Action on Hearing Loss has welcomed a recent announcement by the Government that the limit on awards made under the Access to Work scheme will rise from £42,100 to £57,200 in April. This change is the result of a coordinated campaign from a number of organisations and, whilst we remain concerned about the impact of the cap, the increase is an improvement that will have an immediate benefit for many scheme users. .
Access to Work (AtW) is a government scheme that offers support in the workplace for people who are disabled or have a health condition by providing funding to cover the cost of practical support and specialist equipment.. For people who are deaf or have hearing loss, AtW grants can cover the cost of interpreters or other communication support, or provide equipment such as an amplified telephone or personal listening device.
The scheme is vital for enabling people to fulfill their employment potential and we’ve been working with other organisations through the UK Council on Deafness (UKCoD)to ensure the scheme delivers for deaf people and people with hearing loss. The scheme supports around 25,000 people each year, just over 3,000 of whom are deaf or have a hearing loss.
The Government has announced a number of changes to the scheme, the most significant of which is raising the cap on annual award limits from April 2018 to £57,200 (double annual earnings) up from £42,100 (1.5 annual earnings).
The introduction of the cap in 2015 was met with disappointment by scheme users and organisations because it was seen as a measure that could harm the career prospects of deaf people who use British Sign Language by restricting the funding available for interpreters. Since its introduction, UKCoD has been working with AtW officials to monitor how the cap has affected people at work.
The announcement to raise the cap is certainly a positive step in the right direction, and will mean that many more people will no longer face restrictions that impact their ability to carry out their jobs. This change will, as one user affected by the cap said to us, ‘save careers overnight’.
Whilst we welcome the increase in the limit on annual awards we share and appreciate the anxiety that the continued use of a cap will have. We will continue to raise these concerns to the Government and we welcome any evidence of the impact that the new cap is having on the aspirations and careers of deaf people.
Other changes announced to the scheme included:
- Extra support to customers with high-value awards through automatic workplace assessments.
- The introduction of managed personal budgets.
- Continued investment in digital service improvements including online invoicing.
We are committed to working with the government to ensure the scheme works as well as it can, and also want to see wider reforms and improvements to the scheme. This will include better customer service standards for deaf clients, portable awards and improvements in the ability of assessors to recommend new solutions and technologies.
Action on Hearing Loss worked through the UK Council on Deafness and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness to secure the change to AtW award limits.Read the full AtW announcement here.