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Below you'll find updates about complaining, campaigning, and DeafATW.com
The red titles are about information useful to you as an AtW user or interpreter. Black titles are additional information & relevant to campaigning.
Older updates can be found in the Updates Archive page.
BSL translations are done at home without monitoring. If you spot any errors, please let me know.
If you have an ATW budget more than £42,042 then ATW may soon contact your employer to talk to them about the cap.
20th August 2017
If you have an ATW budget more than £42,042 then you will be capped from 1st April 2018.
Some Deaf people haven't told their employer about the cap, because they are worried about how their employer will react.
Two Deaf people who had awards that are higher than the cap told me that last week their ATW adviser telephoned their manager and asked them if they knew about the cap that would be starting 1st April 2018. The adviser also suggested to their manager that the company would probably have to pay all the access costs above the cap.
One of the Deaf people hadn't yet told their manager about this because they were worried about talking to them. It was not good that their manager found out from ATW.
If you will be affected by the cap April 2018, and haven't yet talked to your manager, it may be worth talking to them now, in case ATW contact them and tell them about the cap soon.
Meeting between Deaf people affected by the cap and ATW: Why, who, and notes
The ATW cap - why did we meet?
20th August 2017
Access to Work awards are now capped at one and a half times the national average salary, which changes each year. This is currently £42,042 per year.
People who had an ATW award before 1 October 2015, and who haven’t changed their award since October 2015, won't be capped until 1 April 2018.
ATW expect Deaf people to ask their employer to pay for communication support above £42,042 a year.
DeafATW and UKCoD are worried that the cap will act as a ‘glass ceiling’, making it more difficult for Deaf people to get and progress in customer facing, professional and more senior roles.
Why did ATW want to meet deaf people affected by the cap?
AtW with the UKCoD Common Purpose Employment Group arranged for 10 people who have been or will be affected by the cap to meet with the ATW Strategy Lead for AtW on 29th June 2017.
AtW were interested in learning more about their experiences of how the cap has affected or will affect them, their work, and their employer; and what ideas, strategies and resources they have used to manage this now or in the future to retain and progress in employment.
Which Deaf people went to the meeting?
We wanted to make sure the Deaf people who came reflected a range of different employment (professional and managerial roles), ages, and balanced women and men.
Some people who attended the meeting preferred to be anonymous. People who attended the meeting and were happy to be named were:
Camilla Arnold, Ben Fletcher, Andrew Jordan, Thomas Mulloy, Josie Smith, Mariam Qazi
A short summary of the meeting (click to read the longer summary)
The meeting went well, and people appreciated that they had been invited to this meeting.
However, most of the people attending the meeting could not think of anything that would make much difference in the amount or cost of the support they needed in order to be able to work effectively. Most people assumed they would just have to have more ‘non-communication’ time.
Also most believed that their employer could not, or would not fund the difference between the cap and the cost of the support they need to be able to do their work. For this reason, many had not discussed it with their employer as they were scared about the negative consequences of doing so.
The ATW Strategy Lead said that he would let the Minister for Disability know what Deaf people had fed back at this meeting.
Click here to read more about the meeting, and the different ideas that were discussed.
Joint statement about Market Review
20th August 2017
Four members of the Market Review steering group have written a joint statement in response to the Market review that has been published. Click here to read it.
The four members are:
Action on Hearing Loss, Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI), National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI)
Now published - Market Review of British Sign Language and communications provision for people who are deaf or have hearing loss
3rd August 2017
In 2015 the DWP agreed to look at communication services (interpreting, speech to text, lipspeaking, etc.) for D/deaf people. The report is published now. You can read or download it as a PDF here.
The DWP was responsible for the review, with the help of a steering group. The steering group included: NUBSLI (I represented NUBSLI at the steering group meetings), Signature / NRCPD, ASLI, Action on Hearing Loss, NDCS, and others.
The DWP is doing a BSL translation of the Introduction, Executive Summary and Conclusions that will be available soon. Unfortunately the snap election, and need to publish before the summer holiday, meant they weren’t able to release the English and BSL versions at the same time. I will post on DeafATW when the translation is available.
You can still see the original explanations of the review, from 2015.
Click here to see the original explanation about the general review and call for evidence in BSL.
Click here to see the original explanation about the review into Communication Support Work (CSWs) in BSL.
The report looks at demand (what services people need), supply (what services are available), technology (how is technology affecting communication services, e.g. remote interpreting), and what is likely to happen in the future (future look). There is also a separate section on Communication Support Work (CSW).
Over 200 people and organisations sent evidence. The report summarises and quotes from that evidence. Unfortunately other government departments did not share much information.
How is the report useful and how can you use it?
The most useful parts of the report are the Executive Summary (4 pages) and the conclusions (3 pages). There are four conclusions at the start of the Executive Summary, and fourteen more in Annex I.
Some of these conclusions are really clear, and it is useful to have them in the government’s own report.
You can use these conclusions and the Executive Summary when discussing things with organisations, government bodies, agencies, MPs etc.
An example of a potentially really useful conclusion from the Annex is:
“Language and communication requirements should be addressed on an individual basis, and those that are required to make provision for deaf people should seek the views of individuals, as to what works best for them. There is no universal approach to addressing these needs and requirements will vary from person to person and across situations.”
This may be useful if ATW advisers make decisions that don’t give you enough flexibility to book the interpreters you need.
Other useful conclusions are that “the data … show BSL is the first language of 24,000 people, but there are only 908 registered sign language Interpreters.”. When you see this, it is really easy to understand that there are not enough interpreters. Useful when talking to MPs etc. about the need for more interpreters.
Also this from the Executive Summary may be useful if you find it difficult to cover the costs of interpreter’s travel for your work: “Some respondents noted that the lack of communication professionals in their area meant that the cost of sourcing appropriate, qualified interpreters was significantly increased by their travel costs to the users’ location".
If you are (or know) a student in Higher Education receiving the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) this may be useful: “There was consensus from respondents that use of CSWs who are not qualified as interpreters in Higher Education could be inappropriate.” Maybe useful if being told you have to use a CSW (who isn’t also a qualified interpreter).
Lastly there is also useful information in the Annexes (appendices) that it may be useful to share with MPs, people or organisations. These include:
Annex A - Statistics on the deaf population
Annex B - Methods of communication and language support (maybe send to those agencies who don’t know what these terms mean!)
Annex C - More information about deafblind people.
Annex E - Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSAs)
Annex F - Technological aids and support
Annex G - Access to Work
Let me know if you do use any quotes from the conclusions or executive summary in making arguments to service providers, agencies, government bodies, MPs etc. and what the result is. I can then share this information, anonymously if required, to give other people ideas.
Click here to read the update about the Market review on NUBSLI's the Nub. This explains more about why it is worth engaging with government and being part of a Steering Group like this.
AtW trial of personal budgets ending - new Managed Personal Budget to be introduced
2nd August 2017
Deaf people who have been trying the Personal Budget for 12 months have been told that the trial has finished for them.
Has this happened to you? Have you been asked to feedback to ATW about the Personal Budget? Let DeafATW know, as we don't know anyone who has been asked to feed back about the pilot.
In the Market Review just published, ATW has said they are looking to introduce Managed Personal Budgets, with the same flexibility as the Personal Budgets, but where the DWP is responsible for paying invoices.
DeafATW will let you know more about this when we know more.
From Annex C: “... Access to Work is currently exploring whether the next iteration of its ATW Personal Budget trial can introduce ‘Managed Personal Budgets’ where the flexibility is retained by the individual but the finance is held by DWP, reducing the burden on the individual.”
Penny Mordaunt - will continue as Minister for Disabled People
1st August 2017
After an election, there is often a change in Ministers. There have been changes with other Ministers, however Penny Mordaunt will be continuing as Minister for Disabled People.
This is a good thing, because every time there is a change it takes time to get to know the new Minister. We already know Penny Mordaunt, and so campaigning is a little easier.
UKCoD Access to Work Cap briefing
1st May 2017
UKCoD have written a report for the DWP on the impact of the cap. It includes a case study of a Deaf woman who applied for and got a job, but then the employer changed their mind and withdrew the job offer, because of the cap.
Click here to read the report.
Are you, or anyone you know, affected by the cap?
5th April 2017
UKCoD has arranged for up to 10 people directly affected by the cap to have an opportunity to talk to AtW policy officials directly. This meeting is to:
We want to try to get people attending from a range of employment situations, including larger businesses, small companies, the public sector (including schools and Local Authorities, etc), the NHS, self-employed people and those running their own company, people who work for Deaf charities, Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs), people who work in rural areas, etc.
So if you know of people who are affected by the cap who you think should be involved, please put them in contact with me.
DeafATW is now part of the UKCoD Employment Group
1st April 2017
DeafATW is now part of the UKCoD Common Purpose Employment Mission Group, which also covers issues about AtW.
AtW and pooled agreements
12th March 2017
If an employer or business has several Deaf staff, they may think it is better to have everyone's AtW awards put in one pot together, i.e. pooled.
This may make administration easier, e.g. with all of the bookings going through one agency; or make it possible to have freelance or staff interpreters available in house for all Deaf staff as needed.
However, Deaf people don't always agree that their AtW award should be pooled in this way. For example, they may want to book interpreters directly who meet their specific needs, may not want to go through an agency because they feel they have less control over who is booked, may feel they have less access to interpreters when they need them, etc.
So DeafATW has clarified with DWP whether Deaf people can choose to be part of a pooled scheme or not. DWP have said:
"If the customer feels their currently agreed support isn’t sufficient, they can make a Change of circumstances application through the Contact Centre. They do not need permission from their employer and the adviser would be able to sort out the pooled support issue if there was an impact."
In other words, you can be part of pooled support if you think it is a good idea. But if you think pooled support does not meet your needs, then:
1) You can contact the AtW contact centre and let them know you need to make a change of circumstances application.
2) You need to explain why your current pooled support does not meet your needs.
3) Because your AtW award is an individual award to meet your needs, even if your employer would prefer you were part of a pooled system, they can't tell you that you have to be part of the pooled system.
4) If you have problems with this, your AtW adviser can help sort this out with your employer.
Any questions or problems with this, please contact DeafATW.
Government consultation on disabled people and work. Finished 17th February 2017.
26th February 2017
Click here to read the evidence DeafATW sent to the government consultation on the Green Paper called “Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper”. My answers focussed on how AtW can be improved to support Deaf and deafblind people in getting, keeping and progressing at work. A lot of the evidence came from answers to the DeafATW survey.
DeafATW's evidence was not written as a report. Instead after each of the questions online, DeafATW gave evidence.
Click here to see the Green Paper in BSL.
Click here to read a plain English version of the Green Paper.
Click here to read a short explanation of the consultation.
DeafATW report on problems with AtW.
16th February 2017
Thank you to everyone who did the survey. 115 of you answered it, including; Deaf people who use BSL, deaf people who use English, deafblind people, and interpreters.
DeafATW asked three questions:
People told me about many things. The report I sent to DWP picks out the big themes.
Click here to read the report.
DeafATW will also use the other feedback to try to help improve AtW, e.g. in my response to the Green Paper.
Two interesting things that I have already told AtW about, that aren't in the report.
One Deaf person has been told they can't get AtW support because they are on a zero hours contract. I have asked if this is a policy? Because many people are on zero hours contracts now.
Also several people said they had problems with adapted stethoscopes (that doctors use to listen to your breathing and heart) so they can use them with hearing aids.
Please contact me if you have any questions.
Have problems, or will have problems with AtW cap? Do UKCoD survey below. Survey finishes this week.
