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.
Over one third of deaf (deaf, Deaf, deafblind, deafened or hard of hearing) people are of working age (16-64). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 3.7 million people aged 16-64. Hearing Matters, (2011), Action on Hearing Loss.
 Unpublished secondary analysis from the Labour Force Survey 2013, Quarter 2, April – June