Seven things everyone should know about Access to Work

Access to Work is the government's best-kept secret. Here are some top tips our disabled staff members who use the grant think you should know.

Two Change 100 interns chatting over coffee during their internship at Overbury

It’s probably the best adjustment resource you’ve never heard of.

Access to Work can offer you financial assistance with adjustments and/or support to stay in and flourish at work. It’s run by the government, well worth applying for and can be life-changing if you know how to get the best out of the scheme. But it may be daunting for those coming to it for the first time.

So here are our top tips for the uninitiated, by disabled staff who currently use the government service.

Top tips about Access to Work

1. There are far more options than you think

Access to Work grants don’t just pay for assistive equipment or adaptations, so don’t skip applying because you don’t think you need anything specific.

The grants can cover:

  • Support Workers, such as British Sign Language interpreters.
  • Travel assistance, i.e. taxis.
  • Professional coaching.

2. Once you are approved, the money is yours to claim

When your application for Access to Work goes through, you’ll be awarded an individual grant to use for workplace adjustments and support. The amount of the grant awarded to you is decided by Access to Work. You may need to reapply yearly depending on the support required.

When your application has been approved, you and Access to Work will agree on terms, namely an outline of what you need and when. For example, if you are claiming for transport, you might agree that you will need to claim for taxis to the office four times a month.

Note: Applications are assessed case by case, and there may be a cost share element. Your employer might be expected to contribute, depending on the organisation’s size and the type of adjustment you are claiming for.

3. Patience and preparation are key when applying

There are a few things to keep in mind before applying. Firstly, you don’t apply through work – you apply yourself. Second, be prepared, because the process can feel long and complex. There is a bit of form-filling, and you must ensure you’re staying in touch with Access to Work.

If you’re working, you’ll also need to nominate someone at work as a point of contact because Access to Work will need to check in with them. This usually is your manager or someone from HR. Make sure you have checked this person is happy to be named and that they are willing to support you with the process. Make sure all your paperwork is in order. This includes making sure they have your bank details, as otherwise, you’ll get the grant without being able to use it for claims.

Claiming takes time, so make sure you are prepared to get the best result for you. This means doing your research. If you’re claiming for specific types of support, for example, a support worker or interpreter, you’ll be asked to shortlist suppliers and provide quotes as part of your application. Do your research when providing these quotes. Don’t just opt for the cheapest options – go for quality of support. Be careful not to downplay or underestimate how much support you might need.

4. Keep it simple

You’ll be asked to describe the barriers you face at work as part of your application. Keep your descriptions simple and practical, and don’t assume knowledge.

Focus on the barrier. If you have a condition that prevents you from holding a standard pen or pencil in your right hand, for example, then say this. This way, assessors know what the barriers are and how they might be able to assist you. Don’t just state your condition, rely on medical terminology or be vague; this doesn’t make your needs clear. You need to tell assessors why you encounter barriers and where you need support.

5. Make sure you know the ins and outs of claiming

Claiming is easy, but there are things to keep in mind. Make sure, when you’re claiming, that you can evidence very clearly the cost of what you are claiming for and also how it relates to your work.

For example, if you claim for taxis to work because public transport is inaccessible, keep evidence of your journeys. When you get a receipt for a taxi ride, make sure your starting point and destination are on there, too. In most cases, this should be your home and your place of work. If there are exceptions, explain why (i.e. are you travelling to a work-related event, for example). The same principle applies to other items you claim for: you must evidence the cost, the date, and why you needed it for a job interview or work.

If you’re not in a position to pay for what you need before claiming, you need to agree on a provider and a cost with Access to Work beforehand. You lose some flexibility doing this, as you’re then committed to that provider, but it also means you’re never out of pocket.

Finally, make sure you know when your Access to Work cover starts. You won’t be able to claim for anything before that date. That includes backdated claims, so be careful about arranging support before you’re covered by Access to Work.

In other words, wait until your cover starts before claiming.

6. Plan ahead

It can take time for an Access to Work application to be approved, and you sometimes need to reapply, if circumstances change, or if the original grant had a fixed time period.

This also applies if you change jobs. Plan for roughly a three-month wait each time and get your application done in plenty of time to avoid losing cover and stay on top of it.

7. Do your research

As we said, in terms of choosing suppliers to suggest to Access to Work, research is key. And the good news is that a lot of guidance is available online for Access to Work. The main page for the scheme is very informative, setting out every step of the application and claiming process.

But just as valuable is the guidance for actual Access to Work assessors, which is also publicly available. This will help you to make sure your application, and your claims, are successful. You may also wish to examine the Factsheet for Employers to review the terms of the scheme.

In closing: it may be the country’s best kept secret for disabled people, but Access to Work is well worth finding out about. You can find out more and apply on the government’s Access to Work page.