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Access to Work is a little-known government program that helps disabled people or people with long-term health conditions keep in work. It helps fund equipment or services that make it easier for you to stay in work – and both freelancers and employers can apply.

What is access to work?

Access to work can help you fund a support agent

The government wants to help people with disabilities and long-term health conditions stay in work. Sometimes this means that you need special equipment or support services to make sure you can get on with your work.

For example, people with chronic back pain could benefit from a special ergonomic chair. The blind may need text-to-speech software or an assistant, while the deaf may benefit from sign language interpreters.

All of these specialized services, software and devices cost a lot of money. Since disabled people usually earn less than able-bodied people anyway, it makes no sense to ask them to pay the bill for these adjustments. The government recognizes the benefits that people with disabilities or those with chronic illnesses can bring to businesses and the economy. The Access to Work program therefore helps them to find work or to stay there.

Who is Eligible?

You must have a health condition or disability that affects your job. Both physical and mental illnesses are eligible.

The program is aimed at people based in England, Scotland and Wales. There is a different program for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, this does not apply to residents of the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

You must be over the age of 16 and either already working, returning to work or about to start work (this includes self-employment). For those starting out as a freelancer, work involves activities to find your first customers – once you're in business rather than making money first.

The program also includes apprenticeships, work trials or work experience, as well as internships. You cannot get any help if all you do is volunteer.

When you have advantages

Individuals in receipt of disability benefits or universal credits can apply. This means that new freelancers who are just starting out and apply for Universal Credit for assistance are eligible.

You can apply if you are in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance, but only if:

  • They earn less than £ 140 a week
  • It has been agreed with your work trainer
  • You work 16 hours or less a week.

Access to work is NOT a means tested system. It's a grant, so you don't have to pay it back – and it doesn't count as taxable income.

What does it cover?

You will not receive any money for this program. Instead, they pay for specific devices or services. Usually you have to pay for the equipment first and Access to Work will reimburse you. However, DO NOT just buy equipment and then apply for the program! You must be fully assessed FIRST to be eligible for a refund.

There isn't a specific list of things to apply for, but it does include things like:

  • Adjustments to existing devices or purchase of special devices
  • British Sign Language interpreter, lip speaker or note writer
  • Taxi fare or the cost of a support agent to help you with your work when public transport is a problem
  • Support worker fees if you are blind and cannot easily adhere to COVID-19 social distancing in public places
  • Awareness training for people with disabilities in your workplace
  • The cost of special software that allows you to do your work as usual.

Each case is assessed individually. Even if you are not sure if something is covered, it is worth filing an application.

What's not included

If you are paid by an employer, they must make “reasonable adjustments” to take account of your disability or health. Anything covered by these rules is not covered by the system.

It also doesn't cover things that someone needs for work, even without a disability or state of health, such as B. a computer.

You cannot claim support that your employer used to provide but not any longer.

Is there a limit to support?

There is no upper limit to the level of assistance. Keep in mind, however, that you will have to pay part of the bill if something you receive through the system can be considered "partial personal use".

For example, if you need a special ergonomic chair for your home office, as a freelancer you will have to pay part of the total cost. This amount changes based on potential personal use.

The calculation used indicates the number of days you are not working, even if you leave the devices in the office. So if you work five days a week you have to pay 2/7 of the total cost (since you don't use the equipment 2 every 7 days).

Overall, this amount is very small, as special devices are otherwise very expensive! If you're struggling to fund the personal use portion, you should check the Turn2Us grant finder to see if you can get additional support from a charity to help fund it.

Renewed and additional grants

The Access to Work program offers either one-time grants for things like equipment or ongoing financial support, such as the cost of a support agent.

If your costs continue to arise, you will need to renew your grant after a period agreed with the program. If your condition has not improved, it is unlikely that you will be denied an extension.

However, if you've applied for a one-time grant and then you realize that you may need more assistance, please apply again! This is especially helpful for freelancers who initially need minimal assistance but find that their condition deteriorates over time – or their professional role changes as the business expands. You just have to reapply as you did the first time.

How does access to work help freelancers?

Access to work helps freelancers purchase specialized equipment

Funding adaptive equipment or services to run your business can be incredibly costly. In fact, this could discourage disabled people or people with long-term conditions from starting their own business.

Freelancers with disabilities offer so much to the economy and their customers that it is a disadvantage not to run a business simply because you cannot afford the equipment you need. The Access To Work program means freelancers can fund the equipment and services to help them do the phenomenal job they are perfectly capable of!

Access to work is a grant that is paid as a reimbursement and helps freelancers with benefits and tax returns. Many disabled freelancers apply for universal loans or disability benefits and may be concerned that a grant will affect their eligibility. No panic! The grant for access to work does not affect your eligibility for benefits.

It is also not considered a taxable grant, as it is more of a reimbursement than an unspecified financial aid. It's a little difficult to understand what is taxable when it comes to self-employment grants and benefits. So check out our article that explains more about taxable grants.

How to apply for access to work

It is really easy to apply for access to work. Visit the website at www.gov.uk/access-to-work and apply online. If you cannot apply online, call the hotline on 0800 121 7479. The phone number is 0800 121 7570 while the Relay UK number (for those who cannot hear or speak) is 18001 then 0800 1217479.

You can also use the UK Sign Language Video Relay service if you are authorized. If you need braille, large print, or audio CV formats, call the main helpline to access these services.

What happens next

Once you have applied, you will be assigned a case worker. Someone will call you with an appointment for the evaluation you need. Currently, the assessments are done through Zoom – although they usually take place in person at your workplace (including your home if you work there most of the time).

There is a slight delay between applying and receiving your review, but it is typically two to three weeks. Your assessor will explain how your condition affects your daily tasks and your ability to work. In addition to the help you are considering (such as a specific device), they may suggest other items or services to add to the grant to help you.

After the assessment, the documents are sent to your case officer for approval. They will sign it out and let you know that it is okay to proceed with the equipment purchase. Once you've purchased it, you can request a refund by sending the receipt or invoice to Access to Work through your agent. It will take a few weeks for the money to go back into your bank account.

More tips for freelancers

We have a whole range of resources for both new and established freelancers – read these next!

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