AtW correct their guidance about interpreters and CSWs.
27th December 2016
AtW guidance about interpreters and CSWs was unclear, and in some ways just wrong. This made it harder for advisers to talk to Deaf people about the services they said they needed, and made it more difficult to get the right decision about whether they needed interpreting and/or CSWs. (For example, sometimes advisers said that a CSW could be used for telephone interpreting, because it was 'easier' than face to face interpreting).
Stop the Changes, NUBSLI, NRCPD and DeafATW contacted the DWP to raise our concerns, and suggested where guidance could be made more accurate.
The DWP tested the corrected guidance, and have told DeafATW that all AtW advisers are now using the corrected guidance. (The AtW guidance on the internet hasn’t yet been updated yet, but we’ve been told it will be).
DeafATW thinks the new section is much clearer about:
It also says in several places, that the adviser must ask the Deaf person what kind of support (registered interpreter, trainee interpreter, and/or CSW) meets their needs. This is a real improvement.
This will make it easier for you to talk to advisers properly about what support you need, and to challenge AtW if they get it wrong.
The new section of the guidance is below.
You can also click here to download the new section, and click here to download a copy of the old section, so you can compare them.
The new guidance about interpreters and CSWs (from December 2016)
27th December 2016
Registered and Trainee Sign Language Interpreters
87. Having the ability to use two languages does not mean someone can interpret. Interpreting is a skill that requires training and experience.
88. A Trainee Sign Language Interpreter (TSLI) is on the path to becoming an interpreter, a Communication Support Worker is not.
89. A TSLI is a Trainee Sign Language Interpreter.
90. Sign language interpreters transfer meaning from one spoken or signed language into another signed or spoken language.
91. Customers requiring sign language interpretation will usually require a BSL/English interpreter. British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right. It is not a signed form of English.
92. NRCPD Registered Sign Language Interpreters (RSLIs) have level 6 qualifications in both their second language, such as BSL, and interpreting.
93. An NRCPD regulated TSLI may be suitable for some assignments. You MUST check with the customer to make sure their needs can be met by a TSLI.
94. If it is impossible to engage an RSLI or TSLI, you must make sure the interpreter holds
Communication support workers
95. The term communication support worker (CSW) refers to people who use a variety of methods to help deaf and deaf/blind people access communication. CSWs are not interpreters.
96. CSWs are not interpreters, their role is to support claimants to access communication in English, using a wide range of techniques (e.g. notetaking/rewriting emails).
97. Most CSWs have some ability in BSL, up to level 3. However, this is not a requirement in order to receive AtW funding.
98. You should check with the claimant to make sure their individual needs can be met by a CSW.
Deciding what support is required
99. A sign language interpreter should be used in a situation which calls solely or mainly for interpretation.
100. Ask the customer if their needs require an RSLI, a TSLI or a CSW.
101. A sign language interpreter should be used for situations in which clear and accurate communication is essential, such as
102. A CSW MAY be appropriate for
AtW do not have fixed pay rates for interpreters and CSWS.
27th December 2016
I have just realised that I didn't update on this back in March 2016. So I am now.
NUBSLI made a Freedom of Information request about the pay rates for interpreters and CSWs that they use when working out awards for Daef people.
The answer was that AtW "does not have set pay rates for BSL/English interpreting and CSW support for Deaf and deafblind people.
Access to Work advisers, in discussion with the customer would establish both the level and type of support required and source this from within the area where they are working and do so on the best value for money basis."
So if an AtW adviser tells you that the award is based on a fee that you know is too low for your area, you can challenge them, and show them the DWP's answer to the FoI request. They should be allowing you to send in questes so you can show what the market rate is for your area.
Click here to read the full NUBSLI post.
AtW have new reconsideration and complaints processes.
5th December 2017
See DeafATW How to Complain page for more information.
This page has been completed updated. On the page you'll find:
AtW guidance - no longer use version numbers
5th December 2016
When AtW updated the guidance, they used to change the version number.
They have now stopped doing this, instead they have a list of the dates the guidance has been changed, and sometimes say what the main changes are.
Click here to see the dates and changes. You need to click +full page history on the left of the page to see the list of dates and changes.
If you are asking AtW to reconsider, or you are complaiing, it can be important to check if the guidance was changed, and what has changed, because that may affect your reconsideration or complaint.
(NB not all of the previous changes are listed. There were at least 26 versions, but this page only lists 6 updates).
Complaints to PHSO. PHSO systemic report on AtW.
5th December 2016.
Many people who complained to the PHSO between 2014 and 2016 have had their final decisions and reports from the PHSO. So far, everyone who has contacted me about this has told me that the PHSO has agreed with everything, and they have won their complaint.
The PHSO told many people that they would publish a report on the problems with AtW and effect on Deaf people, but they still haven't done this yet. DeafATW has contacted them for an update. It would be good if you contacted the pHSO too, and asked them when the report will be published.
Update on AtW Personal Budgets
5th December 2017
I've had feedback from three people with Personal Budgets. They all like them, because they have more flexibility without having to check with AtW every time, e.g. if you need two interpreters, have to pay an interpreter more because of travel or evening work, etc. However making the payments to interpreters, keeping track of the money and sending the information to AtW does take time.
AtW now have a simple spreadsheet they can send you to keep track of your spending. If you haven't been sent one of these, you can ask the adviser.
If you have a personal budget, let DeafATW know how it's working.
New AtW Cap - £41,400
20th November 2016
Access to Work grants awarded before 1 October 2015 are not capped. They will be capped from 1 April 2018.
Access to Work grants awarded on or after 1 October 2015 are capped. The amount of the cap depends on when your grant was awarded or last reviewed.
If your AtW was awarded or reviewed between 1 October 2015 and 31 March 2016 then your cap is £40,800 per year.
If your AtW was awarded or reviewed between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017 then your cap is £41,400 per year.
This is because the cap is equivalent to one and a half times the national average salary, which changes each year.
AtW customer fact sheet
17th July 2016
Click her to read the AtW customer factsheet.
1st July 2016
If you have complained to the PHSO about AtW, and have had the final report from the PHSO, please contact me. It's important that I can share your experience, anonymously, so that other Deaf people and interpreters can learn from your experience.
DWP trial personal budgets for AtW
14th April 2016
AtW are testing if personal budgets work for Deaf and disabled people, for using and paying for support workers (Interpreters, Trainee Interpreters or CSWs, face to face and remote interpreting) and for travel to work.
If you are interested, you can ask to take part in this trial. Just tell your AtW adviser. If they say you can't take part in the trial ask them why, and also let them know you understand Deaf people are underrepresented in the pilot, and you've been told they want more Deaf people.
How personal budgets will work for the trial:
1) You will be paid weeks money (1/13th of your years' budget) every 4 weeks. This money is paid in advance into your personal bank account, i.e. you get the money first, then when you receive the invoice you pay it from that money straight away.
2) You then have to keep a record of invoices and receipts for payment, using an Excel spreadsheet they will give you, and send the receipts to AtW.
3) You can use your budget more flexibly, to meet your access needs as you think is most useful.
For example, you may have an award for 4 days interpreting a week, but at the moment AtW won't let you book two interpreters for meetings, or use a note taker.
With a personal budget you could decide that one week you have one interpreter every day, and another week you have two interpreters for an all day meeting, and book a note taker as well, but use less interpreters the rest of the week.
Is it safe to take part in this trial?
AtW say that if having a personal budget doesn't work for you, or you don't send in the receipts on time, you will go back to the award you have now. So it should be safe to take part.
However there are some things that aren't clear, or may be a problem, and so I suggest you ask the adviser the questions below (you can just copy them), and get the answers in writing, before you take part.
Also there is one general risk with personal budget, that it can make the link between your award and the services you need weaker. For example, if you have an award for 14 hours interpreting a week, you know how much the cost per hour is for this. If AtW don't give you enough you can complain etc. But if you have a personal budget, you may be told (in future) that this is all the money available, and you have to manage the costs yourself. For some elderly and disabled people having Local Authority personal budgets (not AtW), this has caused real problems because their personal budget is not enough money for the care they need. AtW have not said they will do this, but it is a possible risk for the future you should be aware of.
Questions you should ask:
1) How will the personal budget deal with fluctuations in need? For example, in some 4 week periods I may have holiday, so will need to spend less that 4 week period, and more in other 4 week periods.
2) Will I be able to carry over unspent budget to use later, if I spend less than my budget in one 4 week period? If I can, will there be a limit on how much I can carry over?
3) Is it possible to have an annual amount set aside, e.g. two weeks, that would allow me to go over 1/13th where necessary for training etc.
4) How will you review my work access needs if I take part in the trial? Currently the main assessment method used in reviews is to compare my usage against my award. So for example, if I have 14 hours interpreting awarded, you will check how many hours I use on average. But if I spend the budget flexibly this may not work. So what will you base any review of my award on?
5) How if I have a personal budget how will you assess my needs if my circumstances change?
6) Over time costs of services, e.g. interpreting and/or travel to work tend to increase. What mechanism will there be to ensure that my award reflects these?
7) How will AtW get feedback from me on this pilot?
Let DeafATW know if you take part in this trial, and if you would recommend it to other people.
Click here to see the AtW's own information about the award.
Ask AtW advisers and reconsideration to explain their decisions
18th March 2016
If AtW make a decision that doesn't make sense to you, then ask them to explain how they made the decision. If they still don't explain, ask again, and again, and again (!), until they do.
Questions you can ask them include:
AtW advisers can make choices in what they decide, but they have to have a reason for those choices, they can't just make things up, or make decisions with no reason. Because they are a public service decision maker they are obliged (have to) tell you their reasons for their decisions.
If the AtW adviser doesn't answer your question, or says that you have to do something, then just write back and ask them again. And again. Etc.
If they refuse, or ignore you, then you should complain to AtW.
Read the true story below about how this can work.
Never give up - a success story
18th March 2016
Sometimes it can feel really hard to sort things out with AtW. Especially if it feels like AtW won't listen to you.
This is a true story (I have changed some of the details to keep it anonymous) of someone who didn't give up, and got what they need in the end.
Hannah is a BSL user who works with hearing children. She applied to AtW and said she needed 22 hours CSW support.
At first, AtW said that the CSW would be doing Hannah’s job for her, so AtW would not support her. Hannah asked the AtW adviser how the CSW would be doing her job instead of her, but the adviser never answered that question.
The adviser wouldn't change the decision, so Hannah asked AtW to reconsider the decision. The reconsideration decision said that they agreed with the adviser's decision, and would not change it.
So Hannah made a complaint to AtW, because they had not explained how the CSW would be doing her job, but they did not reply for 4 months. She chased them 5 times, but they still didn't investigate her complaint. So she wrote to her MP. Her MP chased AtW, and they said they would investigate her complaint that week. They still didn't. So Hannah complained to the PHSO.
The PHSO agreed with Hannah that AtW had got it wrong. They asked AtW to go back and make the decision again.
This time, the AtW adviser decided that Hannah only needed 10 hours’ support a week, even though she had said 22 hours was what she needed to be able to do her job.
Hannah asked the AtW adviser to explain how they decided 10 hours would be enough. The adviser did not not explain this, but asked Hannah for more information.
Hannah gave the adviser the information they asked for, and also asked the adviser to explained how they had reached the view that this support would meet her minimum needs. The adviser didn't answer the question, and said that Hannah needed to explain why she needed 22 hours.
Hannah wrote back and asked the adviser again to explained how they had reached the view that this support would meet her minimum needs. The adviser again replied, and didn't answer the question. This carried on for two months, Hannah just writing back and asking them the same question, and explaining that the adviser did need to answer the question about how they had made their decision.
