New government guidance will make it even harder for disabled people to use a key employment support scheme to find and keep work, according to a new report.
The Essex-based disabled people’s organisation ecdp compiled the report after being contacted by several disabled people concerned by the new restrictions on Access to Work (ATW) funding.
It is only the latest concern to be raised about tighter Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) restrictions on ATW, imposed despite coalition claims that its controversial welfare reforms are aimed at supporting disabled people off benefits and into work.
Government figures released last month showed a dramatic slump in the number of “new customers” helped by ATW, from 16,520 to 13,240 in 2010-11.
The new DWP guidance, introduced on 1 August, means that disabled people who are driven to and from work by their personal assistant (PA) will no longer be able to claim ATW funding for that travel if they are being driven in their PA’s car.
Instead, they will have to insure the PA to drive their own car – if they have one – or a company car.
The most likely solution would be to use taxis, which would reduce the level of choice and control they have over how they travel.
Another option being suggested by some ATW advisers to disabled people is for the PA to apply for a minicab licence from their local authority.
The estimated extra cost in ATW payments for one of the ecdp members who has raised concerns about the new rules could be at least £300 a week, if they use taxis, or thousands of pounds a year if their PA tries to register as a minicab driver.
The ATW rules also appear to clash with new Department for Transport (DfT) guidance on private hire vehicle licensing, which strongly suggests that PAs do not need to obtain a licence.
An ecdp spokeswoman said the DfT guidance seems to “directly contradict” the new ATW rules, while local authorities who have been contacted so far have stated there is no need for PAs to obtain a minicab licence.
She said some ATW advisers “appear to have underestimated the cost of securing a licence and overlooked some of the hidden costs within this”.
Mike Adams, ecdp’s chief executive, said: “This red tape means that disabled people, and their staff, will have to jump through extra bureaucratic hoops just to carry on working.
“The potential cost for disabled people and to the public purse could be significant.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have made these changes to comply with the law. Disabled people will still get the support they need with the additional costs of travel to work.”
But a DfT spokeswoman said its guidance stresses that “responsibility for making decisions” on whether a vehicle requires a private hire vehicle licence “rests with local authorities” and “would depend on the facts of each case”.
Asked whether DfT was discussing with DWP the problems that have arisen with the two sets of apparently contradictory guidance, she added: “I do not believe we are talking to them at the moment.”
18 August 2011