Islington councillors on the borough’s housing scrutiny committee have repeated concerns over the Town Hall’s use of a controversial medical assessment company.
NowMedical provides housing-related medical advice to local authorities and the Home Office, but it has sparked concern amongst borough reps in recent months over the fact that in many cases applicants for support are not assessed in person.
Cllr Sue Lukes (Lab, Highbury East) recommended at a recent meeting of Islington’s housing scrutiny committee that the council ceases “outsourcing” its assessments of whether residents are vulnerable or not.
She said: “We’ve expressed quite a lot of concern about the way in which NowMedical’s reports are done, and the outsourcing of that kind of work by the council.
“We need to bring defining vulnerability back inhouse as a proper housing decision, with medical advice from people who actually see the people concerned.
“Part of the issue about NowMedical is cost, and I worry that we look at the assessments and don’t look at the cost of defending and losing cases in which NowMedical have been involved. That must be part of the equation.”
Lawyers in Camden and Hackney hit out in April at local authorities’ use of NowMedical reports, after testimony from one of the company’s psychiatrists revealed they do not meet 80 per cent of the people whose health they are assessing.
In response to Cllr Lukes’ concerns, housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward (Lab, Holloway) repeated that the Town Hall is “actively looking for alternatives” to the company.
One report released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2016 by Redbridge Council details the case of an female Iranian asylum seeker who was deemed not to be “significantly vulnerable” to the impact of homelessness despite having “a history of traumatic incidents including domestic violence and rape” and suffering from chronic depression and anxiety.
Other Redbridge applicants who did not meet the criteria for “vulnerability” included some who had suffered road traffic accidents, lived with mental health problems or lived with conditions such as epilepsy or asthma.
Helena Stephenson, head of housing partnerships, said: “[Cllr Lukes]’ points around NowMedical are completely valid, and we’ll feed those back in. NowMedical are primarily used on the housing needs side, and they were saying they were planning to review their use. I’ll make sure your points are fed back.”
In the context of a NowMedical report, the ‘vulnerability’ being assessed is a legal definition on whether someone would be significantly more harmed than an ordinary person by the impact of being made homeless.
Speaking in a judgement on an appeal against a ‘vulnerability’ decision by Lambeth Council in 2017, His Honour Judge Nicholas Parfitt said: “It is unfortunate and I think made the job of the [council decision-maker] much more difficult, that they were not given the benefit of a medical opinion which actually addressed the particular circumstances and particular consequences to the appellant of her condition.
“It might have helped had someone from NowMedical taken the time to see the Appellant or indeed considered her medical records.”
NowMedical has been approached for comment.