Still no access to Norwich assessment centre for disabled

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, with other protesters outside the Atos assessment cen

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, with other protesters outside the Atos assessment centre at St Mary's House. Picture: Denise Bradley. - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Campaigners have vented their fury after pledges were made to move a Norwich disability assessment centre with no disabled access - but six months on it is still located on the second floor of a building.

In June, the then Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning said the inaccessible Atos-run assessment centre at St Mary's House, in Duke Street, was 'wholly unacceptable' and he was 'taking action to exit St Mary's House as soon as we possibly can'.

It followed a 30-month campaign by disabled people to highlight the injustice of having a centre to assess disabled people for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which could not be used by people in wheelchairs or those unable to use the stairs in the event of an emergency.

However, six months on the centre is still open, and people with debilitating illnesses and severe mobility problems have to travel to centres as far afield as Ipswich, King's Lynn and even further.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk disability group Equal Lives, said: 'It is now over six months since they announced the centre will close but it is still open for business. As far as we know they are still expecting disabled people to travel to other parts of the region and country because they have an inaccessible building.

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'I wrote to the minister on October 13 asking for a date or timetable for closing as promised by his predecessor. To date I have not had a reply in spite of several follow up emails.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: 'I have kept in regular touch with the minister to make sure that progress is being made.

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'I have had reassurances that the matter is being resolved and I have made sure the minister knows how important this is to my constituents and many others around Norwich and Norfolk.'

A DWP Spokesman said: 'The department 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.

'In the meantime, assessments continue to take place in St Mary's House and the appointment letter makes it clear that the rooms currently used are not on the ground floor. People who believe they would have problems are invited to contact Atos and are offered an appointment at the nearest ground floor assessment centre (within reasonable travelling distance) or a home visit.'

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