Hannah really felt like giving up, but she didn't.
Then after 2 months, the AtW adviser wrote to Hannah and said they agreed to give her the 22 hours she had asked for. Success at last.
The important thing Hannah did was not to give up, or get cross, even when she was very frustrated and fed up. AtW had not explained why they thought 10 hours was enough, so Hannah made sure she kept repeating that question. Because AtW could not explain their decision, they agreed to her request.
So if you feel like giving up, remember this story. It may take time, and patience, but you can get there in the end.
Ask for additional hours (face to face interpreting, etc.) or minutes (remote interpreting) to use when needed
18th March 2016
Some people have enough AtW support for most of the time, but for some months find they don't have enough hours for face to face interpreting, or enough minutes for remote interpreting (e.g. SignVideo).
This may be because they have extra training at work one month, or have a lot of calls to make, etc.
To help with this, some people have told DeafATW that they have agreed additional (extra) hours (face to face) or minutes (VRI / VRS) to be used when needed, on top of their monthly allowance. For example, an extra 50 hours of interpreting for the year to be used when needed, or an extra 120 minutes VRS/VRI.
This can make things easier for you, and for AtW, because you don't have to keep asking for extra support.
Let DeafATW know if you are able to agree this, or if you have problems.
'Deadweight' does not apply if you have had help from family or friends
18th March 2016
AtW guidance at the moment says that if you have help from friends and family with interpreting, for example. supporting you with communication if you are self-employed, then AtW can say no to helping you, because you already have communication support.
But really deadweight was meant to stop employers who are already paying for interpreters (etc) from deciding not to pay and asking AtW to start paying instead.
DWP have realised that this was a mistake (thanks) and have changed this.
So from the 1st April 2016, ‘deadweight’ rules will be changed to say that it doesn't matter if you have had support from relatives or friends.
If you have a problem with this, please contact DeafATW, and we will send you more information.
DeafATW Archive created
18th March 2016
Old Updates and sections of DeafATW that may be interesting, but are no longer needing action now, have been moved to the new Archive page. These include: Archived Updates, Market Review page (as it is now closed for evidence), DeafATW Recommendations to the Select Committee, the Select Committee page, and information about the 30 hour rule.
15th February 2016
The Daily Mirror has reported that Ian Duncan Smith has paid consultants to look at how best to privatise AtW. (Click here to read the original article).
Stop the Changes campaign has written an open letter to him outlining the problems of doing this, and asking him to respond. (Click here to read the letter).
Ian Duncan Smith has replied. Click here to read the letter. In summary it says: there are no plans to privatise AtW (yet), external consultants will be paid to look at AtW and recommend options. The consultants may talk to customers etc.
There's also a good blog about some of this issues written by tourettes hero. (Click here to go to the blog).
If we need to take any campaign action around this, I'll send a DeafATW update.
Use SignVideo to contact Access to Work in BSL
3rd February 2016
You can now call AtW using SignVideo. (You can also use it to call about DLA, and Attendance Allowance). This is brilliant news.
To use SignVideo you should first watch this video that explain how to use the service (in BSL and English). It may look complicated, but isn't really.
Click here to watch the video on YouTube.
1) Summary: Use Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer 11. (It won't work using Windows 10 with MS Edge, so instead use Firefox or IE 11.)
2) It works best using wifi or broadband with upload and download speeds of 384 kbps, but can work at 256 kbps.
3) If using a desktop or laptop, download the plug in. Click here to download it. This will give you a high quality and private connection.
If using an iPhone or iPad click here to download the app. If using an Android phone or pad click here to download the app.
4) SignVideo are open between 8am and 6pm. So just click the SignVideo icon to connect with Access to Work through an interpreter.
5) If you have any problems, email them at email@example.com
DeafATW recommends that at the end of your call using SignVideo, you ask the AtW call centre or AtW Adviser to send you an email summarising what has been discussed and agreed.
You should also keep notes of the what was said and agreed on the call. This is in case later the AtW Adviser says something different has been agreed.
This is a trial (test), which means that after 6 months DWP will see how well they think this new service is working.
Click here to see SignVideo's announcement of the pilot in BSL and English.
Click here to go to the You.gov AtW page with information about the trial and links to the video and download.
Need an interpreter for interview? AtW will provide interpreters without asking the employer to pay.
20th December 2015
November 2015 Limping Chicken published an article about the experience of a Deaf person who contacted AtW about having an interpreter for an interview. However the AtW adviser said that the 'new rules. meant that AtW had to phone the interviewer directly before the interview and ask them if they will pay for the interpreter. This obviously could make put employer's off recruiting Deaf people.
NDCS then contacted Stuart Edwards, Disability Employment Strategy Policy Adviser for DWP, who said that "contributions from employers are not to be sought for communication support at interview. We want to make [getting an interpreter for an interview] as quick and seamless as possible and not add any element of extra risk to a Deaf or disabled person’s recruitment. The guidance will therefore be updated and staff trained accordingly as soon as possible." It's brilliant when AtW listens to the feedback, and then does the right thing.
Recently one Deaf person contacted DeafATW to say that they asked for funding for an interpreter for interview, and this happened with no problems.
When you contact AtW, you may get an automatic reply saying they will contact you within 7 days. If this is too slow, contact AtW again, and let them know that you need an interpreter for an interview, and tell them the date of the interview. Remember, AtW won't arrange for the interpreter. You have to do that yourself.
So you can be prepared, here is what the AtW Adviser will need to know:
Let DeafATW know how this goes. If their are any problems, we will let Stuart know so that it can be sorted out.
Are you making a new application to AtW? If yes, you may want to try a new way of applying online.
20th December 2015
Many people said that they would like to be able to apply for AtW on line. AtW are now testing a system that can do this and would like Deaf and deafblind people to help them test it.
If you want to make a new application, and are interested in trying this, then email ATW.DIGITALFIRSTCONTACT@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK and say that you want to make an online application.
Dan Sumners has written a little more about this on the UKCoD website.
If you do try this, please let DeafATW know what you think. What is it like? Is it good? What improvements do their need to be?
I haven't seen the new system, so it would be really good if you can tell me if DeafATW should recommend it.
You can complain after a reconsideration decision
7th November 2015
If you ask for a reconsideration, when AtW reply they say something like "This decision is final and there is no further review process within Access to work. As your continued dissatisfaction relates to our policy, guidance and the decision we have given you, we are unable to escalate this issue any further on your behalf".
Many Deaf people think this means they can't complain. This is not true. If you think AtW have not assessed your needs properly, or have made mistakes in their decision, etc. then you can complain.
If you aren't sure how to complain, contact DeafATW.
Problems complaining with AtW? Complain to the PHSO
7th November 2015
If you have tried to complain to AtW, but it is taking too long, or not being looked at properly, it may be useful to complain to the PHSO.
Deaf people who have complained to the PHSO have said that it was a really good decision. It was easy to complain, you can contact them by email or phone using SignVideo interpreters, and they investigate really well.
So if you are having problems complaining, contact me for more information about this.
Need two interpreters? Need a note taking support?
7th November 2015
AtW have told many Deaf people that they will not pay for two interpreters for meetings, even though the current AtW Guidance says that two interpreters should be used for meeting of over two hours.
Some Deaf people have also told us that AtW have agreed a budget for using two interpreters for meeting of over two hours.
AtW have also told many Deaf people that they will never pay for notetakers. But a couple of Deaf people have told us that AtW have agreed a budget to pay for note taking support.
So if AtW tell you that they never pay for two interpreters or notetakers, first ask for a reconsideration, then complain.
Minister for Disabled People's response to the petition
7th November 2015
Justin Tomlinson has written a letter in response to the Stop the Changes petition. The letter contains no information that hasn't already been published in other places.
You can either download it as a word document here:
Or read it as a PDF and see Stop the Changes comments on the letter (in BSL and English) here:
Stop the Changes to Access to Work march, and petition hand in to number 10.
27th September 2015
Yesterday was the Stop the Changes to Access to Work march. It was a day of amazing solidarity; AtW users, Deaf, disabled and non-disabled people, interpreters and BSL students, friends, family and allies, DDPOs and unions, working and marching together.
And what people wanted was clear, no limit on aspirations, no cap on AtW. No unnecessary and ill thought out cuts to hours, days, type of support available. No demonising of Deaf and disabled people who want to work.
Instead, a service accessible to Deaf and disabled people, that provides quality support in order that Deaf and disabled people are best able to get, keep, and progress in work.
A march rarely changes anything, but the energy, commitment and solidarity that underpins it. That can bring changes.
See below a few photos from the march.
Nothing to do with AtW. I'm in The Gambia training interpreters and a couple of nurses from 25/8 to 16/9.
If you want to read about it, I've written a blog (with some short videos of GSL), and you can find it here:
Still checking my emails, when wifi allows.
Steering Group for the Market Review of BSL and Communications Provision for People who are Deaf or have Hearing Loss
30th July 2015
NUBSLI have been invited to be part of this review, along with NRCPD, NDCS, ASLI, and government departments, including DWP, Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), Crown Commercial Service (CCS), and Department of Education.
I am attending this group on behalf of NUBSLI.
In the meeting there is one person who uses BSL and BSL/English interpreters, and one person who uses English and Speech to Text reporters.
The Steering Group had a very constructive initial meeting in which the purpose of the review and its outcomes were discussed and agreed upon. These are:
Meeting with Justin Tomlinson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People
13th July 2015
On 13th July Justin Tomlinson met with NUBSLI. Nicky Evans, Jen Smith and I attended representing NUBSLI.
The meeting was very positive, and following that meeting NUBSLI have been invited to meet with DWP officials to discuss specific issues further, to submit case studies illustrating current problems with AtW, including from the employer's perspective, and invited to take part in the BSL Market Review (see above).
Has AtW reduced your package because they say you have underspent?
30th June 2015
Stop the Changes campaign have been contacted by a number of people who have had their hours support reduced because the AtW adviser says they have underspent (not spent all) their budget. Sometimes this seems to be a mistake by the AtW adviser. Sometimes it might be right, but there are obvious reasons why it shouldn't mean your budget is reduced, e.g. sickness.
So, if the AtW adviser tells you that you have underspent your budget:
1) Check is this right. Work out the figures yourself. Tell the adviser and send them your figures if you think they are wrong.
2) Ask the adviser for the numbers they have used, and for the calculation where they worked out you are underspent.
3) If the AtW adviser won't send you these, you can make a Subject Access Request, which means they have to send you the information on your file about you. You can see how to do that here.
4) If you have underspent your budget, but there are good reasons for this, that means it is wrong to reduce your budget, explain that to the Adviser.
E.g. if you used less because you had time off ill, or for recent holidays, or because you were on training and they provided the interpreter, then explain that this doesn't mean that you need less hours each month.
5) If the AtW adviser won't agree with you, you can make a formal reconsideration request to AtW.
6) If the reconsideration request doesn't help, or you have other problems with this, please contact DeafATW.
March for AtW - 11am 26th September 2015
NDCS blog - an excellent summary of the current problems with AtW and the cap
29th June 2015
Click here to read the blog - The government is capping deaf young people’s ambitions and aspirations.
While Deaf and disabled people's AtW is cut, AtW budget is underspent
27th June 2015
Limping Chicken reported that in an article on the Recruiter website they said that:
Speaking at an event in London this morning to promote Disability Confident, a campaign to remove barriers to employment for disabled people, minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson revealed that £3m of last year’s £100m Access to Work budget was unspent.
