‘Drastic improvements’ needed to Access to Work scheme, says the RNIB

The sight loss charity has warned that over 25,000 disabled people are being put at risk due to delays in accessing the scheme, and says that the situation is “so significant as to risk being unlawful”

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Getty/Oscar Wong

The jobs and careers of thousands of disabled people are being put at risk due to a huge waiting list for the Access to Work scheme, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has claimed.

The waiting list for the scheme, which is administered by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and can provide support workers, adaptations to work premises and specialised equipment, amongst other things, sat at 25,103 in December 2022.

This is an increase of more than 10,000 in 12 months.

The RNIB is claiming that the Government’s failures in managing the scheme are causing job offers to be withdrawn and careers to be left “in limbo.”

Applications and claims are currently taking up to six months to be processed, leaving many blind and partially sighted people unable to work.

Delays are “so significant as to risk being unlawful,” the charity’s chief operating officer, David Clarke, believes.

Clarke said: “We are calling on the DWP, which runs Access to Work, to take decisive and comprehensive action to cut the backlog urgently.

“RNIB has repeatedly raised concerns about their ongoing inability to administer the scheme since December 2021. Six months is far too long for people with sight loss to be without support, with many having job offers withdrawn or finding their careers in limbo due to the delays.

“We have met with the DWP on numerous occasions to discuss the delays, but little progress has been made and the situation is rapidly worsening, with 15,000 outstanding applications in December 2021 rising to 25,103 in December 2022.

“The DWP needs to provide adequate resources to Access to Work so that support is put in place within four weeks of any application and claims are promptly processed.”

He added: “The department could at the same time make efficiency savings by stopping their practice of making people go through an unnecessary renewal process if their needs haven’t changed. They could also extend support packages while people are seeking a renewal, rather than suddenly cutting off support altogether as sometimes happens at present when a renewal is delayed by their own system.

“The steps taken so far by the DWP to address the problem are clearly inadequate and RNIB believes that the ongoing delays in administration of the scheme are so significant as to risk being unlawful.”

Speaking about a potential breach to the law, the RNIB added: “The DWP is under a legal duty to process claims and determine applications in a reasonable time. The extent of the current delays to the administration of the scheme therefore are at risk of being unlawful.

“This is the case especially in circumstances where the delays undermine the very purpose of the scheme, for example, an individual’s job is placed at risk as they do not have the support they need, or their offer of employment is withdrawn because Access to Work support is not put in place quickly enough for them to benefit from it.”

The charity continued: “The Public Sector Equality Duty requires the DWP to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations (between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it) in everything it does. Its failure to provide a properly functioning scheme does not advance equality of opportunity for disabled people despite this being part of the very purpose of the scheme.

“In addition, the department is placing disabled employees at risk of discrimination in employment if they are, for example, unable to do their jobs (or secure a job) because of a failure to make what should essentially be reasonable adjustments.

“The DWP also risks potentially ‘pitting’ disabled people against non-disabled candidates, colleagues and employers causing unnecessary tensions in the workplace.”

Responding to the RNIB’s claims, a DWP spokesperson told OT that the department’s “priority is to ensure everyone entitled to support through Access to Work has their claim progressed as soon as possible.”

They added: “We have recruited additional staff to meet customer demand, which has already improved processing times, and a new digital claims process is being tested to help customers better track progress of their claims going forward.”

Access to Work has received a significant increase in applications over the past year, the DWP said, and has recruited new staff to meet the increased demand and reduce the time it takes to make decisions, consequently seeing improvements in the length of time customers have been waiting for a decision.

The department “continues to prioritise those customers who have a job start in the next four weeks,” the DWP said.