Following a diagnosis of macular disease, one of the main concerns of those who are employed is whether or not they will still be able to keep working. The employers are expected to make some adjustments to the work place, to help their employee keep their job. These are called ‘reasonable adjustments’ and the cost is covered by the employer. The Access to Work (ATW) scheme funded by the government pays for adjustments that are not considered reasonable for the employer to fund.

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What is a reasonable adjustment?

When an employee advises their employer that they have a disability that may affect the way that they are able to carry out their work, the employer has a duty of care to that employee. That duty of care can include ‘reasonable adjustments’.

These adjustments could include for people with macular disease: providing a bigger computer screen, additional lighting or moving their workplace to a more suitable location (for example, away from a window). Making reasonable adjustments are a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010 and should be discussed between the employee and the organisation they work for. If the employee requires any equipment or adjustments that could be considered unreasonable for the organisation to pay for themselves, these can be funded through the government’s Access to Work (ATW) scheme.

What is Access to Work?

ATW is a government scheme run by Job Centre Plus. The scheme supports people with disabilities and long-term conditions in the work place. ATW gives a discretionary award to support disabled employees with:

  • Specialist equipment and software
  • Support workers
  • Travel to work

The scheme can also fund advice for employers and training to colleagues in how to work with someone with a disability and in some instances, ATW can also fund communication support for job interviews and mental health support.

Who is eligible?

ATW is available to people with a disability that has an expectation of lasting at least 12 months. The disabled applicant must be employed or about to start paid employment. The job can be permanent or temporary and there are no minimum hours that the applicant needs to work to entitle them to the scheme.

How can I apply?

If you are starting a new job or changing roles within your workplace you may be entitled to ATW. If your health condition changes whilst in your current position and this change is impacting on how you are able to carry out your responsibilities, you also may be entitled to make a claim.

To make a claim for ATW, contact Job Centre Plus on 0800 121 7479. You should make a claim:

  • For a new job as soon as you know when your start date is.
  • If there is a change in your macular disease which is impacting on your work.
  • If you are changing job roles.

The advisor will need to know your name, national insurance number and employer’s details including the name of your line manager. If you are starting a new job the advisor will also need to know your approximate start date. You should apply for ATW as soon as you know the date you are going to start as this will help get the support you require in place more quickly.

The advisor will need a job description as this will help them determine how ATW could best support you within your role. It is a good idea to think about your work responsibilities and where you may struggle to complete these tasks without the support of specialist equipment, a support worker or any other adjustments. You should also consider how you are able to get to and from work. People with macular disease could be able to use the ‘Travel to Work’ part of the scheme and if travel is required as part of their role they may be entitled to use the ‘Travel in Work’ scheme.

What support does ATW provide?

The ATW scheme may pay for equipment and any other support considered more than a reasonable adjustment for your employer.

The scheme covers all aspects of employment in order to support a disabled person to be effective in the work place. After an assessment a person with macular disease could be offered the following support:

  • Specialist software
  • Magnifiers
  • Support workers
  • Travel in work
  • Travel to work
  • Training for the applicant
  • Workplace assessment and training for the employer

The application process

An advisor who will provide support throughout the claim process is allocated once the applicant has contacted ATW. The advisor will look at the applicant’s job role or new job role and establish what support could be provided. This may include:

  • Specialist equipment
  • Travel to and in work
  • A support worker

The advisor will also arrange for a workplace assessment to be undertaken to suggest what support is required. After the assessment is completed, a report of recommendations will be compiled. The advisor will use this report to allocate funding.

If the applicant is also applying for the travel to work scheme as part of their claim the advisor will request three quotes from local taxi firms. This information and the recommendations in the assessment are used to identify the full cost of the grant.

After the separate parts of the claim have been gathered, the advisor sends a letter to the applicant outlining the grant. The grant is available once the applicant has signed and returned the form.

What happens next?

After the signed letter has been returned to ATW they will confirm that the claim is now live and that any recommendations or equipment can now be put into place.

Purchasing your equipment

As part of the assessment the assessor may have recommended equipment which can now be purchased from the recommended supplier. Usually the employer would be expected to fund the equipment or adaptation and then claim this cost back from ATW. If the applicant is self-employed, again they are usually expected to cover any costs for equipment and then claim this back, however, ATW may directly fund some equipment in exceptional circumstances.

Support worker

If a support worker has been agreed as part of the claimant’s award, it is their responsibility to identify and find a suitable candidate. There are two ways of finding a support worker, firstly using an employment agency and secondly advertising in local press. ATW suggests that an employment agency is the easiest way to find and pay a support worker, but make sure when investigating this route as you add the agency costs onto the hourly rate of the support worker. Another option may be to employ a support worker who is self-employed. Their pay can be claimed by them directly from ATW.

It is advisable that a job description for the support worker is created and that the disabled employee interviews potential candidates. It is a very close working relationship, so consider this when choosing the correct person.

How much is the grant?

ATW can pay up to 100% of the approved costs of the claim. This depends on how long you have been employed, what support is required or whether you are self-employed. These costs are for:

  • Unemployed people starting a job
  • All self-employed people
  • Employers with less than 10 staff
  • People working for an employer with more than 10 staff but who have been in the job under six weeks
  • People changing jobs with a new employer.

ATW pays a proportion of the cost for adaptions and specialist equipment for people who have been employed for six weeks or more. The cost are shared with the employer as follows:

  • Under 50 staff, ATW can pay up to 100% of the costs.
  • From 50 to 249 staff, ATW can pay up to 80% of costs after the first £500 and up to £10,000.
  • 250 staff or more ATW can pay up to 80% of the costs above the first £1000 and up to £10,000.

ATW grants are in line to rise at the same rate as the average salary. If the cap is reached this is likely to impact support worker costs and the costs of travel to and from work. In all cases, ATW will explore additional contributions from the employer.

Change of circumstances

If you are changing jobs but staying with the same employer, you should contact the ATW Operational Support Unit to discuss your claim and whether you need to make a change of circumstances. In addition to this, if your condition changes and this is impacting on the support you need through ATW, speak to your employer and contact the ATW team.

How long does a claim last?

An ATW grant can last up to three years. At the end of the award period you will be asked to make a new claim. This is taken as a complete renewal and will be assessed as such. This can be used as an opportunity to update equipment and to review support worker costs.

What if you disagree with the decision?

ATW is a discretionary grant and not a statutory benefit, which means there is no formal right of appeal. However, if you are unhappy with the decision that has been made, you are able to request a reconsideration of the decision. Contact the ATW Operational Support Unit and tell them you would like your case to be looked at again, your case will then be passed over to a senior case officer for review. This may not guarantee a change in decision but it is possible to escalate further.

If you would like further information, please contact the Macular Society Helpline on 0300 3030 111.

Find out more about reasonable adjustments or the Access to Work scheme

Watch our video below or see our other videos on Employment.

Video: Sight loss and Access to Work scheme

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Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to financial support from the government. Welfare benefits are available to help those living with macular disease, and their families, with extra costs.

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