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Access to Work - Statement following recent meeting with DWP

4 June 2015

Please see above BSL video the summary statement following the latest meeting with DWP. A detailed text statement is on further below.

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Summary of meeting between Access to Work and deaf stakeholder organisations 27 May 2015

On 27 May, deaf stakeholder organisations (BDA, NDCS, Signature and Action on Hearing Loss) attended a meeting with Access to Work policy officials and representatives from the Access to Work operations team today. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss the scheme changes outlined in the Government statement issued in March and to report back on the current experiences of scheme users.

Officials have had introductory discussions with the new Minister for Disabled People, who is committed to the Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap.

Limit on awards

The March statement included the intention to introduce a limit on the value of Access to Work awards. It will be applied to new scheme users from October 2015 and to existing scheme users whose package currently exceeds the limit from April 2018.

Officials confirmed that, where existing users have a package of support that does not exceed the award limit but who make a request for additional support after October 2015 that takes them over the limit, the award limit will apply as if they were a new claimant. For example, if someone receiving an award worth £35,000 had it reviewed in October 2015, they would be awarded a maximum of £40,800.

Having raised concerns with this approach at earlier meetings, the group put forward a number of questions on how the implementation of the award limit will be taken forward, which DWP agreed to consider. These questions included

  • will any work be undertaken between now and October to assess the impact of the award limit before it happens;
  • how will DWP monitor the impact of the award limit at an early stage, to ensure it doesn’t have a detrimental impact on the employment prospects of deaf people;
  • what information will be provided to scheme users, employers and advisers regarding the implementation of the award limit;  and
  • how will Access to Work support scheme users whose support needs are above the award limit?

Additionality

The meeting discussed a number of significant operational issues, including the principle of ‘additionality’. It has resulted in a number of deaf scheme users having their support withdrawn or reduced in instances where Access to Work suggest it would cost an employer the same amount of money (or more) to employ a hearing person.

The group stressed that the application of this principle has had a significant, negative impact on a number of deaf people. Officials confirmed this was not the intention of the guidance, that advisers have received clarification on this issue and that steps will now be taken to rectify the situation.

Any person who has already asked for a reconsideration of their case due to additionality will be able to apply for a further reconsideration.  Access to Work will be contacting people who have previously applied for a reconsideration under the principle of additionality.

People who have been affected by this principle who may not yet have requested a reconsideration are encouraged to contact Access to Work. Officials also stated that the written guidance on additionality will be revised and clarified. DWP will also be issuing information to update people about this development.

Research

The group discussed the value of undertaking work to establish the return on investment delivered by the scheme. Officials stated there are a number of challenges in establishing a figure, but expressed the desirability of doing work in this area. They will be discussing the options with analysts and the Minister.

The Government statement also committed to undertaking a market review of BSL interpretation provision. Officials have identified a contact from their Commercial team to lead the review. An initial scoping meeting will be arranged with representatives from stakeholder organisations shortly.

Other proposed changes

Officials also updated on a number of other proposed changes including:

  • the operations team are trialling a new process for communication support at interview requests - they will be passed directly to an adviser and Access to Work aims to achieve a 24-hour turnaround on these requests; 
  • officials confirmed there is also a fast-track procedure for scheme users who change jobs;
  • a proto-type for a digital service, to enable online access to the scheme, is under development and stakeholders agreed to support further user research for the service;
  • workshops are taking place to scope the personal budget pilot and DWP will be looking to involve scheme users and external stakeholders in plans for further development;
  • initial scoping has also been undertaken on how the scheme can better support self-employed customers and external stakeholders will shortly be invited to input to further development; and
  • the operations team agreed to look at their policy on the provision of second interpreters.