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Legal action over Access to Work scheme

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions challenged on lack of guidance on AtW scheme

Access to Work scheme under fire

4 December 2014

Law firm Leigh Day, is taking legal action against The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, on behalf of the campaign group ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ over its lack of guidance and “inconsistent, unlawful and opaque application of its policy” toward the Access to Work scheme (AtW)
 
According to Ellen Clifford a member of the steering group for Stop Changes to Access to Work, and an AtW user, the scheme provides vital support to disabled people to help them to overcome work-related obstacles ensuring that people with a disability are able to take up work and maintain their position in the workforce.

The scheme is delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions through Jobcentre Plus.
 
In a letter before action, sent on Friday 21 November, the law firm challenges the DWP to publish a document, running to over 700 paragraphs, detailing the criteria for eligibility and the rules that will be applied to people’s claims, which is purportedly in existence but not publically available.
 
Leigh Day claim that the lack of publically available guidance on the scheme is unlawful.
 
The letter also describes what it calls the ’30 hour rule’ as an example of the ‘apparently inconsistent, unlawful and opaque’ way in which the scheme has been applied by the Department for Work & Pensions.
 
In June 2011, the guidance was changed so that where a claimant required a support worker for 30 hours or more a week, AtW would fund that support on the basis of an annual salary, rather than an Agency worker employed on an hourly basis.
 
A number of end users voiced their concerns about the 30-hour rule. Most significantly deaf users, the specific requirements of a sign-language interpreter render it unworkable to employ them on a full-time annual basis. 
 
On 15 May 2014 the Minister announced that the 30-hour rule was under review. As a result, the so-called ’30 hour rule’ (although it was never clearly communicated or published as such) was suspended. 
 
The suspension was said to be in place for the duration of the review of AtW, announced in the same statement, which was said to be going to last for three months.
 
Despite this statement, those affected by the 30-hour rule continue to wait for any indication as to the future of this rule.
 
The letter states that the Department for Work & Pensions is obliged to apply any policy that it has consistently and across the board. As there is no published guidance, and so any updates to it are not made public, the current status of the 30-hour rule is unknown. This, the letter states, is unlawful.
 
The Government has now got 14 days to respond to the letter before formal legal action is taken in the High Court. It has been asked to publish the current, and any future, guidance (and any other relevant rules or policies) on AtW.
 
It has also been asked to revisit the AtW grants of all those affected by the ’30 hour rule’ and to reinstate the funding to which they were entitled prior to the imposition of that rule. 
 
Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ group said:
 
“The failure by the Department of Work & Pensions to publish clear guidance on such a crucial scheme is, we believe, unlawful.
 
“Access to Work users, who depend on the support provided to them by the scheme, are having their support arbitrarily cut or suspended, this is putting their employment and their businesses at serious risk.
 
“The Secretary of State should now ensure his department deals with this matter urgently. It should publish clear AtW guidance and resolve the many outstanding claims.”
 
Ellen Clifford, on behalf of Stop Changes to Access to Work said:
 
“This scheme is key to safeguarding both the social and financial inclusion of disabled people in society.
 
“The support it provides, such as travel grants, special aids or equipment and support workers, transforms lives and safeguards careers, it cannot continue to be applied so haphazardly and in such an opaque manner.”

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