New building found for Norwich disability assessments - and this time it does have disabled access

Mick Hardy and Marion Fallon from DPAC Norfolk and Mark Harrison from Equal Lives protest about disa

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. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Don't let this be a false dawn.

An end to the scandal of the disability assessment centre which cannot be used by people with mobility problems appears to have moved a step closer with news a new building has been found.

Those facing fit to work assessment are set to use Carmelite House in Norwich, rather than St Mary's House in Duke Street, which is unfit for purpose.

News of the new premises emerged in a letter from employment minister Priti Patel to Norwich MP Chloe Smith. She said eight rooms at the building in St James' Court in Norwich have been secured, although the Department for Work and Pensions was unable to confirm when the new building would be in use. The step forward comes after a long battle by campaigners.

In February a deal to move the premises fell through, eight months after the government promised action.

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It is now more than three years since the first protests highlighted the plight of disabled people, who at one point were sent a map and told to travel to Ipswich.

One of those who had to travel for an assessment was Marion Fallon. The 54-year-old from Norwich, said: 'If the move goes ahead I will be absolutely delighted but after past promises which have fallen through I am still dubious. I was a bit annoyed that the move did not go ahead – it looked like it would in March – after the years we have spent campaigning to get the disability centre to move.

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'Hopefully though our voice has been heard this time around, but I will believe it is going ahead when I see it.'

Last year Mike Penning, the then minister for disabled people, finally admitted the situation was 'wholly unacceptable', and said he would be taking action as soon as possible.

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

Mark Harrison, CEO of Equal Lives, said: 'It is about time that this change is going ahead.

'It is completely unacceptable that this issue has been allowed to roll over for the last three-and-a-half years, in which the government has ignored all of our campaigns. The move hopefully will benefit many people and prevent the sort of issues that have been a constant source of difficulty over the past three years.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith this week was sent a letter from Ms Patel, saying: 'The Department is pleased to confirm we have been able to secure premises that will provide an eight-room assessment centre that includes ground-floor assessment rooms at Carmelite House, Norwich.

'As soon as the tenancy and appropriate work has been finalised CHDA will start to arrange appointments in the new location. In the interim people who are unable to access the second flood of the existing promises at St Mary's House will continue to be offered an assessment elsewhere or if necessary a home visit.

'My predecessor made a commitment to secure more accessible premises in Norwich following concerns raised around the existing premises at St Mary's House... As a result, the DWP has been considering alternative options in Norwich,' she added.

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