A benefits assessment centre in Belfast was closed today because dozens of people staged a protest outside.
Demonstrators from republican prisoners’ organisation Tar Isteach said people with serious mental health issues had been “re-traumatised” following changes to the system.
The city centre offices of government services provider Capita were shut to ensure the welfare and safety of visitors and staff, the organisation said.
Capita is handling the assessment process for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The demonstrators acknowledged that a number of assessors did their best but said the assessment process should be brought back in-house to the Department for Communities (DfC).
“Assessors are telling people that the trauma they suffered and are suffering from as a result of the conflict is not relevant.
“People with serious mental health issues are being re-traumatised by the process.”
Trade unionists and protesters gathered at Capita’s Belfast city centre offices this afternoon.
They said: “People who should have got paper-based assessments are being put through the stress and worry of these assessments unnecessarily.
“People with disabilities or conditions that are not going to change are being assessed and traumatised by the process.”
Recently, victims of historical institutional abuse at homes run by religious orders also raised concerns about their treatment during the PIP process.
People Before Profit (PBP) Assembly member Gerry Carroll said: “Today’s protest shows the very real anger and outrage that exists at the way welfare reform and PIP in particular is being rolled out, and the disastrous impact it is having on communities right across the north.”
NIPSA trade unionists were among those supporting the protest.
A statement from Capita said: “We can confirm that there was a protest outside our Linenhall Street assessment centre this afternoon.
“The welfare and safety of visitors and staff to the centre is paramount, and so, on learning of the protest, we took the decision to close the centre.
“All individuals due to have assessments today were informed of the closure and their appointments are being rescheduled.”
A DfC spokesman said: “The department introduced new guidance in August of this year regarding setting review periods, whereby people who are awarded the highest level of support under Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and whose needs are expected to stay the same or increase will receive an ongoing award of PIP with a light touch review every 10 years.
“This change streamlines the process for PIP recipients with severe and/or progressive conditions ensuring they receive the most appropriate award duration without the need for unnecessary assessments.
“Claims in this category that were awarded before August will be looked at again.”