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‘Access to Work’ Category

18 DecUK Council on Deafness welcomes changes to Access to Work

The UK Council on Deafness has welcomed the Minister for Disabled People’s announcement of immediate changes to Access to Work.

David Buxton, chair of the UK Council on Deafness Access to Work group and chief executive of the British Deaf Association, said: “In particular, we are glad people will soon be able to contact Access to Work via email. It will mean deaf people will no longer need to keep explaining why they can’t speak to advisers on the telephone.

“We also look forward to the publication of user-friendly guidance and better data about how the scheme is performing. Whilst the guidance will be of immediate benefit to people who rely on the scheme, the performance data will help us all to better understand who it is helping and how.

“However, these changes must only be the beginning. Lots more needs to be done. For example, whilst email contact is a good step – although perhaps a little behind the times – people should be able to contact Access to Work and submit information via an online portal.

“And we can’t forget deaf people are still facing problems. The Minister draws our attention to improvements that have been made, but UK Council on Deafness members are still being told of people being refused the interpreting support they need.

“Self employed people are refused on technicalities, the 30-hour rule is still being applied to some people, second interpreters are not funded and awards are made that don’t take into account the market rate for interpreters. All of which means deaf people at risk of losing their jobs, or not getting them in the first place.

“We believe the Minister and the Department want to get this right. So we look forward to working with them to finish their review and begin to make the changes that will help this scheme help deaf people to fulfil their potential.”

17 DecWork and Pensions Committee announces publication of report, Improving Access to Work for disabled people

The Work and Pensions Committee will publish its report, Improving Access to Work for disabled people, at 00.01 am on Friday 19 December.

It will be available under embargo to the media and witnesses only on the morning of Thursday 18 December.

Alternate formats

The Report’s Summary will be published in Easy Read and as a BSL video, and the substantive press notice made available as a BSL video, at 00.01hrs on Friday 19 December.

31 OctVision for Access to Work

This statement sets out our vision for the Access to Work scheme. It is the basis for continued discussions with the Minister for Disabled People and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Our vision

Over one third of deaf (deaf, Deaf, deafblind, deafened or hard of hearing) people are of working age (16-64)[1]. They can face disadvantage in the labour market. Analysis of the Labour Force Survey found the employment rate for people who identify ‘difficulty in hearing’ as their main health issue is 64 per cent. This compares with an employment rate of 77 per cent for people with no long-term health issue or disability[2].

An Access to Work grant makes a big difference to a disabled person’s employment prospects. It helps pay for practical support so someone can start working, stay in work or start their own business. It is provided where someone needs support or adaptations beyond the reasonable adjustments which an employer is legally obliged to provide.

There is no set amount for an Access to Work grant. How much you get depends on your circumstances. The person and their specific circumstances should therefore be central to the operation of the scheme.

To achieve this, Access to Work should

  • explore different ways of delivering grants;
  • respond to requests for support at interview quickly;
  • provide support from day one of employment;
  • go online;
  • know how to communicate with deaf people;
  • understand what it’s like for deaf people in the workplace;
  • know about all forms of support and technology available to deaf people;
  • provide clear guidance about the scheme, especially how decisions are made and when a complaint can be made;
  • work with deaf organisations to provide comprehensive, up-to-date information, advice and guidance to customers; and
  • regularly consult customers and those involved in providing them with support.

How grants are delivered

Access to Work should explore different ways of delivering the grants it provides. It should gather evidence on the most effective methods, in terms of supporting people and making the budget go as far as possible.

For example, offering people an individual budget would enable them to tailor their support package as their needs and the demands of their job changed. But other people might not want, or be able, to manage a budget. And there are likely to be several other options.

The only thing all potential options should have in common is making the person and their specific circumstances central to the operation of the scheme.

Communication support at interview

Access to Work provides funding for support at interview. However, many deaf people have found it difficult to get that support when it’s needed. Employers have had to be asked to postpone the interview and in some cases declined due to their recruitment timetable.

There should be a system in place to make sure requests for support at interview are responded to quickly. For example, a dedicated email address or fax/telephone number and a guaranteed response within 24 hours. When granted, the support should be provided immediately.

Initial support

Currently there can be a significant delay between someone starting a job and being offered support by Access to Work. This can result in them being unable to meet the requirements of the role. In some cases it has led to employment being withdrawn.

