Saturday, February 09, 2013

Wheelchair-using disabled people banned from attending disability tribunal court

Disabled people have been banned from attending a disability tribunal court because they arrived in wheelchairs. The policy, enforced by officials of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, prevented disabled people from proving they qualified for benefits. They were banned from the fourth floor courtroom at Acorn House, Great Oaks, Basildon, Essex, over red tape. Officials feared they were a health and safety risk in the event of a fire.

Sylvia Middleton, from Pitsea, who suffers with arthritis in her knees, neck and back, was turned away last Wednesday.  She said: “They said they couldn’t guarantee my safety and they didn’t let wheelchairs upstairs. Why are they holding disability tribunals in a building disabled people aren’t allowed in?” The 65-year-old has been told she has to wait two months for a new hearing 12 miles away at Southend.

Officials had originally ordered she attend the court or risk losing her disability benefits. Government inspectors ordered her to attend a tribunal to prove she was a genuine Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimant. Sylvia’s son Peter wheeled her into Acorn House, only to be told her hearing had to be moved and delayed because she was in a wheelchair. A court spokesman confirmed that wheelchair users had been barred since November, but claimed it was an error.

James Rea, press officer for the Courts and Tribunals Service, also claimed that he was only aware of a small number of disabled people being refused access. He said: “Due to a misinterpretation of health and safety legislation by a security contractor, a limited number of users with mobility issues have wrongly been refused entry. We have taken immediate action to ensure that this does not happen again and we apologise to those affected. Full access to the Tribunal is now being facilitated for users with mobility issues.”

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