“There is money available,” said Tomlinson, as he reiterated the government’s commitment to getting 1m more disabled people into work, thereby halving the ‘disability employment gap’.
Additionality Update - AtW are giving people back awards.
10th June 2015
Some people lost their awards or had hours reduced because of something called 'additionality'. (See 5th May update below for more information about 'additionality').
Stuart Edwards, Disability Employment Strategy Policy Adviser from the DWP said that this was a mistake, and AtW would look again at decisions where this happened.
DeafATW has heard from two Deaf people that AtW have looked at their decision again, and given them back their old award. This is really good news.
So if you have had problems with 'additionality' then contact AtW and ask them to reconsider their decision. You can show them this update if they need more information. They may ask you to fill in a special form. Any problems, contact DeafATW.
Stop the Changes campaign posted an update about this from Stuart Edwards on 28th May 2015. Click here to see the Stop the Changes update in BSL and English.
What is says is that:
If you have complained about this to the PHSO, then you can still carry on with this complaint, because the PHSO will look at why this mistake happened, and ask AtW not to make the same mistake again.
Let me know what happens.
Click here for BDA's update on Additionality in BSL and English.
Click here for UKCoD's update on Additionality in English.
Equality analysis for the future of Access to Work (May 2015)
15th May 2015
On 1st May the DWP published online an Equality Analysis (also called an Equality Impact Assessment). Click here to read it. The Independent wrote about it (see 12th May update) and there has been lots of discussion about it.
(1) What is an Equality Analysis and why have AtW done it now?
(2) How the AtW changes may affect you - useful information from the Minister's statement and AtW Equality Analysis.
(3) Issues about the Equality Analysis of AtW.
(1) What is an Equality Analysis and why have AtW done it now?
15th May 2015
The Equality Act 2010 says that there is a Public Sector Equality Duty on service providers. This means that when they are thinking about their services, they should think about whether the way the service is provided (or the rules they use) will make it more difficult for certain groups of people to use that service. They should also think about whether the way the service is provided, or the rules, could affect certain groups of people more badly than others. This is called an Equality Analysis (EA).
The service provider must think ‘protected characteristics’ or ‘protected groups’. This means people with disabilities (including Deaf people), women or men, old or young people, gay or straight, transgender people, and people of different religious faiths.
Mark Harper, who was the Minister for Disability, said that he was planning to make some changes to AtW on 12/3/15. (See Update dated 12/3/15 below for discussion about this). Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, AtW must do an Equality Analysis for those changes. This is what they have done
What does the Equality Analysis look at?
It starts by looking at why they are making changes to AtW.
It then looks at changes that have already been made, some changes that it says will be made, and some ideas for possible changes in the future, and how they may affect protected groups.
AtW chose to look at the impact of the changes under two headings.
‘Value for Money’, which includes:
‘Customer service’, which includes:
When they talk about some of the changes they sometimes quote DWP Select Committee comments, and some comments from Deaf and disabled people.
Click here to read the DWP Equality Analysis.
(2) How the AtW changes may affect you - useful information from the Minister's statement and AtW Equality Analysis
You should read this if:
The new cap (limit) on awards:
From October 2015 AtW awards will be limited to a maximum of £40,800.
This amount of money would pay for 33 weeks’ of full time interpreting at AtW’s maximum rate of £35 per hour (freelance RSLI rate). Less than 33 weeks if you need to use two interpreters sometimes.
The 30-hour guidance:
From April 2015 this has been taken out, and won’t be applied to anyone, Deaf or disabled. This is not needed anymore because of the £40,800 limit.
Being Self Employed:
From October 2015 these rules will change, and if you are self employed or run your own business, AtW will use Universal Credit rules (which are clearer and more reasonable) to check whether you can get AtW. These rules say that:
Traveling abroad for work:
Click here to read the DWP Equality Analysis.
(3) Issues about the AtW's Equality Analysis.
15th May 2015
It is good that DWP have conducted an Equality Analysis (EA). Because some changes will affect different groups of disabled people more than others, it is important that it is done well, and used to help the Minister and DWP make good decisions.
I have considered where some of the problems in this assessment are, and how the EA could be improved.
Employers’ reasonable adjustments:
The EA assumes there is always an employer who could top up support costs. But for self employed people, and people running their own businesses, there is no employer.
The impact of these changes on self-employed people (particularly the £40,800 cap) and their ability to run a viable business is not looked at. This will have the greatest impact on Deaf self-employed people.
The EA says that AtW exists to pay for support above the employers’ ‘’reasonable adjustment’. But then says that they want to expand the scheme cutting the support of those who need the highest cost support. This seems inconsistent with AtW’s stated aims.
It would seem more sensible for AtW to expect employers to pay for lower value awards (half of all awards are for less than £1,000) and instead focus on funding support for people whose access needs are likely to be more than a reasonable adjustment, i.e. people with higher cost access needs.
Central Contracting of BSL interpreters
The EA does not make it clear what they mean by this, but they do mention the proposed National Framework Agreement (NFA) for interpreting (see update 15/1/15 for discussion about the NFA).
If AtW mean the NFA, then it is likely that a few of agencies, probably the bigger spoken language agencies, will be given contracts to provide AtW interpreters, at a fixed price. This price is likely to be quite a lot less than interpreters are currently paid, because the agency will need to make a profit, and still charge less than AtW pay interpreters directly. It's likely that awards will be made based on these lower fees.
This proposal is based on a number of flawed assumptions:
The main way AtW intend to save money is to cap awards, and to limit the fees they pay interpreters. Their analysis shows that this will disproportionately affect Deaf people, but they say that they do not know what effect this will have, so they will ‘monitor’ it. They do not say how or when they will monitor this, or what might make them think again about the cap.
The EA recognises that these changes may affect Deaf people badly. In several places, the EA talks about things that will reduce the negative effect of capping awards and reducing the costs paid for interpreters.
One of these is increasing the use of ‘technology’. But there is no mention of what that technology is, how much it might cost, whether it is suitable to the needs of Deaf people who do not use English, or how it may make having a budget capped below what is needed, ok.
In the same way ‘improved customer service’, ‘personalisation’ and ‘efficiencies’ are noted as things that will help Deaf people cope with a capped budget. However, there is no explanation as to what this might look like, and how or if it will actually help.
Click here to read the DWP Equality Analysis.
Independent newspaper story about AtW
12th May 2015
On 8th May 2015 the Independent newspaper released a story called "DWP releases document on cuts to disabled work access scheme hours after election result".
The original version of this newspaper story implied that the AtW scheme was being cut, and that this was being announced on the day that the Conservatives won the election.
This was not right. On 8th May the DWP released the AtW Equality Impact Assessment. In this impact assessment the DWP look at the impact of the cap on individual budgets. This cap was announced by Mark Harper 12th March 2015.
AtW have not said that the AtW budget is being cut, but that the maximum award for a Deaf or disabled person will be £40,800 (approx). (DeafATW agrees that the cap itself is a problem, and we discuss it on other updates).
The Independent have updated the story now, and corrected the mistake, saying: "An earlier version of this story indicated that the policy had been announced in the hours after the general election result. In fact the impact assessment for the policy was issued in the hours after the general election result, while the policy itself was issued in the run up to the general election in March."
Justin Tomlinson MP is new Minister for Disabled People
12th May 2015
It has just been announced that Justin Thomlinson, MP for North Swindon, has been made Minister for Disabled People, replacing Mark Harper.
We don’t know yet if he will be responsible for AtW, or if it will be the Minister for Employment who will be responsible.
If you want to read more about Justin, you can see his website here. On his website he doesn’t talk about Deaf or disability issues.
You can see how he voted on laws about Equality and Human Rights here, how he voted on Benefits for Those Unemployed Due to Illness or Disability here, how he voted in general here.
I’ll update when we know who will be responsible for AtW.
Have AtW contacted you recently to say they want to sort out your complaint? Is your complaint already being investigated by PHSO?
7th May 2015
When you complain to PHSO, they tell AtW what you are complaining about and ask for information about your case.
Some Deaf people have said that after the PHSO contacted AtW, AtW contacted them offering to resolve their complaint by paying money that is owed and saying sorry.
If this happens to you, and you accept AtW’s offer to resolve your complaint, AtW may tell the PHSO that they should stop their investigation.
AtW may want to stop the PHSO investigating your complaint, because the PHSO will make public the things that AtW have done wrong, and will tell them what they need to do to put it right.
If the PHSO don’t finish investigating your complaint, AtW might not make changes to stop these problems happening to you, or other people, again.
Of course, it is up to you what you want to do if AtW contact you, but DeafATW’s suggestion is:
1) If AtW contact you offering to investigate and resolve your complaint, reply to AtW saying that you want PHSO to finish their investigation.
2) If AtW offer to pay back money they owe you, then you can say “yes please, pay back money that is owed”, but that you consider the complaint unresolved until the PHSO have finished their investigation.
3) Send AtW’s email and your reply to the PHSO.
If you have any questions, contact me
If you have had your AtW award stopped because of additionality, important news below
5th May 2015
What is ‘additionality’? AtW are stopping some Deaf people’s AtW awards because they say that it would cost the employer the same amount to employ a hearing person. AtW says that if a hearing person who cannot sign had the job, then the employer would still need to pay for an interpreter. They sometimes call this ‘additionality’.
[Of course, this ignores the fact that the employer would simply employ a hearing person who could sign, not both a hearing person AND an interpreter.]
This is most likely to have happened to you if you provide a service to Deaf people, for example, as a Learning Support Assistant, Social Worker in a sensory team, Advice Worker, etc.
DWP have told Stop the Changes and UKCoD that ‘additionality’ in deciding people’s AtW awards is being reviewed.
If your award is or has been reduced or stopped because of ‘additionality’ like the example above, then you should contact AtW and tell them that they should look again at your case. Please let me know what happens.
AtW may have stopped your award for similar reasons, but not used the word ‘additionality’. For example, they may have said something like;
AtW also sometimes use the word ‘additionality’ to mean something different. Sometimes they say that the interpreter is doing your job for you.
If your award was stopped or reduced for a similar reason, you should also contact AtW and ask for a review of your case. Let me know about this and what happens.
What to say when you contact AtW
Tell AtW that they have stopped your award because of additionality, and ask them to remove the decision and make a new decision (without using additionality). Show them the email below from DWP. (Click here to download a word version of this information).
If your case is being reconsidered now, contact the reconsideration team and inform them that you have been told that they should be removing any decision about additionality. Show them the email below from DWP.
If you have a complaint with the PHSO, or are about to complain to the PHSO, DeafATW suggests you should still continue with this, even if you get your award back. That is because AtW should not make decisions like this in the first place, and the PHSO can try to find out why this is happening, and help make sure it doesn’t happen again. They can also put right any upset or inconvenience the wrong decision caused you.
The email from DWP and the DWP official’s full work details:
“Thank you for raising the issue around “additional costs” which you brought to me earlier this month. I asked for some time to look into this and I said I would send you an update as soon as possible.
In the short term Access to Work will roll over existing awards that come up for renewal where the scenario presented (i.e. a Deaf person being disadvantaged versus a hearing person, because a hearing person could also potentially sign and thus not need an equal and opposite interpreting intervention) has been refused under the “additional costs” principle.
While we do this we will also identify cases who have been similarly affected and applied for reconsiderations to date, to determine whether this also applies in their cases. This may take a couple more weeks.
Finally while we do this, we will also look at the guidance and see how this principle could be better reflected to aide advisers in interpreting the policy intent.”