The reasons for the delay include

  • the employee not knowing what their support needs are; and
  • administrative requirements.

The focus should be getting a tailored package in place as soon as possible. But for people who aren’t sure of their needs, the granting of a minimally assessed package at job commencement would be a useful safety net. It could be based on the job description, for example.

Administration and delivery of the scheme

The general administration and delivery of the scheme needs to be improved. The aim should be to improve the customer experience and make efficiency savings.

Online accounts

Each customer should have an online account. Opening an account should be the first thing a potential customer does.

The online account should be the main method of communication between the customer and Access to Work staff. It would enable the customer to

  • tell Access to Work about their needs;
  • better manage their grant;
  • submit the required paperwork; and
  • access information, advice and guidance.

Customer service

Customers should be given the name of one member of Access to Work staff who is the first point of contact about their account.

Customers should be able to contact Access to Work in a variety of ways, including telephone and email. Text and video relay services should be available for deaf people and others who would benefit from it. The customer should be able to choose the method of communication.

Staff should have the required knowledge and understanding. It will improve customer service and make sure money is spent effectively.

  • All staff involved in running the scheme should have disability awareness training. It should include deaf awareness training. This is mainly to make sure they understand what to do and not do when communicating.
  • Staff dealing specifically with deaf customers need up-to-date, comprehensive knowledge. They need to understand what it’s like for deaf people in the workplace.
  • That includes the nature of the support required by them. Most deaf people need a package of support. It may vary on a daily basis, depending on the nature or their job.
  • It also includes detailed knowledge of communication services and technology for supported and enhanced hearing. They need to understand there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It will help them advise customers about the most appropriate support and make sure money is spent effectively.

Guidance, complaints and reconsiderations

Clear, user friendly guidance Access to Work should be published in various formats. It should explain how the scheme works, what it funds and how decisions are made.

In particular, the guidance should include details of a transparent process for requesting reconsiderations and making complaints. The process should be linked to the decision making process so it is clear when a reconsideration can be sought or a complaint made.

Stakeholder engagement

Customers and those effected by Access to Work are best placed to provide feedback about the administration and delivery of the scheme. They should be

  • regularly asked for feedback;
  • consulted about significant changes to the scheme; and
  • represented in any relevant advisory groups.

The groups that should be engaged include

  • Access to Work customers;
  • the professionals engaged with Access to Work funds;
  • agencies that provide professionals engaged with Access to Work funds;
  • providers of technological solutions purchased with Access to Work funds;
  • employers of people who receive support from Access to Work; and
  • organisations that work with and for disabled people.

Conclusion

The changes we have suggested aim to reduce the costs of running Access to Work whilst increasing its benefits. We believe they could help open up the scheme to more people. That would mean more people in work, more employers benefiting from diversity and more revenue for the Treasury.

But whilst it remains discretionary there will be confusion about what the scheme will pay for and the responsibility of employers. This results in increased administration costs and a negative opinion of a scheme which is in fact transformational for many.

In particular, the fact Access to Work “is provided where someone needs support or adaptations beyond the reasonable adjustments which an employer is legally obliged to provide” creates problems. Because what is a reasonable adjustment for one employer may be unreasonable for another, it is unclear who is to decide what is beyond reasonable or how they are to decide.

We are concerned this lack of clarity is having a detrimental impact on the employment prospects of deaf people. Both Access to Work and employers need clear guidance about their responsibilities and how to make decisions.

We therefore suggest the government reviews its legal responsibilities under the Equality Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities with a view to making the scheme statutory.

The government should also explore

  • the impact of the duty to make reasonable adjustments on the employment prospects of disabled people;
  • the impact of the duty on employment practices; and
  • what is needed to help employers meet the duty.

References

[1] 3.7 million people aged 16-64. Hearing Matters, (2011), Action on Hearing Loss.

[2] Unpublished secondary analysis from the Labour Force Survey 2013, Quarter 2, April – June

30 OctUK Council on Deafness welcomes Minister’s commitment to improve Access to Work

The UK Council on Deafness has today welcomed the Minister for Disabled People’s commitment to improving the Access to Work scheme.

In his evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Access to Work, the Minister admitted recent changes to management of the scheme had been handled badly.

