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£2,000 damages over disabled access problems at Work Capability Assessment centre

ALERTING ADVISERS: People who had to travel to alternative assessment centres in the last six months due to lack of disabled access at Royston House can take an action for damages for breach of the Disability Discrimination Act in the county court. Strict six-month time limit for lodging applications.

Atos has agreed to pay £2,000 in damages for Mr McCann, a Law Centre client with mobility problems who had to travel to an alternative WCA assessment centre due to disabled access problems at Royston House, Belfast.  This test case was taken to challenge an issue affecting many people with disabilities.

Mr McCann had not been able to gain access to Royston House in Belfast where the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is carried out, because of disabled access problems. The Law Centre represented him in his claim for damages. Mr McCann was not alone in his predicament. According to figures released last year, over 1,600 claimants had to travel to alternative assessment centres based in Ballymena and Portadown in 2012-2013.

Law Centre (NI) Director Glenn Jordan said: “We are delighted to have brought this case to a successful settlement. This is good news for Mr McCann and for all those who will not have to travel long distances for their WCA assessment.  It’s an example of how the Law Centre is able to pursue strategic cases that make a positive difference for the most vulnerable in our society.”

From 14 November, people with mobility issues are offered assessment in ground floor premises in Belfast. Patricia Carty, the Law Centre social security adviser who took on this case, said: “Other people affected in the last six months may now apply for compensation under the Disability Discrimination Act. However, they need to be aware that there is a strict six-month limit for appeal applications. We would encourage advisers encountering similar issues to contact our advice line.”

Details of the case

WCA assessments are usually carried out on the fourth floor of Royston House. People who would require help in the event of the lift breaking down in an emergency had to be sent to the alternative centres where assessments are carried out in ground floor offices. A large proportion of ESA claimants have mobility issues and many are wheelchair users. This raises issues of disability discrimination due to the extra stress caused by travel which non-wheelchair users do not have to undertake.

The assessments are carried out by Atos under contract from the Department for Social Development, and the Department had to pay £35,000 in taxi fares to the alternative centres.  In addition, travel expenses would have been paid out to those who drove themselves.

When the Department and Atos Healthcare could not agree on which agency was responsible, the Law Centre sought an order from the County Court, and Atos then agreed to settle the case.



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