Stuart Edwards, Disability Employment Strategy Policy Adviser, Disability & Work Opportunities Division, Health, Disability & Employment Directorate, Department of Work and Pensions.
Plain English version of the email:
1) Stop the Changes and UKCoD told Stuart about the problems Deaf people were having with ‘additionality’. Additionality is the word AtW use when AtW think that if a hearing person was doing the Deaf person’s job, the employer would still need to get an interpreter for the hearing person. Stuart looked at this.
2) AtW are still thinking about this. They want to see how the AtW Guidance can talk about additionality in a way that gives clearer help to AtW Advisers, so that they understand what this is meant to be about.
3) Until they have finished thinking about this, AtW Advisers should not use additionality in making their decision about your award.
4) And if AtW have reduced or stopped your award because of this, then AtW will look at your support again, and decide if a different decision should be made.
DeafATW agrees with Stop the Changes that we should thank Stuart Edwards for listening to the feedback and working on this.
If you have any questions about this, please contact DeafATW.
'Additionality' - another way AtW is stopping Deaf people's support
4th May 2015
Many Deaf people who work in deaf services (e.g. Social Worker in sensory impaired teams, Advice Workers for deaf people, people working in deaf schools, working in deaf mental health services) are now having a new problem with AtW, and having all of their support stopped. This is for a reason AtW call 'additionality'.
This word does not appear in the current AtW guidance, or in any other published information. It seems to mean something like this:
If the service provides support for Deaf people using BSL, and they employed a hearing person who couldn't sign, they would have to employ a BSL interpreter for that hearing person to work with their Deaf service users.
So, if they employ a Deaf person who can sign, and the Deaf person would need interpreting support for less hours than the hearing person who can't sign, then there is no 'additional' (extra) cost to the employer. So AtW won't provide any support to the Deaf person.
Deaf people and employers have tried to explain why this is wrong, including:
1) If they employed a hearing person, they would employ a hearing person who could sign, so they wouldn't need an interpreter.
2) The people they work with (e.g. in a sensory team) are mainly English users, not BSL users, and so a hearing person wouldn't need an interpreter, even if they can't sign.
If you have this problem, and the reconsideration team won't put back your support, complain straight away to the PHSO. (Contact me for advice).
There may be more news about additionality, but I won't know until later in May. So please make sure that you have signed up for updates from DeafATW, so I can tell you if this happens.
Reconsideration advice: Some people have had some success with the reconsideration team in getting their support back. When they wrote the reconsideration request, instead of arguing why the AtW decision was wrong, they sent evidence with full information, explaining about their job and every day work in lots of detail, with a full diary. I can't say if this will help, but it might.
Let me know what happens, and if you are successful.
Updated AtW guidance available now
4th May 2015
Version 25 (April 2015) of AtW's guidance can be found here. Let me know if you see any important changes, or to correct the paragraph numbers I refer to.
Ambition Capped - an excellent blog on the problems with the new cap on AtW budgets
4th may 2015
Tourettes hero has written an excellent blog explaining why the cap is discriminatory and unfair. Click here to read it. (I first read this on the Stop the Changes to AtW page - well worth looking at to keep up to date).
Access to Long-term Unemployment – or Access to Work?
4th May 2015
The organisations below have written a short report on the Government’s Access to Work programme, why it is failing many disabled people, and what can be done so that disabled people can get into work, stay in work and thrive in work. You can download it here. Or from the ADWUK website here.
Action on Disability and Work UK (ADWUK), British Deaf Association (BDA), Disability Rights UK (DRUK), Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP), GRAEAE, South East Network of Disabled People’s Organisations, SPECTRUM, Universal Inclusion / Fluidity.
See Hear Election special - includes questions about AtW
1st April 2015
Click here to watch the See Hear Election special - questions about AtW are asked at the beginning.
Mark Harper says the government will NOT respond to the Select Committee report on AtW before the election
25th March 2015
Mark Harper, Minister for Disability, has sent the DWP Select Committee a letter saying that he will not respond to the Select Committee report on AtW before the election, and so it will be left for the next government to do that. He said this was because there wasn't enough time to respond.
The Select Committee have written back saying they are very disappointed because:
Click here to read Mark Harper's letter, and the Select Committee's response
Deaf Hustings video - MPs answering questions about Access to Work.
Action on Hearing Loss ran a Deaf Hustings event, and the first questions were about AtW. The event has been filmed, and is on YouTube with BSL and subtitles. Please click the link below to see what Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative answers say about AtW.
This hustings was just before Mark Harper announced further changes to AtW, including the cap. See Update below (12/3/15) for more about this.
Click here to watch the video
The MPs were: Mark Harper MP, Conservative, Minister of State for the Disabled People, Kate Green MP, Labour, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Lord (Mike) German, Liberal Democrat, former Deputy First Minister for Wales and Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee for Work and Pensions.
Click here to book your free tickets
If you want to ask the panel a question, then email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Harper says what the next changes to AtW will be
12th March 2015. Updated 18th March 2015 with links to other comments.
Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, has made a written statement to parliament today, saying what changes are planned with AtW. This is not the formal response to the Select Committee, which will come later (after the elections - see update 25th March 2015 above).
Click here to read the statement
There are a couple of really good things in there, some that are mixed, and some that aren’t good at all.
In summary –
Please see below for more discussion of this, which reflects the feedback I've had from Deaf and disabled people.
What looks good:
AtW will offer a Video Relay Service option for BSL users later in 2015/16. Fantastic. Let’s hope this happens very soon.
The “30 hour guidance” will be removed. This is because it is not needed now AtW has a maximum award limit.
AtW will publish summaries of the guidance for users, including in easy read and BSL formats. This should be helpful, especially if it is accessible and up to date.
Changes that could be good or bad:
AtW will offer personal budgets for those with on-going awards for travel or support. This could be brilliant, giving people the flexibility to use the agreed support how and when they need it. However, it will only work if people are given enough money to buy the support they need. For example, if you need interpreting support that costs £30,000 a year, but AtW give you £20,000, you won't be able to get the support you need. AtW will start a process of introducing personal budgets in 2015/16. There will also need to be support to make this work effectively, including; for people to understand their own work support needs, what support options there are, how to manage a personal budget, etc.
A new project is underway to make Access to Work a digital service. If this means there will be more ways to contact AtW, that will be good. But if response times remain the same, that won't help much. It is important that AtW offers users a range of ways to contact them to suit people’s needs.
AtW is working with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) to use their framework agreement for the provision of language (interpreting) services. If the framework says that only interpreters registered with the NRCPD should be used, and if the rates AtW will pay for support vary less between advisers, then the framework would be an improvement.
However the CCS have not worked with interpreters or Deaf people (that we can see) in developing this, and there is a risk that it will bring more problems for Deaf AtW users, in the same way that the ’30-hour guidance’ was a problem. For example, the framework currently pays a 2-hour minimum, and no travel. Most interpreters could not afford to work at those rates, especially in more rural areas.
You can read NUBSLI’s statement on the NFA here.
And the NRCPD’s here.
AtW will work with Deaf people and stakeholder groups to undertake a market review of BSL interpretation provision to explore long-term improvements in the market. It’s hard to know what this means in practice. E.g. it could look at interpreter numbers and regional availability, skills relevant to AtW, NRCPD registration, pathways to registration, fees, etc.
AtW now have a specialist team set up to support Deaf and disabled people running their own businesses. AtW Advisers have been really poor at supporting people running their own business, so having a team that really understands this should help.
Whether this is good or not will depend on how accessible the team are, whether they have a good understanding of the realities of running a business if you are Deaf or disabled, and how good their understanding of different disabilities is. (For example, sometimes the Deaf specialist team doesn’t seem to understand Deafness).
From October 2015 eligibility for AtW support for people running their own business will be based around the Universal Credit (UC) rules. Reading the latest update on UC and self employed people (click here) it appears as if that means for new businesses in the first year there will be no minimum income required, then after that your minimum income will have to be National Minimum Wage for your age group.
Changes that are bad for Deaf and disabled people:
AtW will have a cap on AtW budgets. From October 2015, for new applicants, Access to Work will provide awards up to a limit set at one and half times national average salary (a limit of £40,800 per person per year at October 2015). (This does not mean that the cap will be one and a half times the Deaf person's salary).
Under the ‘30-hour guidance’ the cap was generally between £30,000 and £35,000, so this is a small improvement on that. But it does not return AtW to the needs focus that it had up until 2013, where there was no cap.
This means that people who have high cost work access needs, particularly Deaf people who require close to full time interpreting access, still won't be able to get the support they need. So, for example, a deafblind person who needs full time communication access support and support with travel would not be able to work without a substantial employer contribution.
The minister says that people will be able to adjust to this through use of reasonable adjustments, greater use of technology, and a personal budget to be tailored to the individual’s needs. If those adjustments mean that the budget is not enough to enable the disabled person to fully carry out their role, the employer would be expected to fund any additional costs.
For Deaf and disabled people who run their own companies and for SMEs such additional costs are likely to be unaffordable. This will mean that SMEs and DDPOs (Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations) will no longer be able to employ people with high access costs. And an inadequate personal budget won’t make unaffordable access affordable.
One of the Select Committees biggest criticisms, and strongest recommendations, was that AtW should move away from it’s new budget focus and back to a needs focus. This statement ignores that. Given that the average AtW budget is £3,000 and over half of users need support costing under £1,000, the Minister’s view that limiting high cost awards is the only way to enable AtW to expand makes no sense. Based on its own figures, the scheme could expand massively with only a modest increase in its overall budget.
It is at least good that this change won't affect people who have higher awards until April 2018. Previously when AtW made changes they often happened very quickly, and didn't give people time to plan or challenge the change before it happened.
Things that aren't in this statement but should be:
Improving things for people who have already had problems. A lot of Deaf and disabled people have already been badly affected by changes with AtW. Many have lost their AtW support, (in particular, self employed people), have had their budgets reduced, or had other problems. This written statement doesn't say anything about putting things right for them.
Changing the culture of AtW, and the focus to needs not budgets. There is no commitment in the statement to change the culture, and its focus on budgets, rather than access needs.
Reasonable adjustments and employers contributions. There is no commitment to clarify expectations of employers with regard to reasonable adjustments and contributions, for example, exempting self employed people, DDPOs and SMEs.
And it is a shame that the Minister’s statement itself has not been made available in BSL or easy read.
Other comments include concerns about the mental health support offered, where AtW are offering more of the same service rather than diversifying to meet a wider range of needs, and that AtW will pilot contracted services for taxis (limiting choice).
Click here for the BDA comments on the proposed changes - with BSL
Click here for the Disability News Services comments on the proposed changes. Includes reactions from a wide range of organisations and people.
Click here for Stop the Changes to AtW comments on the proposed changes
Click here for the Business Disability Forum comments
They say some really interesting things. Including that "Introducing a cap on the value of awards also misrepresents the principle behind the scheme, which is designed to be a labour market intervention and not a benefit.
Click here for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) comments
Click here for Action on Hearing Loss's comments
Continuing Engagement to improve AtW
23rd January 2015
Below is the summary of the the meeting between BDA, NDCS, Signature, and Action on Hearing Loss with AtW. You can also click here to read it in on the AoHL website.
Leading deaf stakeholder organisations (BDA, NDCS, Signature and Action on Hearing Loss) continued their engagement with DWP this week, at a further meeting with Access to Work (AtW) Operations and DWP policy officials on Monday.
The meeting was an opportunity to discuss recent developments, including the Ministerial Statement and Work and Pensions Select Committee report, as well as returning to areas of discussion raised at the previous meeting in December 2014.
