No Access to Work

Disability Social Security

This campaign report relates to the current difficulties faced by many disabled people trying to keep Jobcentre Plus’ Access to Work funding, including myself. Access to Work as been a scheme in existence for many years that provides disabled people support while they are at work.

In recent months, there has been unpublished changes to the scheme that has made it very difficult to access support. Due to new and potentially unfair rules, which may have been ill-designed, many disabled people including myself have had their support stopped. The aim of the report is to highlight the issues as the first stage of reversing these cuts.

Considering this government has specifically made a big deal in supposedly supporting disabled people into work, it is outrageous for the government to actually make things harder for those disabled people who do work, especially when they have high support needs. These secret cuts to Access to Work must be exposed and reversed as soon as possible.

Background Information

No Access to Work

I am a leading independent disability issues consultant, researcher, trainer, controversial inclusion activist, campaigner, and social change agent, based in Coventry (UK) with vast experience and expertise in a wide range of fields including disability equality, independent living, health policy, social care, lifestyle advocacy, employing personal assistants and Secondlife. I have worked with many organisations of all types since 1992 nationally and internationally and I am also founder and owner of Wheelies, the world’s first disability themed virtual nightclub, and star of Channel 4’s disability prank show, I’m Spazticus as well as being a blogger for the Huffington Post. I also have cerebral palsy that affects my speech, balance, hand control and sense of humour (in a positive way).

I currently have 30 hours per week funding towards my personal assistance and support from Access to Work for the hours between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday. The support covers personal care, assisting with phone calls, support getting to and during meetings, forms and anything else I may need. Without this support I will be unable to work and would be severely compromised. If I was to be forced to give up work, this would severely affect my mental wellbeing, likely to cause a downwards spiral towards suicide.

I also have an electric wheelchair from access to work and I am still in the middle of an application for a specialist office chair due to issues with my posture, although the application has been halted. Without the office chair, I am experiencing additional unnecessary back pain.

I have received support from Access to Work for 16 years, between 1998 and 2008 as Chief Executive of my own company, and from 2008 as a self employed person. During this time until now, I have had no issues with my support.

The problem

The reason I have had my Access to Work stopped was that in August I was ‘invited’ to submit evidence that I was self employed in relation to my office chair application including 3 years worth of business accounts, my self assessment tax returns, and a Class 2 National Insurance bill. As a low earner on tax credits, I was unaware of self employment national insurance, which I explained. Without clarifying the situation with the NI, my application was rejected and I was informed I had to request a ‘reconsideration’, a term never used before that is only supposed to relate to benefit appeals.

In contacting HMRC on this matter, clarifying I had properly registered with them I was self-employed, they informed me I did not need to pay Class 2 Contributions because I received Disability Living Allowance. I thought it was odd but they sent me a letter confirming I was self employed, which I sent to Access to Work as a part of my reconsideration request.

A few weeks later I received a letter from another part of DWP saying that the reason I could not pay Class 2 NI was that I was still receiving Incapacity Benefits Credits since before 1998, and I needed to send them the date I became self employed to get this sorted. This sounded promising BUT before I could answer, I received an letter to say my application for my chair has been rejected again, and also my support will be stopped in 2 months, although I could reapply!

The matter is far from resolved and logic would say they had given me time to sort out where I stand with the National Insurance. I am now left in limbo with a system I find difficult to communicate with, with the greatest crisis of my personal support in ten years, with all the additional stress, anger and frustration that goes along with this.

From what I have heard from other disabled people, I am deeply concerned that even if I resolve the issue of my National Insurance, Access to Work will find other reasons to unfairly reject my support including my profitability.

The concerns

The situation has highlighted a number of concerns I have regarding the process. I could go into more details but I do not want to spend more time I should be spending on my work on this, so here are the highlights;

1. It is now impossible to have direct contact with Access to Work advisors, having to go through to a call centre and deal with people who are unable to answer any question directly.

2. I was ‘invited’ to provide evidence of my self employment within 7 days with no prior knowledge

3. Some members of the contact centre were extremely rude and unwilling to allow my personal assistance to translate for me

4. I made a complaint previously with my reconsideration that has been ignored

5. The attitude of the advisors is impersonal and shows no understanding of the scheme

Solutions

To resolve the situation, I formally request the following happens;

1. Access to Work duly recognises I am self employed and restores my support with immediate effect

2. Access to Work compensates myself and other disabled people for the unnecessary stressed caused

3. A senior DWP manager meets with me at my home/office to explain to me what is going on and respond to my concerns

4. A immediate independent investigation is started into the current difficulties faced by disabled people using Access to Work

5. A full guide to the rules and regulations of Access to Work is published

Conclusions

I pick my fights carefully and I always aim to win. It is disgraceful that a scheme designed to help disabled people into work, is now forcing people to give up work as it is corrupted by the current toxic culture within DWP. This issue needs to be exposed and resolved as a matter of urgency, whatever it takes.