“In recent weeks I have been contacted by some residents who for their mental and physical health and based on recommendations from their own GPs need to be moved. Does the portfolio holder for Health and Housing agree with me that the current policy of a medical assessment is and I quote ‘a desktop exercise’ is similarly not good enough?”
The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-
Thank you Councillor Musk for your question.
There is legislation and case law that governs how councils must assess housing need, prioritise the allocation of social housing and assess homelessness.
Part VI of the Housing Act 1996 states that the council must give reasonable preference to applicants who fall within certain categories. This includes people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, people who are overcrowded and/or living in insanitary conditions and people who need to move on medical or welfare grounds.
The council must balance all these factors when assessing applications and determining priority. To ensure that this is a transparent process and that all applications are treated in a fair and consistent way, the council has a published Housing Allocations Policy, which sets out how we prioritise applications.
The Housing Needs team, comprising the Housing Allocations and the Housing Options teams, deal with many applicants where there are medical factors to consider (both physical and mental health).
The priority, when assessing medical circumstances, is to be consistent, to ensure fairness.
Professional medical advice is sought in all cases, and that can include information from the applicant's own clinician and advice from clinicians engaged by the Council. The information received is then used to determine an outcome in accordance with the Council’s policies and legislation.
Housing Allocations Officers always raise cases they feel may need further consideration/where the customer is unhappy with the outcome. These cases are then considered by the Housing Allocations Manager. In certain circumstances additional priority can be given, through the award of Social Circumstances.
In cases where there are other factors to consider, such as threats of violence, significant anti-social behaviour, or domestic abuse, which may exacerbate the applicants’ circumstances and/or impact on a medical condition, cases can be referred to the Exceptional Circumstances Panel (ECP); this is a Panel of Senior Officers, who will consider collectively the information, and where exceptions to the usual policy can be made.
In the first six months of 2022, a total of 196 cases were passed to the Independent Medical Advisor for assessment. For more complex mental health issues, cases can also be sent to the psychiatric advisors for their assessment.
The process followed to assess cases seeking medical priority is similar to that used by neighbouring authorities.
In terms of decisions made under the homeless legislation, where medical information may be considered to determine an applicant’s vulnerability, there are safeguards to ensure that decisions meet the legal standard. There is a statutory right of review of all decisions around medical issues. The review process involves a senior officer who was not involved in the original decision looking at the facts of the case and making their own finding. The finding can then be appealed to a County Court (although there needs to be an error of law for the appeal to be successful).
To sum up, yes, I do think that the current policy is adequate.
In a supplementary question, Councillor Musk asked are you saying that a desktop exercise from a medical examiner should supersede the evidence from medical assessment from a professional when that evidence has been handed over from customers and people in need.
Councillor Thomson stated that it is clear that the Council have a policy but obviously cases can be complex and things can change over time. The process is fair and takes a huge amount of information into account. In the legislation it is set out how the Council follow the process and the Council is following it in the right way.