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People who have cancer and suicidal thoughts are among those denied priority housing in Islington

PUBLISHED: 12:50 01 March 2019

NowMedical advised Islington Council against giving this couple a two-bed flat. Picture: Polly Hancock

NowMedical advised Islington Council against giving this couple a two-bed flat. Picture: Polly Hancock

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A senior councillor with responsibility for scrutinising policy and performance has told the Gazette of his concerns that vulnerable people in Islington - including those with suicidal thoughts and cancer - are being denied priority housing.

NowMedical advised Islington Council against giving this couple a two-bed flat. Picture: Polly HancockNowMedical advised Islington Council against giving this couple a two-bed flat. Picture: Polly Hancock

Islington Council, which has the final say on housing applications, last week came under fire for decisions made on the advice of private firm NowMedical.

Now scrutiny committee vice-chair Cllr Troy Gallagher has told the Gazette he’s dealt with a number of housing applications for people he considers vulnerable since becoming a councillor in 2010, but the council and NowMedical have concluded in the majority of cases that his constituents aren’t in priority need – despite, he says, doctors’ advice to the contrary, and his own assessments of their cases.

NowMedical is contracted by the council to assess and advise on housing bids.

The Gazette last week reported on a case, jointly defended by NowMedical and the town hall, in which the decision to class a refugee and torture survivor as not vulnerable was overturned.

Cllr Troy Gallagher and Kathy Weston from Islington Food Bank outside Islington Town Hall. Picture: Islington CouncilCllr Troy Gallagher and Kathy Weston from Islington Food Bank outside Islington Town Hall. Picture: Islington Council

Islington pays NowMedical thousands of pounds a year – £17,525 in the 12 months to November 2018 – to interpret medical notes and advice about applicants’ housing need.

“I have had personal experience [of NowMedical] from my own casework,” Cllr Gallagher told the Gazette.

“One had mental health issues and others were on the point of suicide and NowMedical advised against supporting them [that is, giving them priority housing].

“Another case, which caused me deep frustration, was a person with cancer going through chemo and various other treatments. NowMedical didn’t think the cancer [met the threshold for priority housing]. I was absolutely furious.”

Islington Town Hall. Picture:Ken MearsIslington Town Hall. Picture:Ken Mears

Cllr Gallagher says he’s had sight of seven decisions informed by NowMedical in the past six months, and that five of them came back “negative”.

“People come to councillors as a last resort when they have a condition like cancer,” he said. “There is no way in my mind someone can sit and read about someone who has got cancer and think it doesn’t qualify for medical points.”

The Gazette spoke to a woman with cancer and her disabled partner, who have been living in temporary accommodation for six months after NowMedical advised – and Islington Council agreed – that they didn’t need a two-bed flat.

The couple, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were made homeless in July when their short-term tenancy in a privately rented two-bed flat expired. Islington moved them into one-bedroom temporary accommodation the same month.

The 59-year-old woman, who’s been undergoing chemotherapy, “suffers terrible hot sweats” in the night owing to her medical prescriptions, meaning she’s forced to change her bedding three times a day and can’t sleep in the same room as her partner.

The man, who suffers from “chronic” arthritis and insomnia, told the Gazette: “Both our doctors wrote to the council saying we have serious reasons and need more space.

“How can someone look at letters of a doctor that’s looked after you all your life and say, almost, you don’t care what they think?

“Every time we appeal the medical decision the process seems to take such a long time – it’s ridiculous.”

The couple have since been offered a permanent one-bed flat, which they are in the process of accepting as they have “no other choice”. But they say they need more space owing to the woman’s medical condition.

In a letter dated May 9, the council’s “housing options team” told the couple it was “unable to award [them] any additional medical priority at this time.”

The council had forwarded the couple’s application to NowMedical, whose assessor suggested they simply put two single beds in one room – something they are already doing, and which their GPs have advised does not give them enough space.

Having reviewed their appeal, a council officer wrote: “I have considered your GP’s recommendations that you should be rehoused into a two-bedroom property due to disturbances in the night. However, I am not of the opinion an offer of a one-bedroom tenancy would be unsuitable for you and your partner. [...]

“I forwarded your medical letters and other submissions to the council’s medical advisor [NowMedical] who recommended that a two-bedroom property is not necessary in this instance. I agree with this opinion.”

The council and NowMedical have been contacted for comment.

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