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What Is Access to Work and How Does It Help Freelancers?

Annie 26th Aug 2020 2 Comments

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Access to Work is a little-known Government scheme to help disabled people or those with long-term health conditions remain in work. It helps to 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 worker

The Government wants to support people with disabilities and long-term health conditions to stay in work. Sometimes, this means you’ll need special equipment or assistive services to make sure you can continue doing your job.

For example, those with chronic back pain might benefit from a special ergonomic chair. Blind people may need text-to-speech software or an assistant, while d/Deaf people could benefit from sign language interpreters.

All of these specialised services, software, and equipment cost a lot of cash. As disabled people typically earn less than able-bodied people anyway, asking them to foot the bill for these adaptations is nonsensical. The Government recognises the benefits that disabled people or those with chronic conditions can contribute to companies and the economy – so the Access to Work scheme helps them find or remain in work.

Who Is Eligible?

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

The scheme is for those based in England, Scotland and Wales – there’s a different scheme for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it’s not applicable for residents of the Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

You must be over 16 and either already in work, returning to work, or about to start work (this includes self-employment). For those starting out as freelancers, work includes activity to find your first clients – so as soon as you start operating as a business, rather than once you start earning money.

The scheme includes apprenticeships, work trials or work experience, and internships, too. You can’t get help if you’re only doing voluntary work.

If you’re on benefits

People receiving disability benefits or Universal Credit can apply. This means new freelancers just starting out and claiming Universal Credit for support are eligible.

You can apply if you’re receiving Employment and Support Allowance, but only if:

  • You earn less than £140 a week
  • It’s been agreed with your work coach
  • You work 16 hours or less each week.

Access to Work is NOT a means-tested scheme. Anyone can apply, regardless of whether you’re in receipt of benefits or not. It’s a grant, which means you don’t need to pay it back – nor does it count as taxable income.

What Does It Cover?

You don’t get money for this scheme. Instead, they’ll pay for specified equipment or services. Usually, you need to pay for the equipment first and Access to Work reimburse you. However, DON’T just go ahead and buy equipment then apply to the scheme! You must be fully assessed FIRST to qualify for reimbursement.

There’s no specific list of things that you can apply for, but it covers stuff like:

  • Adaptations to existing equipment or the purchase of specialised equipment
  • British Sign Language interpreters, lip speakers, or note takers
  • Taxi fares or the cost of a support worker to help you get to work if public transport is problematic
  • Support worker fees if you’re blind and cannot adhere easily to COVID-19 social distancing in public places
  • Disability awareness training for people in your workplace
  • The cost of special software to help you carry out your job as normal.

Each case is individually assessed, so even if you’re not sure something will be covered it’s well worth applying.

What’s not included

If you’re paid by an employer, they have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate your disability or health condition. Anything that falls under those regulations isn’t covered by the scheme.

It also doesn’t cover things that anyone needs to do the job even without a disability or health condition, such as a computer.

You can’t claim for support your employer used to provide but no longer does.

Is There a Limit to Support?

There is no cap to the level of support provided. However, do bear in mind that if anything you get through the scheme could be deemed as ‘partial personal use’, you need to foot some of the bill.

For example, if you need a special ergonomic chair for your home office, as a freelancer you’ll be expected to pay a part of the total cost. This amount changes depending on the potential personal use.

The calculation used is the number of days you’re not at work, even if you leave the equipment at the office. So, if you work five days a week, you need to pay 2/7ths of the total cost (because you don’t use the equipment 2 of every 7 days).

This amount is really low overall, because specialised equipment is really expensive otherwise! If you’re struggling to fund the personal-use proportion, it’s worth checking the Turn2Us grant finder to see if you can get extra support from a charity to fund it.

Renewed and Additional Grants

The Access to Work scheme offers either one-off grants for things like equipment, or ongoing financial support such as for the costs of a support worker.

If your costs are ongoing, you’ll need to renew your grant after a period of time agreed with the scheme. Unless your condition has improved, it’s unlikely you’ll be refused a renewal.

However, if you’ve requested a one-off grant and then realise you may need more support, you can apply again! This is particularly helpful for freelancers who need minimal support to begin with but find their condition worsens over time – or their job role changes as the business expands. You simply need to apply again as you did the first time around.

How Does Access to Work Help Freelancers?

Access to Work helps freelancers with specialist equipment purchases

Funding adaptive equipment or services to run your business can be incredibly costly. In fact, it could put disabled people or those with long-term conditions off setting up their own company entirely.

Disabled freelancers offer so much to the economy and for their clients that it’s a disservice to not run a business just because you can’t afford the equipment you need. The Access to Work scheme means freelancers can fund the equipment and services that’ll help them do the phenomenal job they’re perfectly capable of doing!

Access to Work is a grant, paid as a reimbursement, which helps freelancers in terms of benefits and tax returns. Many disabled freelancers claim Universal Credit or disability benefits, and may be concerned that a grant affects their eligibility. Don’t panic! The Access to Work grant won’t impact your benefit eligibility.

It also does not count as a taxable grant – because it’s a reimbursement rather than unspecified financial support. Understanding what’s taxable when it comes to grants and benefits with self-employment is a bit tricky – so try our article that explains more about taxable grants.

How to Apply to Access to Work

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

You can also use the British Sign Language video relay service if you’re eligible. If you need braille, large print or audio CV formats, call the main helpline to access these services.

What happens next

Once you’ve applied, a case worker is assigned to you. Someone will call you with an appointment time for the assessment you need. At the moment, assessments take place via Zoom – though they are usually in person at your workplace (including your home if that’s where you work most of the time).

There’s a small delay between applying and getting your assessment, but it’s usually around two to three weeks. Your assessor will talk you through how your condition affects your daily tasks and ability to work. As well as the help you have in mind (such as a specific piece of equipment), they may suggest other items or services to add to the grant that would help you.

After the assessment, the paperwork is sent to your caseworker for approval. They’ll sign it off and let you know it’s OK to proceed with buying the equipment. Once you’ve purchased it, you can apply for the reimbursement by sending the receipt or invoice to Access to Work via your caseworker. The money takes a couple of weeks to land back in your bank account.

More Freelancing Tips

We’ve got a whole bunch of resources for new and established freelancers – read these next!

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3 years ago

Some great information here. Thanks.

3 years ago

Very informative article.

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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