DWP officials updated on a number of operational changes which have already been implemented, or which are planned to take place in the short-term. These included:
The introduction of email contact was welcomed, although stakeholders highlighted that the requirement for initial contact with AtW to be by telephone still presented a barrier to access. Officials committed to look again at whether there is a way to avoid first contact with the scheme having to be by telephone.
Officials also informed stakeholders that there is a longer-term project planned to update the AtW guidance on a section by section basis, involving stakeholders, to make it clearer.
DWP officials informed stakeholders that consideration is being given to whether the language services framework agreement being developed by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) will apply to support delivered through AtW. Stakeholders are providing feedback to CCS on the framework agreement. At the meeting, stakeholders challenged officials on a number of areas to consider should the framework be applied to AtW, including ensuring that it would provide quality and choice for customers. DWP will provide further information when it is available and stakeholders will continue the dialogue in relation to how DWP might make use of the framework.
The meeting also covered the issue of determining the correct levels of high intensity support, including the potential to pilot increasing personalisation. Stakeholders stressed the importance of avoiding any mechanism which might contribute to people being without adequate support in the workplace.
It was also agreed that stakeholder organisations will engage with the specialist deaf team that has been put in place by AtW Operations, to provide additional deaf awareness training and further information on the perspective of people with hearing loss in employment.
DWP officials confirmed that the Minister will respond to the Work and Pension Select Committee report in early March 2015.
The group will meet again in February to continue discussions.
Good Guardian article about the changes to AtW
Click here for the article - Quiet cuts undermine support for disabled people in the workplace.
Whilst not the focus of DeafATW, it's sometimes useful to remember that the problems Deaf and disabled people face with AtW, are part of a broader government approach to changing and removing their support.
This includes closing down the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the spare room (bedroom) tax, and changes to the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). All of these changes affect Deaf and disabled people, have been made without involving them, and all make it harder, to study, work and live independently. Whilst this happens many of the politicians and newspapers continue to talk about benefits cheats and scroungers.
Hold our politicians to account for this, demand clarity and action from political parties, MPs' and prospective MPs', and vote accordingly.
Click here to read more about one young Deaf person's legal challenge about the changes to DSA.
Proposed National Framework Agreement, and possible implications for AtW
15th January 2015
These notes are based on the meeting that NUBSLI had with AtW earlier this week. The full notes of the meeting are available to NUBSLI members.
In the discussion AtW said they are very interested in adopting the framework agreement for contracting interpreting services, and had some initial thoughts about how they think it might work. These included:
1) Deaf people will be expected to use interpreters supplied by the agencies who have won tenders to provide interpreters in their region.
2) If Deaf people wanted to use different interpreters they would need to make the case for not using one of the agency interpreters.
3) If Deaf people were allowed to use interpreters not supplied by the preferred agency, the maximum rate would be the winning tender equivalent rate per hour / day. (DeafATW comment - this would probably be the case even if agencies have tendered below freelance market rates).
4) At the meeting DWP said that they expect interpreters to work at a lower cost for block (i.e. regular) bookings. (DeafATW comment - for freelance interpreters, where a variety of work is available, block bookings don't bring a significant cost benefit. They do bring an administrative benefit to agencies though).
Whilst not discussed at the meeting, DeafATW has some other questions:
1) If the framework stipulates minimum requirements (registration and qualifications) for provision of interpreters, does that mean that AtW will no longer use CSWs who fall below these requirements.
2) Will succesful tenders be selected on the basis of cheapest tender? Or will they be required to demonstrate that their business model is viable, including that they will be able to book sufficient numbers of appropriately qualified and registered interpreters to meet Deaf people's needs?
3) Will it be possible for local / Deaf led agencies and interpreter co-operatives (etc.) to tender again the contract.
AtW Guidance available online
13th January 2015
Following a question asked at the House of Lords the website address where you can find the AtW Guidance has been given.
Click here for (I assume) the most recent AtW Guidance. Note there is no version number given.
Timeline of changes to AtW
13th January 2015
Problems with AtW provision started almost a year before the restructure in April 2014. Deaf, disabled people and interpreters started to talk to me and others about these problems in late summer/early autumn of 2013.
Whilst many of the current problems were not a result of the restructuring, it has made solving them harder. It has led to delays in casework, and has resulted in advisers being even further removed from those who need this service.
I have created a document that identifies key changes, dated by the first date I have seen email correspondence with AtW demonstrating the change.
Click here to download a copy of the DeafATW Timeline showing emergence of problems with AtW.
Note there is a version of this document which contains excerpts of emails to provide evidence. This version is only available for MPs etc. for confidentiality reasons. Please contact DeafATW if you would like to use this version for campaigning etc.
Mark Harper. Minister for Disabled people - summary of statement.
12th January 2015
This is what Mark Harper’s statement to Parliament on 18/12/2014 says. I’ve re-written it as much as possible to make it clearer. You can also read the original statement here.
When I gave evidence to the Select Committee on 29th October 2014 I said these things:
I also said that I wanted to make more improvements quickly, and not wait. I will make these improvements:
I will also think about what the Select Committee report says, and will respond to that later.
DeafATW asks: Have you been invited to any of these forums? Have you experienced the customer service improvements? Have you been asked to talk about the AtW Guidance? Etc.
If so, let DeafATW know.
Support with AtW applications and complaints.
Updated 12th January 2015
ADWUK is a charity focusing on employment for disabled people. They have a national Advice Service on Disability and Work, which provides a professional advice service for disabled people (and employers) to get information and support on all work-related issues, including specialist advice on applying for and managing Access to Work (AtW) funded support.
They say they can help you with:
* Applying for AtW for the first time
* AtW reviews
* Asking AtW to reconsider decisions
* Through all stages of the complaints process
* And can negotiate support with your employer.
The service is free, and can start supporting you straight away if you need urgent help.
You can email them at ADVICE@adwuk.org. Let them know you are Deaf, and if you prefer to use BSL.
If you ask them for help, let me know if it helps, so I know if I should recommend it to other Deaf people.
Click here for the ADWUK page on AtW.
If you know of any other support for Deaf and disabled people in applying for or complain about AtW, please let me know, and I'll share the information on DeafATW.
DWP agree to publish AtW Guidance.
4 January 2015
The Department of Work and Pensions has agreed to publish their guidance on the Access to Work Scheme (AtW) after receiving a letter before claim from the law firm Leigh Day. The DWP have also confirmed that revised guidance is being produced and published, which they hope to commence by 30 March 2015. The Stop the Changes Campaign took this action.
This probably means that AtW will make the Guidance available online so anyone can access it. But this hasn't happened yet.
Click here for the full information.
DWP Select Committee - discussion, what you can do now, and links.
20 December 2014
The DWP Select Committee has published their report on AtW. It's a very good report. The select committee have understood the problems that Deaf and disabled people had with AtW. Their report clearly explains those problems, makes helpful recommendations, and asks the government to provide evidence about what they say they are doing and say they will do.
If you sent evidence to the Select Committee, helped other people to send evidence, gave evidence at the oral sessions, or in other ways worked with the Select Committee to help them understand the issues, then you should feel proud. Your evidence had a big impact and helped them get this right. Take a few minutes to appreciate that we can sometimes make a difference.
Below you'll find useful links to the Select Committee report in English, BSL and Easy Read. Easy Read is written in very plain English with pictures. If you want a quick summary of the main issues and recommendations, I think it's really useful.
What Mark Harper, the Minister for Disabled people, has said:
When Mark Harper, gave evidence to the Select Committee, he accepted there had been some problems, and said that he wanted to start making changes to improve things as soon as possible.
Because Parliament breaks for Xmas, he issued a statement 18/12/14 saying what improvements AtW have made, and plan to make, and that he will look at and respond to the Select Committee's report. Whilst this statement was made just before the Select Committee report was published, it is likely to be at least a partial response to it.
There will be a formal response to the Select Committee report probably by the end of February. It may or may not say more about what the DWP will do in response to the Select Committee report.
Are things getting better?
Feedback to DeafATW is that whilst some Deaf people are getting better support from AtW, for other Deaf people there are still big problems with AtW, especially for self employed Deaf people. We will need to see if the other changes help.
What will happen now?
The Government doesn’t have to do what the Select Committee recommends. It is likely they will accept some recommendations and not others. But even if they accept some recommendations, they don't always do what they say they will do.
Stop the Changes, NUBSLI, UKCoD, and the BDA all have made statements in response to the Select Committee report, and Minister's statement, and all will continue to campaign for AtW to improve. Links to these are all below.
What can you do?
1) If you are still having problems with your AtW, or are an interpreter and are still owed money, etc. then complain to the PHSO now. PHSO are investigating complaints about AtW now, and their findings may cause AtW to make changes. It's harder for AtW to ignore the PHSO's recommendations than it is is for them to ignore the Select Committee. More information the DeafATW PHSO page.
Also, the Select Committee recommendations may help AtW customers in general, but if you want your problems with AtW to be sorted out, go to the PHSO.
2) Join Stop the Changes and NUBSLI. The more people they represent, the stronger they can campaign on our behalf. As a member you can also talk with them about what you think they should do.
3) Talk to UKCoD, the BDA, Action on Hearing Loss, etc. to make sure they know what is happening with AtW, what you want them to do and say to government.
4) Talk to your MP. Tell everyone else to talk to their MP. The election is coming up soon, and MPs care about your vote. Tell them that you will be voting for the party that agrees to implement the Select Committee recommendations in full, and properly supports Deaf and disabled people to work. Let’s make it an issue fro Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens and all.
If you have any more suggestions, let me know and I'll add them here.
Click the links below:
DWP Select Committee page, with their press release about the report, and links to the report in different formats.
DWP Select Committee report summary in BSL.
DWP Select Committee report summary in Easy Read.
DWP Select Committee full report in English PDF
DWP Select Committee full report in English on their website.
Mark Harper's statement about what changes AtW are planning to make.
Stop the Changes discussion of the report. They pick up on the wider disability issues too.
NUBSLI (National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters) discussion of the report.
Limping Chicken blog - on the Select Committee report in BSL and English.
Limping Chicken blog - responses to the report from: Mark Harper, David Buxton (as Chair of UKCoD AtW working group), and Jim Edwards (CEO of Signature).
BDA response to Select Committee report and Mark Harper's statement in BSL and English.
Action on Disability & Work UK (ADWUK) response to the Select Committee Report. They would have liked the report to say how Disabled People's User Led Organisations could help with AtW.
UKCoD response to Mark Harper's statement.
FoI response re the current Reconsideration process, and how it interacts with the Complaints process
28 October 2014
This information has be added to the How to Complain page.
This is an edited version of their response. You can read the full response by clicking on the link at the bottom.
DeafATW's explanation of the problem:
This FoI request concerns the current AtW Reconsideration process. Recently a number of Deaf AtW users have had responses from the Reconsideration Panel that say “following the Reconsideration Panel decision, no further request for Reconsideration is possible”.
This is not in line with the Reconsideration process as described in Appendix 5 of the current AtW Guidance, where customers may ask for a Review 4 times before approaching ICE.
It is also not clear from the Guidance how the Reconsideration process sits alongside the current complaints process.
So, can I ask for all written information at AtW / DWP re the following questions. If there is no written information, please confirm that, and in your reply answer the questions.
I have checked the current AtW Guidance, previous FoI requests and responses, and searched the DWP website, and this is not available there.
Questions and responses below:
1) DeafAtW's question: What is the current Reconsideration process?
AtW's response: The AtW guidance relating to reconsiderations is currently under review and will be updated in the near future.
