An MP has claimed the government will breach its own rules if it moves Huddersfield’s benefits assessment centre to Halifax.
It was revealed last week that thousands of people may have to travel to Calderdale to to see if they are eligible for sickness benefits.
About 18,000 people a year are assessed at the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Assessment Centre at Crown Hous e on Southgate, which was recently given the green light to be transformed into residential flats.
Colne Valley MP, Thelma Walker, has criticised the proposal and suggested that many people will struggle to make it to the Halifax centre within the time stated in Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) guidelines.
She explained: “DWPs own guidelines say travel time to assessments should not exceed 90 minutes by public transport.
“Getting to the Huddersfield assessment centre is already difficult for many sick or disabled people from Colne Valley – but from parts of the constituency it would take approaching two hours on public transport to make a 9am appointment in the Halifax centre.”
Meanwhile, patients’ champion Healthwatch Kirklees, who uncovered the plot to close Crown House, says it has now discovered Kirklees MPs were informed about the plan last July in a one page letter.
Healthwatch director Rory Deighton said he did not blame the politicians for missing the important decision.
He said: “When we originally asked local MPs, they were clear that they had no knowledge of this decision. Now we know why.
“MPs receive thousands of pieces of correspondence each month and I’m not surprised that they missed it.
“Hiding this decision away in a one page letter is just not good enough.
“If I was a local MP I would be furious.
“MPs have been left exposed by the government’s failure to communicate effectively.
“Making this kind of decision without listening to the views of local people, without understanding how it will impact them, is clearly wrong.
“The government cannot fairly redesign public services unless they understand the needs of our communities.
“A one page letter to an MP is not the same as understanding how someone who uses a wheelchair will make an additional seven mile journey.”
Mrs Walker told the Examiner she had never received the letter as she hadn’t even set up an office or recruited staff by July 5, following her election to the seat a few weeks earlier.
She said she had now written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, to ask for a re-think.
She added: “There has been no public consultation or engagement with myself or with Kirklees councillors and I know that Huddersfield’s MP, Barry Sheerman, is also opposed to the closure.
“Support and services for vulnerable people are already at breaking point and the chaotic rollout of Universal Credit is making people’s situations even worse.
“The closure of this centre is another step too far.
“We must end this culture of contempt for disabled people, which has no place in the 21st century.
“As we have argued in relation to hospital services, with a 440,000 population, residents in Kirklees expect and demand core services in our major local towns – the same is true for health and disability assessments.
Do you want news alerts on Whatsapp?
The Examiner has launched a Whatsapp group to help make sure you don't miss a news break or big story.
If you'd like to receive alerts text NEWS to 07833 287309 . Then add the number to your contacts as 'Examiner'.
Your phone number won't be shared.
“There are over 17,000 claimants of ESA in Kirklees – 3,670 from the Colne Valley – who could be impacted by the proposed closure.”
Last week the DWP told the Examiner the changes were part of a £135m efficiency drive across the country.
The Examiner understands that people who have to travel to Halifax can claim the cost of public and private transport and parking from their current address.
Taxi fares can also be claimed if customers have a letter from a medical professional if they cannot travel by public transport.
Home visits can be arranged if travel is difficult.