Access to Work crisis: Campaigners secure first legal victory


newslatestThe government has agreed to publish secret guidance that shows who is eligible for support under its under-fire Access to Work (AtW) scheme, after it was threatened with legal action by Deaf and disabled campaigners.

Lawyers for the Stop Changes to Access to Work (SCAW) campaign have secured the promise in a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The law firm Leigh Day had sent a “letter before claim” to DWP, alleging that it acted unlawfully by failing to publish official guidance for the scheme, which provides support for disabled people in the workplace.

Because nothing had been published, potential claimants did not know the criteria for eligibility, the rules that would be applied to their claims, and when changes were being made to the guidance.

DWP has now told Leigh Day in the letter that it will publish the guidance, and has also confirmed that it is updating the rules and will soon publish new guidance, hopefully by April 2015.

But SCAW also wants DWP to reinstate the funding of all those who have lost out through the application of AtW’s so-called “30-hour rule”, which was introduced in 2011.

The rule states that a Deaf or disabled person needing more than 30-hours-a-week AtW support should recruit their own salaried support worker.

If they cannot, AtW will only fund an award for an hourly rate equivalent of a £30,000 salary, a rule which has caused particular problems for Deaf people who use BSL-interpreters.

Although DWP announced in May that the 30-hour rule would be suspended while it carried out a three-month review, there has yet to be any indication of the results of that review.

And it has told Leigh Day that it is not appropriate to review every case that has been subject to the 30-hour rule.

Ellen Clifford, a member of the SCAW steering group and an AtW-user, said: “We are pleased by this victory and welcome the DWP announcing that they will publish guidance.

“This is a first step in the right direction in solving the numerous issues with the AtW scheme.

“However, the weaknesses in DWP’s administration of the programme are still prevalent. This is putting AtW users’ employment and their businesses at serious risk.

“We hope that the DWP will consult and communicate with AtW users; make consistent and lawful decisions and take urgent steps to reinstate the funding to which users were entitled prior to the imposition of the 30-hour rule.”

A Leigh Day spokeswoman said they were now taking instructions from SCAW following DWP’s letter, but she stressed that they had not dropped the legal case.

DWP has so far failed to comment on its agreement to publish the guidance.

Disability News Service (DNS) has run a series of reports this year about disabled people concerned about administrative problems, delays and cuts to their AtW funding.

Among those hit by the reforms whose stories have been reported by DNS are Jenny Sealey, chief executive and artistic director of Graeae, whose AtW support was cut by more than half, and Craig Crowley, chief executive of the Deaf-led charity Action Deafness and honorary president of UK Deaf Sport.

In September, a Deaf youth worker described how endless problems with the support he is supposed to obtain through AtW had made it impossible to focus on his job.

And in May, DNS reported how an educational farm run by two disabled people for more than 10 years could be forced to close after their AtW support was suddenly withdrawn.

Earlier this year, Jeff McWhinney told ITV how he was forced to bring a non-Deaf managing director into his company SignVideo after his AtW support was cut, so he was no longer able to attend networking opportunities in the evenings.

23 December 2014