Access to Work crisis: Advice worker could lose her job over ‘ridiculous’ ruling


newslatestA Deaf advice worker could lose her job because of a “ridiculous” ruling by Access to Work advisers, who rejected her application because they claimed the interpreters who helped her communicate with clients were “doing the work” for her.

Lottie Powell started working in September as a direct payments adviser with The Fed Centre for Independent Living, in Brighton.

She needs full-time support from British Sign Language interpreters to allow her to communicate with disabled clients, and interact with colleagues in the office.

Although she was given funding for the first month of her new job by Access to Work (AtW), that has now run out.

Powell, who received full-time AtW support in her previous job in the NHS, was told by letter on 13 November that her application for AtW funding in her new job had been turned down because “support is provided to help the customer to do their job, the [support worker]should not be doing the work of, or replacing the disabled person”.

Powell said she was “shocked” by the letter, and by such an “arbitrary” decision.

She said: “They are basically saying the interpreter is replacing my role, but they are not.

“I use interpreters for communication, so I can access background conversations in the office, so colleagues can understand what I am saying.

“How are interpreters doing my role if they are facilitating my communication?

“My interpreters will proof-read my emails but they don’t change the content, they just check that they are readable so I am on a par with my peers.”

She added: “I work for a disabled people’s organisation, and that is the irony.

“It is incredibly stressful. I am in such an uncertain position as regards to my future. I could lose my job because of this. I am not able to do my job without my interpreters.”

Geraldine Desmoulins, The Fed’s chief officer, said: “Lottie is very good at her job and we don’t want to lose her. She is a fantastic team member and we are very happy to have her.

“All she has had is a letter from Access to Work saying they are not going to pay for her support because it is the interpreters who are doing the work.

“They haven’t even been here to see her and talk to her. It is ridiculous. I am just gobsmacked. If she doesn’t have any interpreting support, she cannot do her job.”

But she said The Fed would not be able to afford to pay for the communication support that Powell needs if AtW withdrew its funding.

So far, the Department for Work and Pensions has failed to comment on her case.

Powell’s is just the latest in a series of concerns about AtW reported by Disability News Service.

Last month, Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, was told by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee that the government’s AtW reforms had led to a huge backlog of claims, “appalling” administration, and rude and poorly-trained advisers.

DNS has run a string of reports over the last six months from disabled people concerned about administrative problems, delays and cuts to their AtW funding.

They include Jenny Sealey, chief executive and artistic director of Graeae, who was co-director of the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony, and who has had her AtW support for interpreters cut by more than half, putting her career at risk.

20 November 2014