Disabled local councillors who need access adjustments to allow them to do their jobs have achieved a breakthrough in their fight for financial support from the access to work (ATW) scheme.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas questioned the government last autumn after activists at the Liberal Democrat party conference told her that disabled councillors could not claim ATW support.
One county councillor told how he had been refused an ATW grant after he was elected because he was told he was not in a paid job, forcing the council to pay for the adjustments he needed.
He warned that disabled councillors from minority parties could be prevented from doing their jobs if their councils’ ruling groups refused to approve the necessary adjustments.
Baroness Thomas then asked the government to clarify the rules on whether councillors could apply for ATW support to help them carry out their council duties.
Her intervention followed earlier questions asked by her fellow Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Scott.
The government initially said that councillors could only apply for ATW funding if they received at least the national minimum wage for their council work.
But last week, Lord McKenzie, the work and pensions minister, told Baroness Thomas in a written answer that the government had reviewed its ATW guidance and agreed it was “unclear”.
He said the guidance had been revised and now states that any councillor receiving anything more than just meal and travel expenses will be treated as if they are in a job and can therefore apply for an ATW grant, even if they receive less than the minimum wage for their council work.
Baroness Thomas said: “We now have an absolute assurance from the government that disabled councillors who receive allowances as well as expenses are entitled to apply for the ATW scheme.
“This means no disabled person should be put off standing for office because of uncertainty over what support they can apply for. This is great news for disabled councillors all over the country.”
23 March 2010