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Sickness benefit worries see calls to CAB flood in

A PUBLIC advice service is being flooded with enquiries about problems accessing sickness benefits with Fit to Work assessments slammed as ‘hopeless’.

Sixty-nine per cent of visitors to the Worthing Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) have worries about benefits, with half of those concerned about Employment Support Allowance and similar handouts. The CAB is also concerned about Government-appointed Fit to Work firm ATOS, with clients reporting poor service and delays in assessments as key issues. Corinne Parsons, 54, of Richmond Road, Worthing, has been labelled unfit to work by her doctor several times, but ATOS has taken a different view.

She said: “They are hopeless, there is no other word for them.

“I am half-blind, have heart troubles and have depression, but last time I went to see ATOS, they told me to lift one leg up and read something I had already signed, and said I was fit to work.

“But my doctor, who has years of experience, had signed me off.”

Mrs Parsons said she had been able to work in the past but believed employers did not want to employ people like her.

She has applied for numerous jobs, without success.

She said: “I once worked in a call centre, where the director kept calling me Cyclops.

“I also think there is an American attitude now, where people are claiming compensation for small accidents, and maybe employers are worried people like me will get hurt.

“On the other hand, I am a good worker – I just can’t prove it.”

Mrs Parsons said she was now visiting her doctor and ATOS in continuing cycles, with both coming to different conclusions.

This led her to temporarily lose her benefits in between visits.

She believes ATOS should not carry out the assessments and they should instead be done by doctors.

CEO of Central and South Citizens Advice Bureau Sarah Hyde said Mrs Parsons’ case was a typical example.

She said: “Far too many of our clients are having stress piled on to unfairness as a result of this system.

“There is a real danger that people who are fully entitled to support are denied it for at least an extra two weeks as a result of these changes.”

The CAB nationally has launched its Fit to Work campaign, to urge assessors to take into account independent medical advice.

Anyone seeking advice can contact Worthing CAB on 0844 477 1171, visit the branch at Worthing Town Hall, or log-on to www.centralsussexcab.org.uk

 

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