Greetings, dear readers. Today I wish to speak to you of Access To Work, not unreasonably known as the DWP’s best-kept secret, and historically underclaimed in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.
Access To Work is a publically-funded scheme through the DWP that pays for practical help for you to get into or stay in work if you have a disability or long-term health condition (including a mental health condition) that affects your ability to work or travel to work (or reduce absences for an MH problem). It can also be used if you are self-employed or starting a business. It is *not* a loan and does not have to be paid back, nor does it affect any other benefits (such as PIP) that you receive. Unfortunately, it does not apply to voluntary work – though you should *not* be paying out-of-pocket expenses if you are undertaking that, even if you have increased travel costs due to e.g. needing taxis to travel – but it does apply for work placements, job trials and work experience. This does include temp jobs, even if you are on a succession of time-limited contracts – as long as your condition has lasted at least a year (or is expected to last at least that long) you are fully eligible for Access To Work.
I applied for Access To Work because the costs of taxi fares to travel to and from a temp job reasonably local to me were nonetheless proving quite prohibitive for me. I admit that, after my previous experiences with the DWP, (through applying for PIP; see my rant about this from a few weeks ago at “PIPped at the Post”) I was exceedingly nervous about applying for this and did not do so until after I attempted to walk to the nearest train station on my crutches, a distance ol’ Doc Google assured me was only 10 minutes walk away. After it taking me nearly 25 minutes, and leaving me weeping in pain and needing to be collected from the train station – not to mention in severe pain for the next 3-4 days), I finally relented and made the claim.
The process of starting your claim is unusually accessible, for the DWP – unlike PIP, you do not need to sit on the phone for hours until you finally get through to someone who then shouts at you for mumbling due to fatigue. You can make your initial claim through an online form here: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work/apply and request if you want to be contacted through phone or email. Unless you can guarantee always being able to answer your phone immediately, I would recommend requesting contact through email – unfortunately you will still need to have a phone conversation to finalise the next part of your claim, but this way your assigned advisor will contact you and tell you their direct number, so you can phone them at your leisure. You will also have their email address if you do this. I would recommend following up every phone conversation with an email to them with a short precis of your conversation, just so that you have a record of what was said and when – this is helpful if you suffer from brain fog (or ADD, like myself) but is a simple precaution I would recommend with any contact you have with the DWP if you happen to have an email address for the person you spoke to. If not, I would recommend writing date and time-stamped notes for yourself with the same precis, simply so that you have easy-to-consult records in the (very likely) event of you needing to follow up with them.
During the phone call where you make your claim, your advisor will ask what you need from Access To Work. I would recommend asking for a workplace assessment. Access To Work can pay for ergonomic desks and chairs, bluetooth headphones, transcription software etc – things you may not have thought of that could make a serious difference to your ability to get or keep a job, even if it’s simply by reducing the levels of pain and fatigue you suffer as a result of working and thus reducing your sickness absences to a manageable level. It can also pay for things like a sign language interpreter, scribe, or support worker to help you with transfers or intimate care, or to wake you if you suffer from narcolepsy or another condition that means you have issues with falling asleep or being difficult to wake. The DWP will always contact your employer to ask them to make a contribution to workplace equipment costs, so make sure you tell them that this is generally voluntary – disability adaptation equipment is, sadly, *horrendously* expensive.
If you are making a claim for travel e.g. for taxi fares, you will need to pay a portion of the costs yourself, but only as much as it would cost you if you were able to use standard public transport – your advisor will ask you to get three quotes from taxi firms and to provide the cost of the public transport you would use without your impairments. In my case, this reduced the cost of travel from over £200 to £45 a month, which, as you can imagine, makes a huge financial difference, particularly if you are working part-time and pro-rata due to your disability.
Whatever the nature of your claim, your advisor will ask you to fill in a form along with your GP (or similar healthcare worker). This will ask you what your condition or disability is and why you are in need of these adaptations, and your GP simply has to verify that this is actually the case – it’s only a shame that this is not the system in place for PIP!
I am very lucky that I have just been offered a 29-hour/week permanent position at a company I temped for in the summer, and that they have been so far very supportive of my increased needs due to mobility. I have just emailed to request a workplace assessment of my new workplace from my advisor in addition to taxi fares, as an unsuitable chair could cripple me within a day or two – I am already aware that I may need to use my wheelchair if the seat I am provided with is not suitable. I won’t deny that this is distinctly frightening for me – I have been so conditioned by years of living in an ableist society that I find it very difficult to ask for the adaptations I need and that will allow me to do my job to the best of my ability. My instinct is still to minimise my own needs, manage and “not rock the boat” – which is why I am writing this. Given that we are now living in a time when the DWP is judging that disabled people with quite severe impairments are capable of work, this is the service they provide to bridge that gap, and all of us who are disabled and want and/or need to work – and are capable of it – should be using it. We should not be feeling guilty. We are claiming what we need and have a right to.
Many thanks to Phyl Meyer of Inclusion Scotland for his help and advice, both personal and professional, throughout this process. They are a bunch of truly lovely and incredibly helpful people, who, in their own words, are “a consortium of organisations of disabled people and disabled individuals. Through a process of structured development we aim to draw attention to the physical, social, economic, cultural and attitudinal barriers that affect our everyday lives as disabled people in Scotland. We aim to encourage a wide understanding of those issues throughout mainstream thought in Scotland. In short, we want to reverse the current social exclusion experienced by disabled people through civil dialogue, partnerships, capacity building, education, persuasion, training and advocacy.” If you have concerns about accessibility relating to your workplace, venue or event, these are absolutely the people to call.
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