The current process is as follows:
• When a customer receives a decision letter outlining their approved support they are also informed of the reconsideration process. A customer has 28 days from the date of the letter to
contact the reconsideration team.
• The request is allocated to an adviser on the reconsideration team who will look at the original decision again, taking account of any additional information provided.
• The customer is advised of the decision in writing.
• If the customer remains dissatisfied with the decision they cannot ask for another reconsideration but can ask for the reconsideration team manager to conduct a review.
• The manager reviews both the original decision and the reconsideration decision and decides whether it should be upheld, partially upheld or overturned.
• The customer is informed of this decision in writing.
2) DeafATW's question: If customers are not satisfied with a decision from the Reconsideration Panel, what is the process for customers re further Reconsideration and/or
AtW's response: Once the customer has had a reconsideration decision and a review by the manager this is the end of the process. The decision stands unless there is a change in the persons circumstances.
3) DeafATW's question: How do the Reconsideration Process and Complaints Process sit along side and interact with each?
For example, if customers are unhappy with the way a decision is made and/or the decision itself, should they ask for a Reconsideration, and Complain at the same time? Or should they ask for a Reconsideration, and, if that is not successful, make a complaint beginning at Tier 1 or Tier 2 of the Complaints process?
AtW's response: The reconsideration process and the complaints process are two
separate entities. The reconsideration process applies to decisions and the complaints process applies to other aspects of our service delivery as explained in the answer to FOI 3293. If a customer is unhappy with a decision they should request a reconsideration or, for example, if they are unhappy with the service they received they should complain. Once the reconsideration process is complete a customer cannot make a complaint about the decision at tier one or two.
Click here for the full FoI question and response on Whatdotheyknow.com
Sunday Express article on impact of AtW changes on disabled actress and businesswoman
14th October 2014
Julie Fernandez (who gave evidence at the Select Committee) talks about the impact of the changes on her work and health.
Click here to read article
New FoI requests from DeafATW - will update when have replies
8th October 2014
1) What information does AtW / DWP require from Deaf AtW users and from Communication Service Providers who are engaged to work with Deaf AtW users?
2) What are the eligibility requirements for AtW customers who are self-employed or employed by their own limited company, and what information are customers given?
Deaf Communication Marketplace round table (25/9/14)
8th October 2014
The people from the DWP who were at this meeting, and who are involved in the internal review, seemed to be bright, and were listening to the problems, and suggested solutions. Whether that means this meeting was useful, will influence anything, I don't know. Equally I don't know what is likely to come out of the internal review.
Click here to read the paper I presented at the forum.
DeafAtW.com updated with new complaints procedure on How to Complain page, and PHSO main page
1st October 2014
PHSO is now a main page on DeafATW. Some of the people I've supported to complain have had their complaints accepted for investigation. So NOW is a really good time to complain to the PHSO if you've been thinking about it.
The Select Committee inquiry page is now under the Campaign page.
Please contact me if any links don't work, or information is out of date.
The DWP Review into AtW – Internal Review now underway
22nd September 2014
Mike Penning was the Minister for Disabled People, and was responsible for the AtW scheme. 10th June 2014, following feedback from AtW users and UKCoD members, he said that they will “look into AtW, focusing on how we can support more disabled people and further improve customer service”, and that “30-hour guidance for new claimants” would be suspended.
Responsibility for AtW is now with the Minister of Employment, currently Esther McVey.
Whilst I can’t find any public announcement from DWP or AtW about this, AtW / DWP are now undertaking an internal review. I don’t know when it started, or in any detail what they intend to look at. The only information I can find publically is a short statement about the internal review on the UKCoD website:
“The DWP will be talking to stakeholders in September. That will help them develop a set of measures to suggest to the Minister. The Minister will the decide what to do next, including if there will be any more engagement. … We don’t expect the Minister to make any decisions or an announcement before” the Select Committee publishes its’ finding and recommendations. (From the UKCoD website).
However I understand that they are having at least three meetings with stakeholders as part of the internal review.
AtW Internal Review Stakeholder Workshops.
I understand there are two of these planned, one in London 4/9/14, and a second had or planned at another date / location. Participation was through invitation only and included key stakeholders: users, charities, advisers, and employers.
The stated aims for the meeting were to:
· Consider what changes may be needed to AtW to enable it to continue to support more disabled people.
· Discuss resources, value for money, new technology, the role of employers, high value awards, travel and customer service.
I don't have any information about who actually attended, or what was discussed.
If you were involved, and feel it is appropriate to say more about these meetings, please let me know, and I will share the information.
Deaf communication marketplace roundtable.
Taking place 25/9/14, this has been organised by the Business Disability Forum, and is intended for invited key stakeholder’s, including DWP and AtW officials, employers, Deaf service users and experts, and leading suppliers of Deaf communication services.
I will be attending and I’ve been asked to do a 15 minute presentation from “The Multi-Stakeholder Point of View”. I shall be trying to reflect key aspects of the views and experiences of Deaf AtW users, communication professionals, agencies, and employers. I know there’s not much time, but please contact me if there are particular things you think I should be discussing.
At the moment I understand that whilst it is not confidential that this meeting is taking pace, what is discussed on the day will be, to ensure that people can have an open and honest discussion.
I agree that this is important, but also think that informing stakeholders of what is happening with the review is important. So I will check what feedback I can post to DeafAtW about the event and Internal Review.
Self-Employed Deaf AtW users being stopped AtW support (also read if you work for your own limited company)
21 September 2014
Recently I have heard from a number of Self-Employed Deaf people who have been contacted by AtW telling them that they are not eligible for AtW support. They normally give one or two reasons:
1) Because you aren’t earning the minimum wage.
2) Because you aren’t making NI Class 2 and/or Class 4 contributions.
Some people have had their AtW support stopped, and at least one told they would need to repay the AtW support they had received.
It is strange that this is happening, because in the AtW Guidance on self-employment it seems clear that neither of these reasons are right. (Below you can download the relevant sections on employment and self-employment).
Earning the minimum wage: In the AtW Guidance this is only required if you are employed. For self employed people “41. There is no requirement for a self-employed customer’s business to be profitable within a specified timescale. Their business must have a history of, or a reasonable prospect of generating income, but there is no lower limit on that income.” (Guidance v 24)
It’s even more puzzling that they are still saying this to people when at least one person who had their AtW support stopped for this reason was told by the Reconsideration panel that this was a mistake, and that they were eligible for AtW support.
Paying Class 2 or 4 NI contributions: AtW Guidance mentions this in several places re self-employed people. First, as one of three possible reasons to consider someone self-employed (“1 - operating a business either on the customer’s own account or in partnership, or working for an employer on a self-employed contractual basis; 2 - operating a franchised business on a self-employed basis; 3 - paying Class II National Insurance contributions”. It is clear that not all of these conditions can be required, e.g. 1 & 2 wouldn’t both be true at the same time.
Later it is described as one of the checks of self-employment – “for Access to Work purposes, all applicants who state they are self employed must provide proof of self-employment. This may be in the form of: a National Insurance bill (or other correspondence) for Class 2 NICs from HM Revenue and Customs”
It makes sense that NI class 2 or 4 contributions wouldn’t be required, as you only pay them if you earn above a certain amount, and there isn’t a requirement for you to do that.
If this happens to you, then you can explain this to the adviser, and Reconsideration panel.
If AtW don’t listen to this, and/or if AtW are telling you that you have to pay them money back because of this, please complain and contact DeafATW for further suggestions and support.
Working for your own limited company:
If you work for your own limited company, you may think you are simply self-employed. But the AtW Guidance says "If the applicant is employed by a company that they themselves own, but draw a salary taxed at source and pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions, they are employed not self-employed. If they pay Class 2 or Class 4 they are self-employed."
If you are unsure whether you are considered self-employed or employed by AtW, you should contact them to check.
If you are considered as employed, then in order to qualify for AtW support you must pay yourself at least the minimum wage.
If you didn't realise this, and AtW did not tell you that you had to earn the National Minimum Wage, then AtW should act in good faith an allow you to put it right, i.e. start paying yourself the National Minimum Wage. If they don't act in good faith, and did not give you the information you needed to understand what you had to do, then complain, and contact DeafATW.
FoI about CSWs (Communication Support Workers)
21 September 2014 & 1 October 2014
AtW have responded to my two FoI recess about guidance for AtW Advisers about using CSWs. (Their first response wasn't what I had asked for).
They have said that they have no written material about CSWs to support AtW Advisers in understanding what a CSW is, what they can and can’t do, or how to decide what percentage of hours awarded should be funded for interpreting and CSW support. Instead AtW say that experienced AtW Advisers verbally give them all the information they need.
This is quoted from their response: “Access to Work does not have training material in relation to Communication Support Workers or any written documentation that we are able to provide.
The Access to Work Advisers are provided with an explanation and overview from experienced advisers on how to assess the customers requirements and the options that are available to enable customers to overcome the disability related barriers they face in the work place.
Access to Work delivers a tailored package to each individual. Once agreed if the package does not meet customers’ needs it is the responsibility of the customer to inform Access to Work of this at which stage we would review the package of support and make adjustments if appropriate.”
If you, or someone you know, have been told by AtW they have to have all or part of their communication support using a CSW, then please contact me.
1 October 2014
Following the Business Disability Forum Deaf Communication Marketplace roundtable I have written and sent the DWP an explanation of some of the issues about working with CSWs. This was not requested, but has been sent in case it helps. Find attached below. The information in it may also help you if you need to ask for a reconsideration or need to complain.
Updated AtW Complaints process
The original information has been moved to the Updates archive, as it is more useful now to look at the DeafATW Complain page.
FoI request about the AtW Complaints Procedure (also Update re Reconsideration process)
21 September 2014
You can read the FoI question and response in full though the links below.
Their response says that the full and only information for customers about their complaints process, is as described in their leaflet "Access to Work - Information for Customers". I've copied the relevant section below:
"How do I complain about things?
We will aim to resolve any queries or problems at the point of contact. Where this is not possible we will escalate your concerns and/or complaint accordingly for further investigation. Where appropriate you will be notified of the outcome. You should write to your adviser or Access to Work regional manager."
The information given to customers about their complaints procedure does not say anything about the process, timescales, outcomes, or that if you have complained to AtW and are still not happy, you can complain to ICE and then the PHSO.
In the response to my FoI request they also say:
Re "Complaints correspondence and resolution timescales.
Initial complaints made by phone, email or telephone to an adviser or manager are dealt with as a priority. If the complaint is not resolved at this level by the adviser or adviser manager, the complaint is passed to a dedicated ‘Complaints Resolution Manager’ (CRM), who deals with the complaint as a Tier 1 complaint. CRMs have been trained to investigate and resolve complaints, and will deal with all telephone and face-to-face complaints that cannot be resolved by the front-line. The CRM will aim to resolve the complaint within 15 working days.
If the complainant still remains dissatisfied they will be advised that they can escalate their complaint to Tier 2, to the Director General of Operations for the Department for Work and Pensions or a DWP Director on his behalf."
They also say that call centre staff are able to log and capture complaints through letter, email or telephone.
If AtW do not deal with your complaint in this way, show them their response to the FoI request.
The AtW Complaints process, and their Reconsideration process, has been updated on the DeafATW Complain page.
Click here to download the AtW Customer Journey - Making a Complaint, Appendix 1 in their response
Click her to download the AtW Customer Leaflet, Appendix 2 in their response
AtW Advisers asking you to give them the NI numbers of the interpreters you use - is it legal for you to give them this information?
