Getting help to manage at work: Access to Work

Slide1Last week I mentioned the Access to Work scheme and having been asked for more information about it, I thought it might be worth writing a short post on it. Most of the information I’ll be using can be found on the Access to Work website but to summarise:

What is it?

Basically, its a UK-wide Government scheme that provides a grant of up to £40,800 to pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition and need help to:

  • start working
  • stay in work
  • move into self-employment or start a business

It’s run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and applications can be made either online or by phone.

Who can apply?

Anyone whose employer is based in England, Scotland or Wales (a different system operates in Northern Ireland)

You must be 16 or over and either:

  • about to start a job or a work trial
  • in a paid job or self-employed

There are some exceptions (note that you can’t get a grant for voluntary work) but the grant award is based on offering support where your condition affects your ability to do your job. In the case of someone who is deaf or has a hearing loss, this might, for example, mean a grant to pay for the provision of special phones, loop systems, interpreters or speech-to-text writers. It can also be used to offer you assistance at job interviews.  Every application is assessed on an individual basis.

How do I apply?

A link to the Access to Work contact details is provided here and you can contact them either by phone or email. It’s best if you have the following information to hand:

  • your National Insurance number
  • your workplace address and postcode
  • the name, email address and telephone number of your employer or line manager

You will also be asked to share information about the scheme with your employer. The Access to Work team will contact them too as they may be required to pay some of the costs, dependent upon how long you have been working with them (i.e. if you’ve been there less than 6 weeks, then Access to Work will pay all the costs), and also how big your organisation is (if it has more than 250 employees, they may need to pay up to a £1000 threshold and then a smaller proportion of any costs over that). If you’re self employed, then you may be given a grant for 100% of the costs.

What next?

After applying, you will be contacted by an assessor, and an appointment made for them to come to your workplace to undertake an assessment. The assessment will involve looking at and taking details of your working environment, and assessing what your needs might be based on the type of work you do.

Following the assessment, you will be advised of the outcome, and contacted about the delivery of any relevant equipment or support that may be offered to you.

If you’re unhappy with the outcome (or the process), then there is no right of appeal, but you can ask Access to Work to reconsider their decision or make a complaint. There’s a really helpful website called that has been set up which can offer you some advice on this.

Some personal experience

When I applied to Access to Work a few years ago it was all pretty straightforward. The assessor was very friendly, helpful and knowledgageble. She visited my workstation, looked at meeting rooms where I worked and spent time getting to understand what my job entailed, talking through with me what type of equipment might help. The equipment was delivered promptly (including my Bluetooth neckloop) in a large box, but if there was one down-side to the process, it was the fact that there was no support in setting the equipment up. In the case of a landline telephone adaptor I received, I had to contact our building estates team to help fit it together and ensure it was compatible with the building’s phone system. However, that’s was quite a small thing and I’m sure I could have rung the supplier of the equipment for advice if I felt it was needed. I’m not sure if its any different for people now but it would also have been good to have some form of follow-up.

In summary

In conclusion, all I’d say is that if you’re struggling at work, get in touch with Access to Work for help. The assessment is helpful in pointing out reasonable adjustments that your employer can make, in addition to any equipment you might need. You can also talk through potential coping strategies and solutions to problems you might have in the workplace.
It does, however, mean that if you’re not fully open about your hearing loss, that you have to take that step of talking about it with your employer and possibly with other colleagues. On the other hand, the benefits can be tremendous in enabling you to do your job properly, feel less stressed and overwhelmed by it and worried about making mistakes. For your employer, it also means they’ve got a more productive and happier employee. Just do it!

What’s been your experience of Access to Work? Have they been positive or have you faced problems?

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