Disabled benefit seekers banned from using lifts at Croydon assessment centre
Wheelchair users have to climb a flight of stairs to prove they are disabled enough to get benefits at a centre in Croydon.
Although there are lifts in the disability benefits assessment centre, anyone in a wheelchair or who cannot climb stairs is banned from using them due to health and safety regulations.
Anyone who cannot tackle the 46 step staircase is instead forced to make a 14 mile round trip to Balham because the centre in Cherry Orchard Road is not disabled friendly.
The Atos Healthcare’s Assessment Centre is on the first floor of Stephenson House and is the only place in the borough disabled people can undertake a compulsory workplace capability assessments (WCA) to determine if those suffering illness or incapacity are claiming legitimately.
Croydon Disability Forum (CDF) called the situation “ludicrous”.
Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell has written to Chris Grayling MP, minister for work and pensions, expressing his concerns.
He said: “We need to find a way to make that place fully accessible or find a new place.
“It works as a stop gap but not in the long term. We need a solution. It is ridiculous.”
Chairman Carol-Ann Peakin visited the centre along with CDF members Allan and Sharon Prince, who are both wheelchair users.
Mrs Peakin was stunned by the lack of accessibility, including no disabled parking nearby and the taxi stopping area closed off by bollards.
She said: “It is ludicrous.
“We can get in the building but we can’t get further than that.
“I am really surprised they put an assessment centre in here for disabled people.
“I would like to know why. The access is not very good.”
Allan Price, who uses walking sticks but sometimes needs a wheelchair, said: “I was shocked when I pulled up in the taxi and I had to walk 50 yards to the door [as there was no parking].
“There are no facilities downstairs on the ground floor.
His wife Sharon, who uses a motorised wheelchair, said: “The fact you can’t go upstairs in the lift is really stupid.
“To have to go to Balham or Wimbledon instead is silly and not very suitable.”
The problem was flagged by Croydon Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) and highlighted in a report by Merton CAB, who have had a string of complaints about the way WCAs are carried out.
The test is provided by Atos, who out of 141 run 29 centres across the UK which are not wheelchair accessible.
An Atos spokesman said: "There is good wheelchair access at Atos Healthcare’s Assessment Centre in Croydon.
“However, due to regulations regarding emergency evacuation procedures, this venue is not suitable for some customers.
“We have recently enhanced evacuation procedures at Croydon, which has reduced further the number of customers required to attend at an alternative Centre.
"If this is required, we book the customer an appointment at the closest suitable location and costs for public transport or travel by private car are reimbursed."