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Access to Work scheme

The Access to Work scheme supports blind and partially sighted people who are in employment, enabling them to work alongside their colleagues.

A man working at a computer.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reports that Access to Work (AtW) helps over 5,000 people who have difficulty seeing, which is the second largest group who use the fund.

Access to Work can pay for a range of support, from specialist equipment to a support worker or taxi fares. The Government says it intends to greatly increase the numbers helped by the scheme, but we want to make sure the resources are expanded too, so there isn't tighter rationing. The key for blind and partially sighted people is a larger budget, so that the scheme can be expanded without weakening the necessary support to individuals.

How can I apply for Access to Work?

You can apply through the Government website or over the phone on 0800 121 7479 (0800 121 7579 for textphone). You should contact Access to Work as soon as you have a confirmed start date.

The funding provided by the Access to Work scheme can help pay for products and services to make work more accessible, including:

  • adaptations to premises and equipment
  • special aids and equipment
  • support workers
  • travel to work where there is no practical public transport alternative, and travel within work
  • awareness training for your colleagues.

Once you apply to the scheme an AtW adviser will contact you within seven working days to learn more about your situation and discuss your needs. They may also arrange for a specialist to visit you at work to complete an assessment and recommend appropriate support.

You can get the most out of any assessment by thinking about all the aspects of your job beforehand. Try to identify all the areas where your sight loss affects your work. This can be hard if you are starting a new job, but if your needs change you can always go back to Access to Work to ask for further help.

How long will it take to get the help needed?

Access to Work aims to arrange the help needed in the shortest possible time. The length of time taken for the process varies depending on individual circumstance. However, if there is any delay the AtW adviser should explore temporary alternatives, for example a support worker.

Who will buy the help needed?

Once the assessment process has been completed, the AtW adviser will send a letter confirming the amount of grant they approve. The adviser may discuss your needs with you and your employer to agree what help can be provided through Access to Work. The adviser may ask your employer to obtain quotes in order to arrive at the approved cost. It is the employer's (or self-employed person's) responsibility to purchase and provide the support required and then to reclaim the cost from Access to Work.

Please note that your employer should not purchase any items until Access to Work has notified you both that they have approved the agreed support.

How much is the Access to Work grant?

Access to Work pays a percentage of the total cost of approved support depending on how long you have been employed, what support is needed, whether or not there is any business benefit, or whether you are self-employed.

Access to Work pays up to 100 percent of the approved costs for:

  • unemployed people starting a job
  • all self-employed people
  • employers with less than ten staff
  • people working for an employer with more than ten staff but who have been in the job for less than six weeks
  • people changing jobs with a new employer.

Whatever the employment status of the applicant, Access to Work pays up to 100 percent of the approved costs of help with:

  • support workers
  • communicator support at an interview
  • travel to work (above the normal costs)
  • travel within work, if the job requires you to travel around.

For people working for an employer who have been in the job for 6 weeks or more and who need special equipment or adaptations to premises, Access to Work pays a proportion of the costs of support, to be shared with the employer as follows:

  • Less than 50 staff - Access to Work can pay up to 100 percent of costs
  • 50 to 249 staff - Access to Work can pay up to 80 percent of costs above the first £500 up to £10,000
  • 250 staff plus - Access to Work can pay up to 80 percent of costs above the first £1,000 up to £10,000
  • Access to Work currently cover all additional costs over £10,000 but from 1 October 2015 your Access to Work grant will be capped at £40,800 per year:- on 1 October 2015 for all new grants given after that date- on 1 April 2018 for all grants given before 1 October 2015

In all cases, Access to Work may seek more than the minimum contribution from the employer, where there is general benefit to the employer and/or individual seeking help.

If you are changing jobs but staying with the same employer you should contact the Operational Support Unit to discuss whether your employer has to pay a contribution or not.

Either you or your employer may be asked by Access to Work for an additional voluntary contribution to the cost of equipment. This is voluntary and your entitlement to support will not be changed should you choose not to pay it.

For self employed people or those considering self-employment, from October 2015 eligibility will be based around the Universal Credit rules. It will allow a reasonable period for businesses to be established. It is understood that specialist teams have been set up within the DWP to offer support and advice to people with disabilities who want to run their own businesses.

Starting the claim process

Contact the Access to Work Operational Support Unit. The Operational Support Unit will take an initial application over the phone and advise you that they will pass your application on to an Access to Work adviser.  They will need:

  • to check your eligibility 
  • your National Insurance number
  • your workplace address, including your postcode
  • the name, email address and work phone number of a workplace contact, e.g. your manager
  • your unique tax reference number (if you’re self-employed)
  • the name of your New Enterprise Allowance mentor (if you have one)
  • brief details of your application.

It is important at this initial contact stage to state your preferred format so the advisers are able to meet your stated communication needs. It can also be helpful to consider the key issues at this stage and to explain the difficulties/challenges you are facing, as this will help ensure that all your needs relating to your job are addressed at the assessment. 

Final report

There should always be a formal report as a result of an assessment. This is sent to Access to Work outlining the results of the assessment and will contain the necessary information to enable the adviser to reach a decision regarding the application. If no on-site assessment has taken place, the assessor can produce a formal document, or you can supply a letter containing the necessary information (that is, what you require, who manufacturers it and how much it costs).

Agreeing support and costs

The adviser will present a final figure of necessary costs to your employer, and then the split of costs between the two agencies will be agreed. Access to Work will provide written permission to your employer, which will include their final agreed contribution.


Your employer is free to purchase the equipment as soon as permission has been granted. They can then apply for reimbursement of Access to Work's agreed contribution with supplied documentation. Either yourself or your employer may be asked by Access to Work for an additional voluntary contribution to the cost of equipment. This is voluntary, and your entitlement to support will not be changed should you choose not to pay it.

Travel to work and travel in work costs are rarely funded up front, and the cost of employing a support worker is not always funded by employers. In most cases, you will be required to finance the costs of transport and support workers and then claim this money back from Access to Work.

Set up, installation and training

The costs of these elements will have been outlined in your report, and your employer can apply for reimbursement of the Access to Work contribution to these through supplied documentation.

Ownership, repairs and insurance

The equipment that you use is the responsibility of, and is owned by, your employer. Agreements will be made between all involved parties if you wish to purchase the equipment, or move it to your next place of employment. Access to Work will not pay for repairs or insurance under any circumstances.

Access to Work Operational Support Unit

Telephone: 0800 121 7479

Textphone: 0800 121 7579

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm


Postal address:

Operational Support Unit
Harrow Jobcentre Plus
Mail Handling Site A
WV98 1JE