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You couldn’t make it up - deal to end scandal of Norwich disability centre with no access falls through

PUBLISHED: 09:31 17 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:15 18 February 2015

Mick Hardy and Marion Fallon from DPAC Norfolk and Mark Harrison from Equal Lives protest about disability access at St May's House in Norwich.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Mick Hardy and Marion Fallon from DPAC Norfolk and Mark Harrison from Equal Lives protest about disability access at St May's House in Norwich. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

A deal to bring to an end the scandal of the Norwich disability centre, which cannot be accessed by people in wheelchairs, has fallen through eight months after the government promised action.

Timeline

March 2012 – A first protest is held at the Norwich office of Atos, which is paid £100m a year by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to conduct the tests, after it would not make appointments for wheelchair users as the centre is on the second floor.

February 2014 – Campaigners stage another protest outside the centre with people still being send hundreds of miles for appointments elsewhere.

June 2014 – Disabilities minister Mike Penning admits the situation is “wholly unacceptable”, and says he would be taking action to leave St Mary’s House in Duke Street as soon as possible.

December 2014 – DWP says it is in the process of securing two ground floor assessment rooms. It is hoped that the new rooms – in addition to the current assessment rooms – should be ready for use early in the new year.

January 2015 - Mark Harper, minister for disabled people, tells Norwich South MP Simon Wright that the medical assessment centre, used by private firm Atos, has taken on two extra rooms and that the DWP was drawing up final proposals and was working towards a “go-live” date at the end of January.

February 2015 - The DWP admits a deal for ground floor rooms cannot be reached.

Almost three years after the first protests highlighted the plight of disabled people, which at one point saw people with limited mobility sent a map and told to travel to Ipswich, the Department for Work and Pensions said a ground floor solution had still not been found.

Mark Harrison, a campaigner for the charity Equal Lives, said the government was putting the needs of a private company before the needs of disabled people. He said: “How can you have an assessment centre for disabled people that isn’t accessible for disabled people? In the 21st century, you can’t make this up, can you?” Mike Penning, the then minister for disabled people, finally admitted the situation was “wholly unacceptable” last June, and said he would be taking action to leave St Mary’s House in Duke Street as soon as possible.

His successor Mark Harper sent a letter to Norwich South MP Simon Wright in January saying he expected there would be ground floor premises available at the end of last month.

But a DWP spokesman has now said: “Unfortunately and due to circumstances outside our control the deal for our preferred ground floor location fell through.”

She said that the government was looking at a number of other options and would make a decision as soon as it could.

“People who are unable to access the second floor people will continue to be offered an assessment elsewhere or if necessary a home visit,” she added.

Marion Fallon, who had to travel to Ipswich for her assessment last July, said she feared she would have to be re-assessed again a year on and would have to travel to Ipswich for an assessment again.

The 53-year-old, who is in constant pain and can only walk slowly with a stick, was told to go by public transport to the Suffolk county town last year, because the second floor Norwich assessment centre cannot be used by people with walking difficulties.

She said: “It really was a lot of stress leading up to it. Even this year it has affected me. You build up to it and it has affected me now. It is a bit worrying if they do ask me to come in again and there is no place in Norwich. It is pretty disturbing all round,“ she added.

Last April a Freedom of Information request revealed that the DWP had no direct control over the lease on St Mary’s House. It is managed by the private firm Telereal Trillium as part of a 20-year private finance initiative contract, which ends in March 2018.

Telereal Trillium would not provide details of the terms of its lease last year citing it as “commercially sensitive”.

But a spokesman said at the time: “We are obligated to continue to provide DWP’s existing accommodation for as long as it is required, or until March 2018. We are also responsible for ensuring that DWP buildings meet statutory obligations, and can confirm that St Mary’s House complies with relevant legislation.”

Do you have a politics story? Email annabelle.dickson@archant.co.uk

22 comments

  • Are these premises all that was vacant, as these they have surely wern't passed as suitable in the first place, if they were they should be ashamed of themselves. Have been there with my husband(who has been registered partcially sighted). I found them not at all friendly, especially the frontage as you come in with the steps up,no wheelchair could master them, they were bad enough for me as i'm not too good on my legs.There was not enough highlighting on.the floors especially.Nothing there as i said was friendlyat all(Wheelchair) or otherwise, and they are supposeed to look after the disabled,i'd like to see where.Hope they do something pretty quick before there is an accident(normally thats the way it works isn't it.)

