'Inaccessible' Luton disability assessment centre 'is compliant'

Cresta House, Luton A lift serves the sixth floor of Cresta House but cannot be used in emergencies

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Disability benefit tests can continue on the sixth floor of a Luton office despite concerns about accessibility, the government has ruled.

The assessment centre in Cresta House, Alma Street, is run by Atos Healthcare for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and served by a lift.

However, there is no emergency exit other than the stairs.

The DWP said it complies with the Equality Act, as other plans can be made for those with limited mobility.

In November, the DWP said it was looking for an alternative building.

It has now decided an additional site is not required as "alternate arrangements can be made for those claimants who are identified as being unable to attend".

In a letter to Bedfordshire South West MP Andrew Selous in February, the DWP said that when scheduling appointments, Atos tried to identify customers who should not go to centres without ground floor assessment rooms.

'Reasonable adjustments'

Instead, a home visit would be arranged or they would be asked to travel to another centre and it was these "reasonable adjustments" that made the centre compliant with the 2010 Equality Act.

Mick Dillon from the Disability Resource Centre in Dunstable, which offered its building as an additional site free of charge, said the DWP "clearly do not understand the needs of disabled people".

"There is just no human angle of understanding," he said.

"Having to go through the [assessment] process is bad enough, having to go through it in your own home with strangers coming into your house, people don't want that," he said.

"The nearest other centres are Milton Keynes and Cambridge, and they are a good hour-long journey away - whether you drive or not."

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