closely with a specialist Housing Occupational Therapist (OT) as they have a breadth of knowledge which can be applied to one of the most expensive and important assets of my client. A specialist Housing OT will carry out assessments to understand a child’s ability and future abilities so as to make that house into a home.
“Think of a house as a home, it’s not just bricks and mortar”
This is quoted by Kate Sheehan who is a special Housing OT with a passion for ensuring that a house meets all of the needs of the client, not just as a house but as a living breathing environment that works for all.
From the beginning the OT should meet with the client and find out what their goals and abilities are. Quite often clients are looking for space. Space to move around, space to store, space for carers and space for therapy. If we get the space right then we will be able to help support independence for the child and provide a safer environment.
However, it is equally important to ensure plenty of outdoor space, especially for children. A disabled child might not be able to access a local park so it may be of huge benefit to have some fun play equipment in their garden for them to use and invite their friends around to use. In addition a hot tub may be considered if finances permit as this may of benefit medically as well as socially.
What to Look Out For
When putting the draft plans together do bear in mind:
- You can never have enough electric sockets and it’s much easier and cheaper to put these in whilst the work is being carried out rather than later.
- It might be helpful to have a kitchen work surface at a lower level so that the child can help with cooking, do artwork or do homework.
- Consider air conditioning and under floor heating. Underfloor heating means that there are no bulky radiators to get caught on and rooms such as therapy rooms can be more fully utilised with ceiling to floor mirrors.
- Environmental controls may not be needed but may be in the future so put them in.
- Doorways should be widened for wheelchair users.
- Get a hard wearing floor! They are expensive but it is money well spent. I like Karndean flooring. They are incredibly durable and usually come with a long guarantee as well as looking nice.
- Adapt a bathroom to accommodate the need for a child to become more independent. This helps parents and will also help improve a child’s confidence in their ability to do every day things we all take for granted.
One thing I do need to be highly conscious of is managing the client’s expectations. Finding a home, preparing plans, getting planning permission and consulting with the Housing OT all takes time but it is important to get this right. In addition I will liaise with an array of other professionals depending on the needs of the client. I presently have a client who has particular sensory needs and these must be taken into account.
I also work with statutory services as early as possible to see if I can get a Disabled Facility Grant (DFG) funding as this can be worth up to £30,000 and is not means tested for children under the age of 18. Usually applications have to be made and approved before work even starts but the rules and process may vary slightly between Local Authorities.
- Visit properties in the area so that you have an idea as to the current market and what is available. I like to look closely at the floor plan and find out a bit of the sales history of the property. Don’t forget to consider connections to public transport so that carers are able to easily get to the house if they don’t have a car.
- The Deputy will need to work closely with the OT and also develop a strong relationship with the architect. The family and Deputy will need to meet the architect together to discuss what they feel would work for them. A visit should then be arranged so that the OT and architect can assess the potential of the property.
- The architect will then sketch a drawing and then move on to full plans which will need to be explained to the client (and probably the Deputy!). The client should sign off on the plans. Planning permission may be required and will need to be applied for. Some architects are making use of virtual reality so that clients can walk around the house and see how everything should look once finished. This can be really useful in helping clients visualise the changes that will be made.
- Once work has commenced it would be helpful if the OT could visit the site several times, sometimes unannounced. They may spot things that need to be changed that the builder is not aware of and this could be a saving to the client. The client should also visit the site several times but if they want to make changes to the plans then they should speak to the Deputy first rather than just ask the builder as this can make quite a difference to a budget and can lead to disputes. The Deputy should put any changes in an email to the architect so there’s a paper trail as to what has been agreed.
- The architect will prepare a Schedule of Works setting out clearly what work needs to be done to adapt the property. This should be reviewed by the client, the Deputy and the OT. It’s possible at this stage to confirm the products that will be used such as the type of flooring, the type of bath, lift and boiler. It may help if the client is able to view some of the products first either by visiting a showroom or by the OT sending a link to view on line.
- Work is sent for tender to at least three builders who will each have the same tender document to complete. The Deputy will then receive details as to how much the cost is expected to be as well as when each builder can start work. The builder is then chosen and a Building Contract entered into.
- Once work is completed the work will be checked and signed off by the architect at various stages so that payment can be made by the Deputy.
- At the very end of the project there will be a snagging period so that the builder can return to the property and fix anything that needs rectification. The snagging period is usually six months but can be twelve months. The Deputy will usually retain 2.5% of the money owed to the builder under the Contract to cover the snagging period. Once this period of time is completed then the 2.5% is paid over to the builder.
- Through the whole process it is important to communicate with everyone and get regular updates from the architects together with pictures. Regular site meetings should be arranged with the client, Deputy, architect, builder, Case Manager and OT. Projects can be stressful but less stressful if there are not too many surprises!
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