    Report this comment

    women 68

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

  • On the subject of Chloe Smith's disdain for ordinary people, an article in today's paper reminded me of this: tiny u r l dot com forward slash klu4krx

    Report this comment

    Mr Cameron Isdishonest

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

  • You know, it seems like only yesterday that the EDP reported more of Chloe Smith's Iies and empty promises, in this case about 'promising' to fix the appalling scandal caused by her Tory Govt deliberately selecting a venue to make it nigh on impossible for the disabled to attend.

    Report this comment

    Mr Cameron Isdishonest

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

  • Election coming up so expect a torrent of invective against disabled and unemployed people from the Nasty Party.

    Report this comment

    marty r

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • I'm with you Rosemary! A GP studies for 6 years, if that isn't enough knowledge to decide if you are fit to work, or not, I don't know what is, yet these assessments are carried out by far lesser qualified people, it's an insult to our GP's and a total waste of millions of pounds.

    Report this comment

    catalonia13

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • I cannot understand the need for these assessments in the first place. You are signed off work by a qualified GP and in lots of cases back up reports from consultants from the hospital. Are the government saying these medically qualified people aren't good enough?

    Report this comment

    Rosemary Turner

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • the powers that be couldn't give ATOS about the weak, disabled and poor. its about keep the welfare bill down through a climate of fear, indifference and stigmatisation of anyone on benefits.

    Report this comment

    itsme73

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • Have you also noticed that once again the government is trying to turn the general public against disabled people, he thinks it will be an election winner.

    Report this comment

    gerry mitson

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • The issues are why did DWP apprrove the building for use and who the person was who made that decision then further set the lease until 2018?. i had to go to st Marys myself in a wheelchair security wont let you any further than the door the reason is because a wheelchair user has to use the lift in the event of a fire they have no suitable way to get a wheelchair user out of the building,this is because anyone knows you cannot user a lift in the event of a fire i had a letter originally to say i failed to attend.i had three home visits made then cancelled by ATOS as they dont have enough staff for home visits i ended up going to Mundesley in pain and severe discomfort The person who i saw there said that particular centre was closing at the end of that week.Now in order to travel there and back you are able to claim travel expenses so i submitted my claim and got paid for the journey how much has been spent on expenses to centres in Ipswich Colchester and Kings Lynn? how many staff are employed to manage expenses and the cost of proccessing such claims surely the sensible thing to have done for asessments would have been all latest medical information on an individual including drugs taken and any ongoing treatmentsoperations it would identify someone who claims disability benefit and has had no medical checks or interventions for 3 years that should be addressed as for an individual who has had 17 operations in the last 3 years and has severe mobility problems plus developed epillepsy able to carry on being treated without all the fuss and nonsense of ATOS worrying letters and stress caused only for it all to be a waste of time and we carry on as before and expect a recall in 3 years time as for Mark and all the team at equal lives where would we be without their help and support for the disabled of Norfolk.Unless you have been in this position of being made desabled as a result of an accident ten years ago i dont think you ought to believe all that this government tells you about the disabled who do nothing except sit at home and watch a huge tv sadly the stark reality is nothing like that,i watched a programme a few weeks back about the return of all our forces in Afghanistan the cost was over 300 million it seems our so called leaders are happy to keep hitting the poor and rewarding only themselves with a 11% payrise and saying sorry for fiddling their expenses made it all ok wake up do what you think the disabled get up to is nothing like what really happens anyone who would like to debate this issue in the middle of the night when the morphine doesnt help the pain and i cry in agony feel free to contact me please dont judge the people you see as disabled as there for the grace of God go i no one knows what will happen in their life and remember before you post Norfolk John just like the lottery says IT COULD BE YOU so dont go upsetting the whole of the good people of Norfolk with snide comments volunteer for something in your locallity and do some good with your life instead of knocking those you know nothing about

    Report this comment

    happy dad

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • They are waiting to be evicted before they then blame the next government, corrupt to the core the lot of them

    Report this comment

    Dean Stockton

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • Norfolk John, hopefully as you age you will have to experience the grief that even being partly disabled is, your ignorance shows that you truly are from Norfolk.

