“If the need is there, why not support?” Former adviser talks about changes to Access to Work

Posted on February 13, 2015

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The Access to Work scheme, which gives support to deaf and disabled employees at work, has been in crisis, with many recipients losing support they depend on. Recently, a former Access to Work adviser started commenting on a few posts on this site. We struck up a dialogue with him and asked him for an interview about the changes he saw happen to the scheme. He asked to remain anonymous. Here it is.

What did your job involve?

Working on new, and review allocation cases from Access to Work applications,and quarterly reviews and annual reviews.

What would you generally deal with, when it came to deaf customers?

Most support to deaf customers came in the form of interpreters. This involved assessing need and hours required to support the job the employee was undertaking.

This was a difficult role, but satisfying. It required me assessing the time an interpreter was required and what alternatives could be offered to assist the employee, such as software and hardware.

What was the service like when you worked for Access to Work?

When I started in 2008 the job was always busy but manageable, and we dealt with all customer groups. I can’t remember the date this changed, but the Sensory loss customers were redirected on application to specialist teams.

This was sold to us as a chance to give the best service using specialist advisers ,with the skills and knowledge to work with customers with hearing and sight loss. It became apparent as time went by that costs were construed to be to high for the support we covered – such as interpreters and support workers.

Whilst this change occurred the adviser teams without sensory loss customers found their workload increased.

When did things change?

When the sensory loss teams had been in place for a while it was suggested that there were other options to using interpreters. Hardware was suggested as a way of maintaining communication.

It became apparent that levels of interpreter support and costs varied greatly. There was a push to rationalise this by finding a fixed figure that could be applied to all interpreters of a standard. This is when the number of hours of support were questioned and hours and costs capped accordingly.

Why did you leave?

In December 2013 it was announced that three sites would be utilised in Harrow, Halifax and a further North East London site to take all applications from April 2014.

At this point our jobs were taken from us with two options. Either take a severance package or look for another job with the DWP. I found myself in sleepy Dorset without a job and no others readily on the table. I was also disenchanted with the Department ,and felt after 33 years that it was time to leave.

The rationale for the changes was to streamline the service ,improve communication, and support line managers roles better. As we were 120 advisers throughout the country, it was not perceived an efficient use of AtW resource.

How do you perceive the changes that have happened since?

In the last 6 months it was obvious to us that the service and its support was being tightened. Most applications were heavily scrutinised with multiple questions being asked of every application.

The decision based on overall adviser discretion had gone. Cases which to me offered great flexibility to support customers, were often turned down.

From my observations from outside the DWP, the service is somewhat poorer. I hope it improves, but I feel that the budget will be squeezed in the name of austerity, and that the severer the disability, and personal need, the less support may be offered due to cost commitments.

What do you think about this?

To me the service and reputation will falter if costs are a criteria of support. If the need is there, and the support makes sense,  then why not support?

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The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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