Wheelchair row sparks calls for “more leeway” in Town Hall’s assessments of disabled residents

222 Upper Street, Islington’s customer contact centre. Photograph: Google.

Islington Council’s customer contact centre has been called on to allow “more leeway” in how it engages with disabled residents, amidst claims that a person in a wheelchair was asked to provide further proof of their disability.

The case was presented to a meeting of the Town Hall’s housing scrutiny committee during a twelve-month ‘report back’ on a review into services for vulnerable people.

Resident observer Rose-Marie McDonald claimed that, on accompanying a disabled resident to 222 Upper Street, which is home to a range of different council services, the resident was told, ‘Where’s your proof?’ in relation to their disability, despite arriving at the centre in a wheelchair.

Ms McDonald said: “That is just ridiculous, and staff seem to be taken it far more to the limit than they need to.

“They had to go all the way to 222 to prove that they were disabled. I was there myself, so that’s what’s happened.

“There needs to be some leeway in which staff handle these situations, because people are left in tears and feeling that they have to go half a mile more than they should do if they are disabled or vulnerable.

“Even seeing someone in a wheelchair is not enough for some people, because they want to see something on a piece of paper that then gets filed away.”

Cllr Gary Heather (Lab, Finsbury Park), said that he was “concerned” on hearing the story, with Cllr Michael O’Sullivan (Lab, Finsbury Park), who chaired the committee, voicing his sympathies on the bureaucratic encounter, saying: “We’ve all been there.”

Cllr Ben Mackmurdie (Lab, Clerkenwell) said: “It tends to be when an individual has a bad service, goes to 222 and gets another bad service – it’s not necessarily management or policy, but the person on the day and how they react to people.

“It comes down to people getting a power trip, or they’re not in the mood today, and 4 o’clock comes and they’re out the door. That’s the relationship we’re trying to manage.”

It is not known what type of service the resident was attempting to access at 222 Upper Street.

An Islington Council spokesperson said:  “We can’t comment specifically on this case because we don’t have enough details.

“We do sometimes ask residents for documents to support applications relating to disability, for example if someone is seeking rehousing on the ground of their disability.  This is so we can evidence that we are allocating housing fairly and to those who are in need.

“When we need documentation, officers should clearly explain what documents are needed, and why, and also wherever possible how documents can be brought to 222 Upper Street without the need for the resident to come to the office.

“We want to ask for any documents that are needed in a way which doesn’t cause distress to residents, and we are very sorry if this did not happen in this case.”

Update: this article was amended at 17:23 on Friday 26 April 2019 to include a comment from Islington Council.