Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Friday, May 9, 2014
A disabled Norwich woman has spoken of her shock at being sent a map and told to find her own way 45 miles to Ipswich to find out if she is fit to work.
Marion Fallon, 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 because the second floor Norwich assessment centre cannot be used by people with walking difficulties.
It comes as another West Norfolk woman was told that she was going to be sent on a 240-mile round trip to Nottingham for her assessment.
Private company Atos holds work capability assessments in St Mary’s House in Duke Street in Norwich.
But those using wheelchairs or with other mobility problems are unable to use the centre because of the fire risk.
Atos said that it highlighted that access to the centre may be difficult for some customers with decreased mobility when it was arranging appointments by telephone or in writing, but where it was made aware of this, it offered an appointment at an alternative centre with full reimbursement of travel expenses or alternatively a home visit.
Ms Fallon, who has now cancelled the appointment, but does not know when it will be rescheduled or where, said as well as the mobility issues on the journey, Atos had not taken into account how tired she would get.
“I am going to go and be stressed about what is asked, and I am going to be exhausted when I get there,” she added. She has arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Scoliosis, meaning she can only walk short distances with a stick and is in constant pain.
The 52-year-old, who was working but was not kept on at the agency she was employed at because of her productivity, has to have a work capability assessment before she can claim employment support allowance (ESA).
She was sent a letter just before the Easter holidays telling her to go the Ipswich.
She said: “When the letter arrived which said you have to attend on May 7th in Ipswich. I thought ‘Ipswich, I don’t know Ipswich. I have no idea how to get to it’.”
She said the letter contained a map and suggestions of how she could get to Ipswich on public transport.
The West Norfolk woman, who does not want to be named because she is a victim of disability hate crime, was told that she would have to travel to Nottingham for her work capability assessment. The 41-year-old, who has a degenerative spine disease, was told that transport would be organised so she could go to the assessment 120 miles from her house.
But she said that she could not travel for two hours in a taxi because of the pain.
She has now rearranged the assessment in her home, but said the stress of trying to convince Atos to change the appointment had left her “feeling like I was going to crack up”.
“I live everyday in nine to ten hours of pain. I would like to be working and I would like a job, but I have been medically retired for 20 years.”
Atos said: “Information is issued with our appointment letters which helps with travel and directions to the centre. It is explained within the appointment information that this is a suggested journey planner. We advise customers to contact us if they foresee any difficulties in attending our centres and we will always do our upmost to assist.
It added: “We aim to treat people with courtesy, compassion and respect at all times and will always investigate complaints thoroughly.”
Mark Harrion, from the charity Equal Lives said; “We are being inundated with cases where people are being phoned up and told to go to centres 50 miles away from their home. The new disturbing thing is they are now telling disabled people they have to get themselves there. They are not taking any responsibility for it - the fact they have a centre in Norwich which is not fit for purpose. It is an example of putting private sector profits before the needs of disabled people.”