Two access to work document's on a table. One on top of the other.

Accessing Access to work

Access to Work is a UK government scheme supporting disabled people in work by meeting the additional costs of access that can be a barrier for those in employment. Sounds great – so how do you apply and get the funds? Jo Verrent, Senior Producer, and Becky Dann and Sonny Nwachukwu, who are both Unlimited trainees, have recently been through the process and are here to spill the beans…

JV: I’ve had Access to Work support pretty much ever since I started working in the arts; I wouldn’t have been able to build the career that I have had without it. I recently ‘fell out’ of the system as all my needs were being met due to increased tech plus the support others within Unlimited were getting, then I gained a couple of additional needs and also the team changed so I had to start at the beginning again recently.

BD: I’ve never had Access to Work before so this was my first time trying to access it. When I found out how much they can support you with it was a huge sigh of relief for me – it’s always a worry when I start a new job about the costs of things such as taxis or support that I need. Before I started this job and knew Access to Work was a thing, I missed out on opportunities because I didn’t have the correct support in place.

SN: I’ve never had Access to Work nor had I even heard of it before, so when I was told this was an actual thing in the work place, I was very keen to see how they could support me.

JV: It’s been really interesting applying for and getting funding this time round. I couldn’t believe how the system had changed – I think it’s now even more complex to get funding from ATW than it was 20 years ago, and it wasn’t that easy then! How have you found it?

BD: As a complete newbie to the process I found it quite daunting, especially as, since moving to London, I’ve spent the past few months filling out pages after pages of the same information for different government schemes.

SN: Also as a newbie I found the application useful as it gave me time to actually think how work could be made more accessible. It helped me to get a clearer idea of the support I might need as well as giving my colleagues an understanding of this support.

JV: I needed to provide medical letters this time ‘proving’ my needs – not something that used to be required. I think they used to be more trust in the system but there have been some high level fraud cases so maybe this is understandable. Both my hospital Audiology and Rheumatology departments were positive and able to confirm my needs, but I did feel embarrassed having to ask them to write it all down.

BD: Asking for a letter ‘proving’ my needs is quite difficult I think, especially for impairments that constantly change. I find that I always feel like I need to give a full run down of all the possible ways that my impairment changes so that they know the full story. I always feel the need to explain myself which is frustrating and gets boring very quickly. I didn’t want to lose out on the correct support because I was having a ‘good day’ at the time.

SN: I’m guessing the phone conversation was all the ‘proof’ they needed – I was quite lucky in the sense that I didn’t have to prove that I had a stutter. Some questions explored how stuttering makes you feel. So the concept of the iceberg came into play. I explained that with stuttering you only see the tip of the iceberg – 10% of what’s happening. The other 90% is below sea level and is a whole different story in regards to increased anxiety and stress.

JV: I was really pleased with what I gained from the fund – I wasn’t challenged on my needs and received what I asked for. I now have both communication support in place for when I need it (less than I used to do due to the improvements in hearing support technology) and also travel support so I can get taxi’s when I am just too tired to get public transport.

BD: I’m so pleased that they gave me the support I needed, it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulder and I no longer feel like I am relying on everyone around me. They have given me funds for taxis for when I need to do short distances but can’t quite manage to walk them, and also funds for a support worker for when I need to go to events and meetings in my wheelchair. I have never had this before and it feels amazing to have the independence I need to attend external things for work.

SN: I was super pleased with the support I was given. The support worker was very informative; action orientated and a good listener. I wasn’t sure that I would get any support as I didn’t think stuttering would be covered by Access to Work but it is! I have been granted some coaching in stress and anxiety management which I’m excited to explore.

JV: For me, the most problematic thing was the time it took. I contacted them in May and had my support in place in October (but oddly dated from July). That’s a long time to wait. Luckily Unlimited was able to pick up the slack in the meantime but not everyone has that safety net.

BD: I agree, the time it took for me was over 6 months. I got passed from 3 different Access to Work workers because people left without notifying me, some weren’t the most polite and stopped responding and eventually I got someone that got the process moving. But that was still 6 months in a job without the support I needed and so I had to rely on people around me which I really don’t like doing. I’m lucky to work for Unlimited as everyone understands and will help but if I worked elsewhere where people weren’t so disability aware then I might have struggled.

Our Top Tips

  1. Apply before you start your job if possible. Try to get support in place early as it can take months, meaning no support for quite a long time.
  2. If you have a fluctuating condition, think about what you need on your worst day and work back from that. If you don’t know what you might need, ask them. You can often find out about new support options and technology that you might not know existed.
  3. Chase them if they don’t reply, you are entitled to support so don’t feel like you’re bugging them.
  4. And when sending claims, send signed for or registered post as things can go missing!
  5. If you don’t understand the forms, ask for support by colleagues around you, it can be daunting and can sometimes make you not want to even bother but it’s worth it in the long run.
  6. Even if you think you might not get any access support, still apply! You never know

You can find more information on Access to Work here.