Political refugee wins ‘massive’ victory against Town Hall
Council accepts young woman with PTSD is a priority case after legal challenge
25 January, 2019 — By Tom Foot
Jackie Santana Lopez ‘I felt like no one cared about me’
SUPPORTERS of a political refugee who was tortured in prison say they have scored a “massive victory” after the Town Hall accepted it had botched her housing case.
Jackie Santana Lopez was granted asylum in this country after a high- profile campaign against her detention and torture in Mexico.
But when the 26-year-old applied for housing Camden Council said she was not in “priority need”, based on findings in a report from an independent assessor it hired to examine her mental and physical health.
Following a legal challenge from Ms Lopez’s supporters, backed by articles in the New Journal, the council said it would review the case. This week, it accepted that Ms Lopez had priority status and has allowed her to enter the bidding process.
Ms Lopez told the New Journal: “They said I could face homelessness like any other person. The feeling I got was that no one cared about me. People should not have to feel that.
“This week it really has been a big relief – it was really a massive fight. If it was not for Women Against Rape group I don’t know what I would have done.”
The independent assessors hired by Camden Council is Now Medical, based in west London. The company says it works with more than 150 local authorities across the country.
The company has been commissioned by Camden Council 1,206 times between January 2015 and July 2018. It does not meet patients face to face.
A statement from Now Medical said: “Medical advisers play an important role in assisting Local Authorities when making decisions, for example by interpreting often complex medical information. It goes without saying that local authorities take legal, technical and financial advice when required, and it would be perverse for them not to seek medical advice in the same way.”
Ms Lopez’s lawyers had written to the council warning they would seek a judicial review of a decision they called “irrational”. The legal challenge said Ms Lopez experienced “persecution by the authorities in Mexico due to her involvement in student politics, including interrogation, physical restraint, detention and threats of violence, including sexual violence”. She and her boyfriend had campaigned against corruption and poverty in Mexico City. She has spent 18 months squatting in Camden and Kentish Town.
Sian Evans, from Women Against Rape, based at Crossroads women’s centre in Kentish Town, said: “We are glad that Camden Council has at last agreed to house Ms Lopez but it took too long to decide and left a vulnerable woman in a precarious situation with the threat of homelessness hanging over her for over a year.
“We worry about how other victims, who don’t have the support of organisations like ours, are being treated.”
A council statement said: “We provide support and advice to anybody seeking to avoid homelessness. We use a fair and equitable process to identify those with a priority need for housing. To support this, government guidance suggests councils consider seeking clinical advice on medical matters when necessary. The in-built review stage is an important safeguard to ensure the right decisions are made. Many councils use independent clinical advisors. We have no concerns about continuing to use them when required.”