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Occupational therapists working in social housing save money

March 2, 2015

Getting a rental property adapted to meet the needs of an elderly or disabled resident can be a time-consuming process. But in recent years increasing numbers of social landlords have begun employing their own occupational therapists (OT) to help them make homes suitable more swiftly – and at lower cost.

Usually, tenants have to go through their local authority and have an OT from social services make a home visit then produce a report for the landlord. At Teign Housing and Westward Housing, however, tenants’ needs are assessed by in-house OT Anthony Allott, who will then agree on any adaptations needed.

Allott will often go with tenants to view potential properties, advising on what changes could be made, or indeed if the accommodation will not be right for them even with adaptations. If that is the case, he may already know of somewhere else to try. “It’s having that knowledge of what stock we have got, and where, as well,” Allott explains. “That helps me take a wider view of it. The housing associations save money in getting a better match, so we don’t have to adapt another property to meet someone’s needs in the future.

“If we have an empty house then I know we’ve got to be making decisions about it within two or three days. I know my social care colleagues couldn’t do that, because of the demands on them from different areas.” He saves his employers more money than he costs, he adds.

Allott also offers advice and guidance to other staff, and, crucially, is involved with new-build properties right from the beginning of the process; he is currently helping with the planning for a pair of new bungalows that will be geared to the needs of two tenants with disabilities.

“We want somebody to be able to go into a property and stay there for the duration of their life,” says Nigel Barnard, executive director at Westward Housing. He cites a case this year of a family where one of the children has cerebral palsy, and the local authority had recommended significant and costly adaptions to their home. “Anthony became involved and worked with the family and recognised that even with all this work, the property wasn’t really suitable in the long term,” Barnard says.

“[Instead] we moved the family. Because Anthony is in-house, he was able to work with the staff and look at what was coming up for suitable properties. That’s probably saved the public purse something in the region of £50,000, just in one case.”

Working with an internal OT who knows the properties on offer has also brought a greater efficiency to the system, Barnard says. “It had always been quite a long process and it was driven by different agendas for different organisations. The customer obviously wants whatever it is they’re seeking but the council’s occupational therapist wouldn’t necessarily have an understanding of where we were in terms of what was -practicable. There were always delays and it never ran very smoothly.”

Allott joined Teign Housing in 2008, and started working for Westward as well two years later. At the end of his first year at Teign, an evaluation found that the time from initial contact from a tenant to completion of adaptation had been halved, and the money saved as a result meant six more accessible showers could be fitted. Positive feedback from tenants’ groups and staff led to the post being made permanent at the end of the review period.

“Staff valued quick – often immediate – access to professional advice and tenants appreciated rapid access to OT services,” Allott says.

His was one of the early housing association posts, and the role is still developing as numbers grow. Five years ago he set up the Housing Association Forum for Occupational Therapists, which helps members give professional support and advice to each other, with six members; today there are 22.

For Barnard, the adaptations an OT can recommend are about improving tenants’ lives and saving public money. For an elderly person who can no longer get in and out of a bath, putting in a wet room reduces the risk of them falling, and the associated costs to the NHS; installing a stair lift that allows someone to remain in their own property also saves on the cost of moving them into a care home.

“As a housing association, we have a social purpose,” Barnard says. “By having this role, we’re able to allow people to remain in their homes longer. It’s a benefit to everybody.”

(Source: theguardian.com)


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