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Campaigners vow to monitor disability assessment centre

PUBLISHED: 09:25 10 September 2014 | UPDATED: 09:25 10 September 2014

Mark Harrison, CEO Equal Lives, at a protest earlier this year outside the Atos assessment centre at St Mary's House. Picture: Denise Bradley

Mark Harrison, CEO Equal Lives, at a protest earlier this year outside the Atos assessment centre at St Mary's House. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant

Campaigners have vowed to continue to monitor the situation at a Norwich disability assessment centre, as it emerged it still has no disabled access three months after a dramatic U-turn by a government minister.

In June this year, Mike Penning, who was disabilities minister at the time, said he would be taking action to remedy the “wholly unacceptable” situation at St Mary’s House, where ATOS carries out work capability assessments on the second floor on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions.

Despite the building’s lifts, people who use wheelchairs or who have poor mobility are advised they cannot be assessed there for their fitness to work as the lifts would be unavailable in the event of a fire.

While some people with debilitating illnesses and severe mobility problems are offered a home assessment instead, others have been told they must travel to other centres as far afield as Ipswich, King’s Lynn and even Nottingham.

The government’s cabinet reshuffle means Mark Harper is now the minister of state for disabled people, the fourth person to have the role in this government, but today the DWP said it was still planning to arrange for new facilities in Norwich.

A DWP spokesman said: “We are in the process of securing two additional assessment rooms in St Mary’s House, Norwich, both of which are ground floor rooms and are in addition to the assessment rooms currently used. In the meantime, assessments are continuing to take place in St Mary’s House.

“Claimants with mobility problems who are due to have an assessment at St Mary’s House have been and will continue to be offered either a home visit or an appointment at an alternative assessment centre until we have these additional rooms in the building.” However, Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk’s Equal Lives disability campaigning group, said it had taken more than two-and-a-half years to get to this point and he would not be satisfied until the rooms were operational and urged the DWP to provide a timetable or date for the move.

He said: “We will continue to monitor the situation and if they don’t take action soon we will have to be outside again with our banners.”

Do you have a disability-related story to share? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772474 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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