The Department for Work and Pensions is “playing a cruel trick” on the disabled and unwell of Croydon over plans to open a benefits assessment centre in the New South Quarter development off the Purley Way.
That’s according to a letter from three Labour councillors, sent to Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd this week.
“This assessment centre is really not very easy to get to at all,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon.
“If you’re a disabled benefits claimant, or you have had ill-health, and you manage to get all the way to Whitestone Way, then you’ll be passed as fit for work, whether you are or not.
“If you can’t get here on time, then you’ll have your benefits cut.”
It is not the first time that the DWP has been criticised for its choice benefits assessment offices in Croydon. Back in 2011 the then ATOS-run benefits assessment office on the first floor of a building on Cherry Orchard Road made national headlines because it forced wheelchair users to climb a flight of stairs to prove they are disabled enough to get benefits.
Labour councillors from Waddon ward have this week written to Rudd with a highly critical letter about the DWP’s choice of Whitestone Way as the location of another medical assessment office.
Almost hidden away among high-rise private apartments, the DWP’s chosen site off the A23 is hemmed-in by strictly enforced double yellow lines to prevent people parking their cars nearby.
The centre will offer just four parking spaces for its visitors and staff, for an assessment operation which is likely to have 16 applicants attending at any one time.
The proposed assessment centre is 400 metres from the nearest bus stop, and nearly 300 metres from a tram stop.
The matter was discussed at this week’s Croydon Mobility Forum meeting, and Jane Avis, the council cabinet member responsible for health and social care, has recommended that officials from the DWP should be summoned from Whitehall to attend a Town Hall scrutiny meeting to explain their choice of assessment centre.
The DWP lodged an application with the council’s planning department in November for a change of use for the premises.
The Waddon councillors, Robert Canning, Andrew Pelling and Joy Prince, in their letter to Rudd, say that “we were most encouraged when you said in the House last week that, ‘We care enormously about making sure there is correct access for disabled people’.”
But they then add of Whitestone Way, “The location chosen is notable for its lack of on-street parking, complete with totally comprehensive double yellow lines, in what was built as the residential New South Quarter…
“We are most concerned that, as proposed, the provision will set up applicants to be failed in their assessments because of the location chosen requiring long walks from public transport or parking spaces an assessment failing distance away.
“With the DWP’s current reputation for poor management of the needs of the unwell and the disabled some will perceive this location as a cruel trick.
“We would like to know as whether it would be possible for the Department to choose an alternative location in Croydon that provides closer public transport provision and parking spaces,” the councillors wrote, offering the benefit of their local knowledge by suggesting alternatives.
It may be significant that the objections have been led by the ward councillors, and not put to the DWP by the council leadership.
One of the Waddon councillors, Pelling, has written on social media that he has placed an objection to the planning department under The Croydon Plan, which talks of making Croydon “a place of opportunity for everyone” and of a Caring policy where “individuals and communities are supported to fulfill their potential”.
Pelling wrote, “With my experience of how the DWP treats, or mistreats, people, and of questions asked at appeals about ‘How did you get here?’, I fear that applicants will, after the walk from the tram (300 metres), Purley Way John Lewis car park (450 metres), Argos car park (200 metres) or Mill Lane (500 metres), under the hostile environment mobility applicants face, end up being failed for making the walking effort to reach the assessment centre.”
Inside Croydon’s loyal reader may wish to write to Rudd on this issue (The Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9NA), or they can lodge an objection to the planning application by clicking here.
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