He said efforts to manage the costs of the scheme had also been mishandled, in particular the implementation of guidance about the employment of support workers. Widely known as the ’30 hour rule’, it has caused problems for many deaf people who need more than 30 hours communication support a week.

In response to the huge amount of evidence submitted to the Work and Pensions Committee and the Department for Work and Pensions by individuals and campaigning organisations, the Minister committed to making a number of changes. They include improving customer service, gathering and sharing better data, and making the scheme more transparent.

David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association and chair of the UK Council on Deafness Access to Work group, said: “After all the work deaf people and the organisations that work for and with them have put in over the last year, it’s gratifying to know the Minister has paid attention.

“In particular, his commitment to work with us to improve the scheme demonstrates he wants to get this right. He mentioned a few organisations when giving evidence to the committee; we’ll be following that up to make sure his Department contacts all the relevant charities, professional associations and businesses.

“But most importantly, the customer service changes he wants to implement in the short term are ones that will have an immediate positive impact on the lives of deaf people. Better operation of the scheme will also help save time and money that can be put to better use.

“Of course, there are still things we need to discuss in detail. Some are big issues, such as the expectation of employers to share costs. Understandably, deaf-led organisations are concerned about the impact that could have on them. But others should be easier to deal with – such as the Department’s insistence on using the term ‘hearing impaired’, which is offensive to many deaf people.

“There also needs to be a formal complaints procedure. Whilst we agree with the Minister that the priority should be making sure the right decision is made in the first place, people do need to know they have a form of redress. It’s a gap that excellent campaigns such as Deaf AtW have filled, but they shouldn’t have to.”

The evidence session follows months of work by the UK Council on Deafness on the problems Access to Work has caused for deaf people. We will be writing to the Minister to take up the suggestions he has made and offer its continued support.

Commitments made by the Minister

  • He will work with deaf sector organisations to find smarter ways of making the Access to Work budget help more people.
  • He will commission an analysis of the return on investment for Access to Work to help in discussions with the Treasury about the size of the budget.
  • The Department will issue clear, user friendly guidance about Access to Work on gov.uk so the public better understands how it makes decisions.
  • He wants to make sure the system produces consistent decisions about the support offered whilst retaining the flexibility that allows for individual circumstances to be taken into account.
  • He accepted the Department needs a better understanding of how disabled people engage support workers, particularly sign language interpreters, and the role of technology in meeting their needs.
  • He will make it possible for people to contact Access to Work via email or gov.uk. Applicants will be able to indicate their preferred method of contact.
  • The Department will explore using a video relay system (VRS) to communicate with applicants. And he will continue to promote VRS across government.
  • He has asked officials to explore the possibility of making Access to Work accessible via an online portal.
  • In the future, proposed changes to Access to Work will be clearly communicated to the public and Parliament.
  • The Department will publish regular data about the scheme via the Office for National Statistics.

03 JulAccess to Work inquiry receives almost 300 responses – and mainly from deaf people and organisations

The Work and Pensions Committee has received almost 300 written submissions to its inquiry into Access to Work.

According to the Committee, a large majority of those submissions came from deaf people and the organisations that work with and for them.

And that’s before the extended deadlines for submissions in British Sign Language (BSL) and from people with learning disabilities or limited English literacy have been reached.

That number is much higher than usual. In 2013, Third Sector reported a ‘record high’ of 186 submissions to a Public Administration Committee inquiry.

Jim Edwards, chair of the UK Council on Deafness, said: “The number of submissions that talk about the impact of Access to Work on deaf people reflects the fact there are clear issues with the scheme.

“People are saying the same things: customer service is poor, consistency is lacking and policies are damaging to job prospects. But above all there’s a strong message that Access to Work simply doesn’t understand deaf people and the support they need in work.

“The number of responses and their consistency is also testament to the fact deaf people and organisations have come together on this. We look forward to working with the Committee and the DWP to make sure it’s sorted out to everyone’s benefit.”

Problems with Access to Work, which provides funding for practical support to help disabled people find or stay in work, surfaced towards the end of 2013. Since then, the UK Council on Deafness has been talking to the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP, and Department for Work and Pensions officials.

As a result, on 14 May the Minister announced a review of the scheme to run alongside the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry. A consultation is expected to begin at the end of July.

The UK Council on Deafness submission to the inquiry is available online in English and British Sign Language.