    Report this comment

    paul w

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • Norfolk John: Yet again you have displayed your ignorance and stupidity for the world to see by posting another unjustified and unpleasant comment on Archant's boards. Why don't YOU go off and do some work!

    Report this comment

    Cyril the Canary

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • No change (improvement) since Maximums took over from ATOS then?

    Report this comment

    catalonia13

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • Don't people employed by the Civil Service ( IE us) get set time deadlines to complete a task. Time and time again reports take years and tasks like this go on for ever. I find it very hard to believe that there are no suitable buildings available in Norwich. The big question is why did they choose the current building in the first place. I feel for all those people who are suffering because someone cannot do a job properly. Perhaps Equal Lives which does so much for the disabled should be on the procurement committee and a deadline of end of June set for such procurement. Private industry would not last long if it worked like this.

    Report this comment

    jennifer jane

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • I suffer from degenerate discs in back and neck, osteoarthritis in my hip, pre-determined arthritis in my shoulder, knees, hands and feet. I suffer muscle spasms, ibs, incontinence and asthma. I almost lost my ESA as I drove to the Ipswich assessment centre. I stopped at cherry lane and a friends house in Stowmarket but because I drove there I was capable of working and I didn't even qualify for the ESA benefit! I often wonder how many other people lost the benefit after being capable of getting to Ipswich! Your choice is don't go, lose benefit or go and lose benefit!

    Report this comment

    local lass

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • why don't they just move it to the job centre, plenty of room their

    Report this comment

    billythebookie

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • Norfolk John, I am disgusted at your ignorant comment, Mark Harrison is the CEO for Equal Lives, he has done so much for disabled people; it appears all you can do is make yourself look an idiot.

    Report this comment

    catalonia13

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • To Norfolk John .... For your information Mark Harrison is CEO of Equal Lives. He is the founder of Social Action resource centre at Nottingham, DeMontfort and UEA universities. he has over 20 years experience working in Russia and Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. He is Honorary Research fellow at the School for International Development at the UEA and he is a foster carer and adopter. Is that enough for you to be going on with? What do you do with your life?

    Report this comment

    samphirelover

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • As they say, you could not make this up. There are so many empty buildings around nowadays surely it is not that difficult to come up with something suitable. From reading this it looks to me that nothing will be done for the next three years. The whole process of the medicals is in disarray anyway and is a complete joke. I had to take my disabled husband to Ipswich last year which caused lots of problems and anxieties, none of which able bodied people would understand. Having had that done, some months later he received the outcome, we then asked for a mandatory reassessment to then be told, "As it was a long time since the first medical we will have to start again"!!! You could not make that up either! So, like the lady in this article it looks like we are having to go through it all again, however, this letter was in November, we filled in the relevant forms and have heard nothing, I phoned last week only to be told it could take many more months! This is causing so much stress to everyone involved. When the Government first announced they were going to sort out this system I thought it was a good idea as many people seem to claim disability allowance who are not disabled, but, all of this is just a joke. I have written to my M.P. who apparently has had many letters concerning all of this. If we are asked next time to go to Ipswich because the Norwich site has still not been sorted then we will request a home visit which will cost the tax payer even more money. I am at a loss as to why the situation of this building has not been sorted, it is ridiculous!

    Report this comment

    Lynda

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • "“We are obligated to continue to provide DWP’s existing accommodation for as long as it is required, or until March 2018. We are also responsible for ensuring that DWP buildings meet statutory obligations, and can confirm that St Mary’s House complies with relevant legislation.” So basically F. O.

    Report this comment

    theanchovy

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • Well then the relevant legislation isn't stringent enough is it?

    Report this comment

    Twig Stevens

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

  • "the deal for our preferred ground floor location fell through"...into the basement presumably? Once again, unanswered questions EDOP could follow up the first being- why, given that a siolution was promised last year? The second is, why does the PFI contract not contain a basic requirement that a disabled assessment centre be available to the disabled? And who is paying for applicants to travel elsewhere? I thought the basic rule of journalism was to follow up stories like this and press for answers?

    Report this comment

    Stephen Strange

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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