Are you assuming that you’ll be able to get into the building without difficulty when you attend for your Atos personal independence payment (PIP) assessment? That the examination room will be on the ground floor, rather than the sixth floor? Or that there will be accessible toilets you can use after a very long journey and possibly a further wait to be seen?
If so, please read on – because the truth may be very different
In our last newsletter we asked readers to give us details of the PIP assessment centres they had attended.
We still need lots more responses – there are well over a hundred centres that we haven’t received any comments on yet. But the replies so far have already begun to paint a picture of facilities that are sometimes far from fit for purpose.
Below you can read about some of the problems readers have faced when attending an assessment centre – aside from the huge distances many have been asked to travel – and be forewarned about some of the access problems you will encounter at specific venues.
If you can add any information, or confirm details that’s we’ve already published, you’ll be doing other PIP claimants a real service.
(We’ve corrected typos and similar in some of the posts below, to help with readability)
Getting detailed access information about the centre you are visiting can be a real problem. Several people told us that when they had tried, they had only been able to speak to a call centre worker in Stockton-on-Tees with no local knowledge. A reader sent to the Brighton PIP centre explained:
“Prior to visit I tried to contact the centre regarding parking and access, however you cannot call them directly and had to speak to Atos in Stockton-on-Tees. Obviously the guy there didn't have a clue and had to call the centre, but still wouldn't let me talk to them.”
Finding your way
Even finding some venues can be a challenge. For example, the PIP assessment centre in Sunderland proved tricky for this reader:
“The only complaint I would have about the centre is that it is very poorly sign posted and we drove past it a few times - the satnav said we were there but there was no centre to be seen. Eventually we pulled up a little road and spotted it tucked away in the corner, but we were a minute or two late for the appointment, and the fear of not arriving in time, and the appointment being cancelled, was very stressful.”
Readers are able to offer helpful information about finding some venues, such as this PIP centre in Blackburn:
“Hillview is at the back of main hospital car park up some steps, but if you’re in a car you by pass the main entrance and take the next entrance, think it says staff parking, then follow signs for Hillview there is limited parking at entrance with a couple of disabled bays . . . By public transport the bus stop's at main hospital door so you've a good walk through car park to get to Hillview.”
And there’s a short cut to this Manchester assessment centre:
“The directions neglect to inform you that there’s a passage in one of the arches in the shops further down from the bus stop.”
Not surprisingly, parking is a huge issue for many members. Some centres, such as this Gateshead one, have no parking at all:
“No disabled parking whatsoever as parking is shared with all the other units and parking spaces are tight so there is no easy way of getting in and out of a car if you are lucky to find a space.”
It might even be necessary to do your grocery shopping before you can park at the Blackburn PIP assessment centre according to one poster:
“There is a car park (Morrisons) facing ATOS on Cicerly Lane, nearest parking spot about 100 meters from ATOS entrance if disabled ramp used. From covered parking about 200m. However not sure if car park belongs to Morrisons. If so it is a requirement that the parked car is that of a Morrisons customer. Then going through Morrisons and making a purchase put a distance at about 400 metres from car park to Atos.”
Even if there is parking at the centre, you may not be able to get near it, according to a reader who attended a centre in Liverpool:
“This centre says it has its own parking but barrier was down so we parked in Asda car park which is about 50 metres away. If you are dropped outside then you only need to walk about four metres to the door.”
Or there may be parking on site, but if you’re in the Portsmouth PIP consultation centre you have to try to guess which spaces you can use:
“Office has parking immediately outside but only in specific bays, letter warns of adhering to this yet bays weren’t numbered.”
The lack of parking even means that some people have to negotiate oncoming traffic and an obstacle course to get the door of the assessment centre, as was the case at East Grinstead for one of our readers:
“We had to park a distance away as there was no parking available outside. My wife then had to push me in my wheelchair along a road with no foot way. We had to give way to cars several times. Once we were near to the office, my wife had to move two wheelie bins from the pavement so that we could struggle up onto it as there was no dropped kerb.”
Getting through the door
You might think that enabling people to get easily through the front door was a bit of a necessity for a disability benefit assessment centre. You’d be wrong.
Buzzers and entry phones proved a significant problem for some people. For example, in Castleford:
“To enter you need to push a button for staff to open the door for you. I had to press it a few times really hard to get the door open. You can't hear the buzzer, so you need to listen for the lock to release the door.”
Noise is an issue in Ipswich too:
“You press a bell button but due to traffic noise you can't hear them answer, which can't be helped. I just assumed someone had spoken and said my name.”
Outward opening doors cause problems for wheelchair users in Carlisle:
“There is a ramp for wheelchair access but the doors to the building open outwards so you will need help opening them . . . Wheelchair access at the top of the ramp involves two tight 90° turns and the front doors are awkward and definitely need someone else to help with them. My husband struggled trying to hold the door open and wheel me in at the same time. My assessor held the doors open for us on the way out which made it much easier.”
Whilst the PIP assessment centre in Ormskirk manages to cause problems both with their buzzer and their doors.
“The way in is ground floor via a buzzer and the doors are nigh on impossible to open alone if you have any restrictions or need crutches/walkin g sticks. The buzzer was too high for me to press and speak into. I am a bit less than 5ft now.”
Bexley Heath is one of a number of centres which have one or more steps leading up to the front door:
“It has a step at the entrance. It is NOT wheelchair friendly. The staff try to leave the door open before appointments to enable people to enter more easily.”
Not ground floor
Most people would expect assessment centres for disability benefits assessments to be on the ground floor – it’s just obvious that that’s where they need to be.
Obvious to anyone but Atos according to this reader. Bolton may hold the record as the loftiest PIP assessment centre:
“The ATOS assessment is conducted on the 6th floor. You are not told this until you present yourself to the main reception. There is a lift but if you have mobility issues it could be a problem.”
Pudsey’s assessment centre is ‘only’ on the second floor, but seems to make up for that by placing the examination room at a distance from the lift:
“The medicals were done on the second floor. I experienced a very long walk to the room where my medical was done. This necessitated needing chairs to be put out for me to stop and rest - before the lift, outside the lift and halfway down the corridor. There was no way I could've managed to walk the distance otherwise.”
Meanwhile, in Brighton they seem to have spread the facilities over several floors:
“There is a lift up to the floor where the assessment takes place and there are toilets on the landing between this floor and the floor below, but disabled toilets are located on a higher floor.”
Having accessible toilets is clearly a prerequisite in assessment centres, given that people may have had long journeys to get there and may have a further long wait before they are seen.
At least, you’d think they were a prerequisite. But, back once again in Pudsey, they don’t sound that easy to get to:
“I needed the toilet halfway through my medical, but the toilets were down a flight of five steps and inaccessible on the second floor.”
One reader who used the Edinburgh PIP centre was entirely prepared to shame Atos with a waste paper basket if necessary
“Toilets are impossible for wheelchairs . . . Door to interview room is very narrow, extra wide wheel chair could not get through. If I had not been able to walk a few steps I would have had to hold my interview in the hall. I would also have had to wet myself or use a waste paper basket to pee into if I could not have managed to walk 3 steps to toilet, and trust me, I would have done just that to shame them.”
Tell us more
We’re really grateful to all the people who have provided information already. But our aim is to be able to provide users comments for every single Atos PIP assessment centre and then move on to Capita’s facilities.
So, if you can help, please find the assessment centre you know about by starting with the regional index.