Wheelchair User Turned Away From Croydon Benefit Assessment Centre
A woman was left “humiliated and disgusted” when she was turned away from Croydon’s only disability assessment centre – because wheelchair users are banned from using the lifts under health-and-safety rules.
The bizarre state of affairs, at a centre run by a private contractor that carries out fitness-to-work tests for the Government, has forced claimants to make a 14-mile round trip to Balham for an assessment.
The assessment service, run by Maximus, is on the first floor of Stephenson House, near East Croydon station.
Although there are lifts in the centre, anyone who cannot climb the stairs to the first floor is banned from using them.
Sandra Hall, 37, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and cannot walk unaided, was turned away from a fitness-to-work evaluation appointment of July 4.
She is required to attend yearly assessments to prove she is not able to work and is therefore entitled to benefits.
Despite giving Maximus prior notice she is wheelchair-bound, Mrs Hall was turned away from the meeting after being told the building was unsuitable for her.
Staff said that in the event of an evacuation she would be expected to use the stairs to leave the building and, since she cannot climb them, it would be a health-and-safety risk to allow her access to the first floor.
Mrs Hall, who lives in the town centre, said: “I was absolutely fuming. I was crying because I thought they would stop my money because I couldn’t come, it was really upsetting.
“It is very difficult [to move] – my hips, my knees, joints are in constant agony.
“To get down the stairs when I’m at home I have to shuffle on my bottom, so if there is a fire how can I shuffle down the stairs on my bottom?
“I have never felt so humiliated and upset and disgusted in all my life.”
She added: “For a place that is meant to be for disabled people it is not really disabled-friendly.”
Mrs Hall’s appointment was rescheduled to Balham last week, forcing her husband Geoff to take another day off work and putting more financial strain on the couple.
In 2011 the Croydon Guardian reported that Atos Healthcare, which provided the assessments until Maximus took over in March last year, was turning wheelchair users away from Stephenson House because they were unable to use the stairs.
Maximus is performing worse in key areas since it took over running the assessment contact from Atos.
In January a National Audit Office report found the average cost of assessments had risen from £115 to £190, meaning a total cost of £595m for the 3.4 million assessments required by 2018/19 – a rise in costs of 65 per cent for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
It also found that while the department had reduced the number of outstanding assessments there was still a backlog of 280,000 employment and support allowance assessments in August last year, and the number of claimants rejected had risen from one in 25 to one in 10 under Maximus’s watch.
A spokesman for Maximus said the company would investigate why Mrs Hall was booked to be assessed in Croydon.
He added: “Whenever a customer informs us that they have mobility issues we arrange for them to be seen at another local centre that has assessment rooms on the ground floor”.
He said any changes to wheelchair access at the centre was the responsibility of the DWP.
A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “Access guidance is included in appointment letters so that alternative arrangements can be made if needed, and anyone unable to travel as a result of their condition is offered a home visit.
“If claimants are unable to use the stairs at Croydon Assessment Centre, they can be booked into centres in nearby Wimbledon or Balham instead, and a taxi is offered if required.”