Access to Work scheme broadened to help disabled staff work from home

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The scope of the government’s Access to Work scheme has been broadened to include support for disabled employees who need to work from home.

Updated guidance published last week states that Access to Work advisers will now be able to work with individuals with disabilities and their employers to assess what equipment and support might be needed to allow them to overcome any barriers to working from home.

Under the scheme, eligible employees receive grants of up to £60,700 per year for equipment to allow them to work comfortably and effectively. If an individual’s grant has already been spent but additional support is needed because of current home working requirements, employees have been encouraged to approach the Department for Work and Pensions for more Access to Work assistance.

Other changes to the guidance include measures to prioritise new claimants, particularly key workers and those beginning new roles; the introduction of remote assessments; and a six-month extension of all existing grants where there are no changes in an individual’s circumstances.

Business Disability Forum CEO Diane Lightfoot welcomed the changes, but questioned why they had not been communicated earlier in the coronavirus crisis.

“Access to Work is a lifeline for many disabled people, covering the costs of the specialist support and tech they may need to carry out their roles – adjustments which are available in people’s usual place of work, but not necessarily available in their homes,” she said.

“But given the importance of Access to Work, we are surprised that it has taken the government so long to officially communicate the changes and are concerned by the unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty that this may have caused some claimants.

“We know that managing the health and wellbeing of all staff, but particularly colleagues with disabilities and long-term conditions, is a matter of particular concern for our members, at present.

“We also know that communication around Access to Work has long been an issue, and one which has affected past take up. Therefore, we call on the government to make communication a priority and to ensure that the updated guidance is communicated as widely as possible and in a range of accessible formats.”

Meanwhile, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that employees unable to work from home could return to work where safe, the Institution of Safety and Health (IOSH) has reminded employers to put health and safety first. Occupational health professionals will have a key role to play here.

IOSH head of policy and regulatory engagement Richard Jones said: “People shouldn’t re-enter workplaces until employers are certain that they’re properly managing the risk of infection and providing the support that workers need.

“Prevention has to be the focus because, if organisations don’t get this right, workplaces can become places of transmission.

“How do they ensure they get it right? This is where occupational safety and health professionals have a key role, providing good risk intelligence and awareness-raising and helping to design processes, whether it’s staggered shift patterns to support physical distancing or improved ventilation and hand and respiratory hygiene. Forward-looking employers and their workers are already benefiting from this sort of advice in their plans for a ‘new normal’.”

Further government guidance around how workplaces would be expected to reopen safely is expected to be published this week.

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