Disability, Politics

Access to Work not suitable for the workplace.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK rely on Access to Work, the government scheme that helps people with disabilities into the workplace.

It was set up so that businesses could have adapted equipment for their employees, assist with carers or PA’s and pays for transport for people with mobility issues to and from work, these are just some of the services that Access to Work provides.

However, this investigation has found that Access to Work is actually making people go out of business or putting them into thousands of pounds of debt, a service that is supposed to improve the quality of life for a person with a disability. This is partly due to the fact that it takes almost 20 weeks for an assessment meaning that self-employed person has to pay for the taxis or their carers themselves, or that they cannot start work with the company because there is lack of occupational therapist and lack of assessments which again takes 20 weeks for anything to happen.

As a journalist with a disability, I do claim Access to Work and it pays for a carer, otherwise I would not be able to leave the house and I would be thousands of pounds out of pocket, which is exactly what has happened. I first applied for Access to Work almost two years ago, my circumstances have not changed and I believed that it was automatically renewed because my company still going, I still have a carer employed, however Access to Work did not contact me regarding the renewal process.

So how it works is, once an assessment is completed Access to Work will put aside a certain amount of money that has been agreed upon in a pot once that pot is depleted you need to reapply for Access to Work every year, this is not clearly explained. 

So, when I requested the money from Access to Work to pay my carer, nothing was paid for three months so I started to investigate. I contacted Access to Work and they advised me that I needed to renew my application. I asked why I wasn’t contacted and they simply advised that it was on the first piece of paperwork we sent out almost 2 years ago to you saying that you need to reapply.

When I spoke to Access to Work, they said the waiting period for authorisation for applications was 20 weeks and this was standard. This placed my business at risk because I would have to pay the carer out of my own pocket. Being frustrated by the way this service was being ran I contacted the Disability Minister Chole Smith, I also wanted to find out why the service was still relying on paper form times sheets for my carer and why it was not digital/online as it is the only service, I can find on the DWP website that still uses paper forms and the postal service, meaning you have no confirmation email if they have received your claim, and it is just pot luck when your carer will be paid.

I didn’t get a reply from the disability minister, but from the DWP’s Chief Press Officer Chris Hutcheon sent this reply:

“We are currently seeing an increased number of people applying for support through Access to Work and we’re working hard to make sure their applications are progressed as soon as possible.

“To speed up the application process we have recruited additional staff and we are using overtime working. We are also prioritising applications for those due to start work in the next four weeks.

“In addition, we are testing a new way for users to claim their Access to Work grant online to enable people to submit claims digitally.”

Additional information:

  • Recognising how important funding for support is for all Access to Work applicants, we have implemented several measures to ensure waiting times are minimised as far as possible.  This includes:
    • Prioritising applications for customers who are due to start work in the next four weeks.
    • Prioritising applications from customers who wish to renew their on-going support award.
    • Prioritising applications for Communication Support at Interview, where contact is usually made with the customer within hours of their application being submitted, to ensure they have funding available to support their attendance at interviews which can be arranged at very short notice.
    • Reviewing the Access to Work customer journey to streamline this where possible, including through implementing a light touch renewal process which allows decisions on renewals for on-going support to be made more quickly.
  • We have proactively recruited and are training a significant number of extra staff for Access to Work. When fully trained they will assist with the increased levels of applications and improve the experience for our customers over the coming months.
  • In the short term, Access to Work is also using overtime working to help reduce outstanding application levels, with all resources not deployed on priority cases focused on considering applications in date received order. This approach recognises whilst some of our applicants are in those priority groups, others who don’t meet that criterion are equally as important to us with steps being taken to progress their applications as quickly as possible.
  • Whilst we acknowledge that some Access to Work customers are currently waiting longer for contact than we would like, a large proportion of our customers are within the priority groups and are receiving a decision on their award within the usual timescales.

In a nutshell this statement says that they are understaffed, cannot cope with the number of claims that are coming in, cannot recruit enough people, they have not really addressed the issue of why the Access to Work system is relying on postal service and paper forms and they still can’t guarantee when a payment is going to be made.

This was such a dire situation for me that I actually had a meeting with my MP to see if we can get this situation resolved.

The fact that nobody contacted me from Access to Work for three months and that I was three months behind in pay plus another 20 weeks will take me up to eight months of payments out of my own pocket would effectively send my business bankrupt, as my carer still needs paying.

It was only after writing to my MP that I managed to get a payment through, not all of it, but enough to save the business. But now we are only a few months away from the yearly renewal process I want to apply for Access to Work again for next year but they won’t allow me to do it until this year has expired even though there is a 20-week authorisation period meaning that Access to Work is affectively going to put me into debt once again with my carer.

Celia Hensman Co-Founding Director, The Disability Policy Centre told this investigation, “It is fundamentally vital that disabled people and people with long term health conditions are able to utilise Access to Work in a timely and effective manner. The current barriers, limitations and delays are having a significant knock-on effect on disabled people being able to access and thrive in their employment. It is non negotiably vital that we see active work to improve the current assessment and timescales that hundreds of thousands of people are facing up and down the country.” 

This is a process that does not work for people with disabilities. From this investigation it is also the only service that still applies using paper forms rather than electronic forms that we have to send in the post every month to get paid. Every other application including; housing applications, benefit applications, driving licenses, passports are all done online where Access to Work you have to fill out form and rely on the Royal Mail to deliver it on time, making it weeks before you get a confirmation or not to see if your payment has been authorised.

The idea of Access to Work is a brilliant and helps hundreds of thousands of people across the UK into the workplace however the operational situation of Access to Work has not been designed by anyone with a disability otherwise they would not be relying on such an archaic system for essential payments for people to go to work or get into work.

This system is fundamentally flawed and needs an overhaul of its services and to be turned into an electronic system as soon as possible so that people can get payments as soon as possible and have a set date on when they are going to be paid like any other service that the government operates. 

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