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Benefit office closed to wheelchair users

Do you sometimes you read a news article and think what on earth and re-read it in disbelief ? So again we read about wheelchair users and the type of challenges they are faced with on a regular basis.

Take this one, which centres around a health safety issue at a disability centre in Croydon South London, where quite rightly wheelchair users are agitated after being stopped from using lifts at the disability assessment centre despite being invited along by letter.

This somewhat bizarre situation is affecting many wheelchair users each week and effectively means that nobody in a wheelchair can be seen for the fitness-to-work test and are instead being turned away at the centre door.

It all centers around the use of the lifts by folk in wheelchairs as the office in qustion is on the first floor of a multistorey office block. The restriction is in place because, as per fire regulations, all people who enter the building have to be able to exit using the stairs in the event of fire or other emergencey such as a bomb scare. So the knock-on outcome is that nobody in a wheelchair can be seen for the fitness-to-work test.

For some wheelchair users this has meant that they have travelled their as a result of a letter sent to them and have been turned away on arrival due to them being banned from using the lift in the event of emergency. But alas, there is an alternative plan, that forces those in wheelchairs to travel 7 miles away to Balham where there is a ground-floor assessment centre.

There have been many complaints from locals about having to travel out of their borough just to be put through what they describe as humiliating tests in a bid to retain their benefits - because of health and safety rules.

One wheelchair user, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "I was asked to go to Stephenson House for an assessment, but when I told them I used a wheelchair I was told to go to Balham".

"I asked why and they said it was because the Croydon assessment centre was on the first floor and that even though there are lifts, health and safety rules mean I'd have to be able to use the stairs in case of emergency".

"The whole thing is ridiculous - we have to jump through enough hoops as it is without being told be can't use lifts."

Another wheelchair user said they turned up for an assessment earlier this year only to be turned away at the door.

They commented: "I turned up at the right time and right location - and even though I told them I used a wheelchair weeks before I was turned away at the door because of the health and safety rules.

"The whole thing is a farce which makes life even harder for disabled people."

A spokesman for Maximus who operate the building in Croydon said it was being investigated why claimants had been booked to be assessed in Croydon, adding: "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."

The spokesman commented that changes to wheelchair access at the centre was the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions (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."

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