21 September 2014
AtW have been asking for the NI numbers of the interpreters Deaf AtW users people book. They explain that this is for “internal audit purposes”.
However, the Data Protection Act limits the scope of information that can be collected from individuals to that which is proportionate and necessary.
It won't be clear in terms of NI records whether any particular invoice has been paid to any particular interpreter, and those who work under the framework of their own limited company will have different arrangements.
So I can’t see how collecting this information and handling is proportionate and necessary. If it isn’t necessary it could put you in breach of the Data Protection Act.
If you are asked to supply NI numbers, and other similar data about the interpreters you use, it may be worth explaining this to the AtW Adviser, and asking them to advise you on this issue.
Please let Deaf AtW know how they respond.
AtW Advisers asking to see qualifications of the communication professionals you use - NRCPD response and letter you can download
21 September 2014 (posted on NRCPD site 19 August 2014)
This information has been copied from the NRCPD site.
"NRCPD has been told Access to Work advisers are asking to see the qualifications of communication professionals. In particular, they are asking for confirmation they have a level 6 qualification.
As well as being an unnecessary administrative burden, not all registrants have a level 6 qualification. That may be because they registered when a level 6 qualification wasn't required. Or it may be because a level 6 qualification isn't required for that register.
We have explained this to Access to Work. We have also said there is no need to check the qualifications of NRCPD registered communication professionals. Their fitness to practise is guaranteed by their registration.
If an adviser asks to see your qualifications or the qualifications of a communication professional you are supplying, please feel free to use this template letter."
Click to go to the NRCPD page. There is more information there about this. You can download the template letter below, or from their page.
Click here to download the NRCPD's template letter (a letter ready for you to add your name and address and send to your AtW Adviser)
Update on reviews for DeafATW users already affected by the 30 hour rule
When the Minister for Disability met with UKCoD, as well as talking about the review of AtW overall, and suspending the ‘30-hour guidance’ for new AtW applicants, he also mentioned that there would be reviews for AtW users who had been negatively affected by the ‘30-hour guidance’. This last part wasn’t repeated in the announcement of the review to parliament.
However Deaf AtW users understood that they could be reviewed, and believed that this review would look at the negative impact of the changes to them, e.g. in reduced budgets, reduced hours, etc.
However feedback from Deaf AtW users is that this is not how the reviews are being done.
Instead the reviews are being done as ‘business-as-usual’ reviews, i.e. assuming that the level and nature of support being received are ok, and that the only reason to change anything through the review is if something has changed about the support you need. E.g. if your employer has agreed to part fund your support until the problems with AtW are sorted out, then AtW in the review are saying that as your employer is part funding as they should be, there’s no need to make a change.
Many Deaf people feel that given what the Minister said at the UKCoD meeting, that they were told a special team would be looking at their reviews, and that the 30-hour guidance is being suspended for new applicants, it was implicit that this would be a review specifically looking at, and hopefully addressing at least some, of the negative impact of the 30-hour guidance on them. This appears not to be the case.
If you have had a different (positive) experience, please let DeafATW know.
19th September 2014
My mum, Lydia Handscomb, died 24th August. Most of you won't know her, but it would be fair to say that without her, there wouldn't be this website. It's her bloody mindedness and sense of fairness that I've inherited, and that fuel this site. If you did want to know more about her, download below. I'll catch up with AtW Updates as soon as I can.
Blog from business woman with brittle bone disease about the impact of changes to AtW
Guardian article on impact of AtW changes on Jenny Sealey and Graea theatre
31 July 2014
Click here for the Guardian article
What AtW Guidance v24 says about being self-employed, travel, etc. Download below:
30 July 2014
Below you'll find the information about different things to do with Communication Support taken from AtW Guidance V 24. Key information is highlighted. This should make it easier to challenge AtW Advisers and ask for Reconsideration if you have been told something that clearly is different from the Guidance.
1) Guidance on being Employed or Self Employed
2) Guidance on Communication Support for Interviews
3) Payment for cancelled Communication Support
4) Reconsideration / Review process. Also sometimes referred to as complaint process.
5) Guidance about funding Communication Support, Equality Act, and contacting employers.
6) Guidance about how to decide skills and experience needed of interpreters.
7) Guidance around using NoteTakers Lipspeaker Palantypist
8) Guidance on Working abroad
Freedom of Information Requests (FoI)
28 July 2014
I've summarised 6 FoI requests to the DWP about AtW and Deaf people. Four are already in the public domain, and can be found at whatdotheyknow.com (try searching for AtW BSL or AtW Deaf), and two have been sent to me directly.
I also have two FoI requests on whatdotheyknow.com, the first concerning the AtW complaints procedure, the second to do with AtW's guidance re Communication Support Workers (CSWs). Once I have a response I will update the summary.
Laura McInerney is a fantastic education writer who has written a really good blog "8 Easy Steps to Completing a Freedom of Information Request".
If you're thinking of making an FoI request, really worth reading this blog and the DeafATW summary.
Mark Harper MP replaces Mike Penning MP as Minister for Disabled People
28 July 2014
Following Cameron's reshuffle of Mark Harper MP has replaced Mike Penning MP as Minister for Disabled People. He is also Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions.
It's not clear yet what impact this will have on the promised DWP review of AtW.
Evidence to the Select Committee is now published online
5 July 2014
If you have time, it's worth looking at the submissions. They are a good reflection of the kinds of issues that prompted me to set up this website.
The DWP have also submitted evidence. Download DWP's evidence below.
DWP Select Committee Evidence now published online - well done all of us!
3rd July 2014
Submissions accepted as evidence are now published on line. There's a broad spread of Deaf people, organisations, businesses, interpreters, etc.
The Select Committee has received around 300 submissions. We should feel really proud of this. It’s rare for this Select Committee to get so many submissions from the public.
The fact that so many of us have sent our experiences is really good, as the Select Committee will understand that these problems are happening a lot, and how they affect people, and so are likely to take that into account in discussions, and when making recommendations.
Every submission has been read by Select Committee staff.
As you can see on the Select Committee website, most of these submissions have been accepted as evidence.
The rest have been accepted as background material. All of these will be put into a single document, and will be circulated to all members of the committee for them to read. But they won’t be published.
There are two main reasons that submissions may have been taken as background material and not evidence:
1) They included the names and/or email addresses of AtW / DWP staff. It isn’t felt to be appropriate to publish these in evidence.
2) Some evidence is very similar to other evidence. This is not surprising, because many of us have had similar experiences. It doesn’t help the Select Committee to have several pieces of evidence that are very, very similar.
History of AtW and legal context to challenges
2nd July 2014
Rob Wilkes in a recent blog (BSL and English) has looked at the history of AtW, and some of the possible areas of challenge. As well as complaining, and the PHSO, Rob explains how you may be able to challenge using: Judicial review, Discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, Human Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Really interesting.
Ministerial Statement re 'looking at' AtW - and reminder to get your evidence in to the Select Committee.
10th June 2014
The Minister's Statement re the 'review' was made today. I've copied two key passages below.
"I want to continue to build on this success so that Access to Work can support more claimants per year. That is why I have asked that over a three month period, we now look into Access to Work, focusing on how we can support more disabled people and further improve customer service. I will set out further details on next steps shortly."
In other words, it doesn't say anything at all about what this will be, it doesn't even say if it is a review. Will it be external or internal, will it take your evidence or any evidence, who will run it, what will it look at? We don't know yet, and don't know when we will know.
So everyone affected (interpreters, Deaf people, employers) REALLY needs to provide evidence to the DWP Select Committee inquiry on AtW, because this may be your only chance.
The date for most people to submit is Friday week, 20th June !!!
The date for people with access issues stemming from literacy issues is Friday 18th July 2014.
"Whilst we undertake this work I am also suspending Access to Work’s 30-hour guidance for new claimants. This operational guidance stated that if a Support Worker is required full-time, for example 30 hours or more a week, Access to Work will normally provide funding on the basis of an annual salary rather than a freelance rate. Having listened to concerns about its practical effect, notably on the ability of some deaf customers to source appropriate British Sign Language support, this guidance will not be applied to new cases pending the completion of this work."
It's good that new applicants won't have the 30 hour guidance imposed on them, but this statement doesn't mention the review for people who already have had this imposed. See below for what's happening with those reviews.
The new AtW Call Centre - warning
2 June 2014
After the restructure, when you call AtW, you will normally talk to call centre staff.
They can be really helpful, but all they can do is look at your file, or pass a message on to an AtW Adviser. They don't seem to be able to make decisions.
Sometimes if you ask want to talk about a problem with them it sounds like they are answering your question, or saying no to you, or there is nothing you can do, but all they are really doing is reading what it says in your letter or file.
So it is important, if you want to sort something out, or want to complain, make sure the call centre staff pass a message on to an AtW Adviser or manager to call you back.
Minister for Disabled people announces review of impact of AtW on Deaf people and suspends 30 hour 'rule' for the duration of the review
15 May 2014
"The Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP, has today announced a review of the impact of Access to Work on deaf people.
The three month review will take place over the summer and involve key organisations working with and for deaf people. We hope that Deaf people, employers and interpreters will be able to submit evidence directly to the DWP Review, as well as through organisations. If you agree, contact UKCoD, BDA, AoHL etc, and ask them to tell the Minister that this is what you need.
In a meeting with representatives of the UK Council on Deafness, the Minister also suspended the rule that has restricted deaf people’s access to communication support such as sign language interpreters.
The ’30 hour rule’ will not be applied to any new claims to Access to Work during the review. And anyone whose support was reduced due to the application of the rule can have it reviewed."
But it is only a 3 month suspension of the 30 hour 'rule' for Deaf people. One way to see if they mean what they say is to watch and see how quickly AtW process reviews for people already negatively affected by the 30 hour 'rule'.
If you've been affected by the 30 hour review, continue with your complaint as it probably is about more than just this issue, put the minister's statement to the test, and contact AtW asap to ask them to review you AtW package in light of the minister's announcement today. I'd also ask them what the time scale is for the review.
Let us know how this new review goes, and whether AtW attitudes have changed. If you want to remain anonymous, contact me at DeafATW.com and I'll do it for you.
However in the short term this doesn't address all the other issues, the bullying, back dating of changes, arbitrary restrictions, etc.
It is also really important that Deaf AtW users contribute to the Select Committee inquiry, and the AtW inquiry. This isn't the war won, but maybe a battle of strategic importance, if we can take advantage of it.
We'll also need to wait to see if this is a meaningful review, genuinely looking at Deaf people's work needs, and involving Deaf AtW users appropriately, or just a stalling for time strategy.
Information about the Review here - on the UKCoD website - in English only so far
Statement following meeting with DWP
17 March 2014
Action Deafness, Action on Hearing Loss, British Deaf Association, NDCS, RAD, Sense and Signature met with DWP Access to Work Senior management this week to discuss concerns over the 30 hours rule and salaried interpreters which has greatly affected many deaf professionals in the past few months.
This followed correspondence where the organisations had stated in the strongest terms their concerns about the impact of the policy on deaf and deafblind people, the lack of consultation or proper impact assessment. After a constructive meeting we agreed to summarise our remaining concerns so that they can respond.
We believe we have given the Access to Work team a good insight and suggested solutions for a way forward to ensure that deaf and deaf blind people can stay in employment with the appropriate support.
Access to Work representatives acknowledged the impact this policy was having on deaf and deafblind people in employment. At the end of the meeting, the Access to Work Team said they valued our input and agreed to go away and consider their position in the light of the conversation as well as continuing the dialogue with a follow up meeting in April.