Work test centres ‘lack disabled access’ | BBC News | 21 November 2012

November 21, 2012

From BBC News, 21 November (story by political reporter Justin Parkinson).

The firm carrying out fitness-for-work assessments for the government lacks disabled access at a quarter of its premises, MPs have heard.

Employment minister Mark Hoban said 31 of 123 centres run by Atos lacked ground-floor access for wheelchairs.

Six centres in particular had “terrible” problems, causing almost three-quarters of case backlogs by failing to inform applicants and arrange enough home visits instead.

One MP called the situation “potty”.

The Labour government replaced Incapacity Benefit with the Employment and Support Allowance four years ago.

The government is using French firm Atos to carry out the resulting face-to-face assessments of disability benefit claimants’ eligibility – known as the “limited capability for work assessment”.

‘Drive out’

Those judged able to do some work are given support to find jobs, while those judged able to work full time are moved on to Jobseekers Allowance.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee heard evidence from Mr Hoban, who said: “There’s a challenge in ensuring interview centres are accessible. What we don’t want to do is to get people to turn up to centres that they can’t effectively access.”

Mr Hoban said that, in cases where wheelchair access was not possible, home visits were offered as an alternative.

He revealed that 31 of Atos’s 123 sites did not have such access. Six centres – in Croydon, Ealing, Birmingham, Luton, Mansfield and Norwich – were responsible for 73% of the case backlog.

Mr Hoban said: “I think it’s terrible. I think it’s unacceptable that six centres account for 73%.”

He added: “I think it’s something that, over time, we should drive out.”

The committee’s chairwoman, Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, said it would be difficult for the Department for Work and Pensions to ask businesses to “put in access when the department cannot itself” guarantee it in buildings used for assessments.

Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd said: “Clearly, if we are getting 73% from six centres – that’s just potty.”

Details of the review – published on the DWP website – can be found HERE

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