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Access to Work

Access to Work is part of the Department for Work and Pensions, and provides advice and practical support for people who have a disability or long-term health condition.

Access to Work can contribute towards any supplementary employment costs that result from a disability. It is available for any paid job; part-time or full-time, permanent or temporary. There is no minimum number of hours for eligibility for support, although you are generally expected to reach the lower earnings limit. You'll find more details on the Access to Work website. Access to Work aims to help you if you need support or adaptations beyond the reasonable adjustments your employer is legally obliged to provide.

Access to Work can pay up to one hundred per cent of the approved costs for:

  • unemployed people starting a job
  • self-employed people
  • people changing jobs with a new employer.

Whatever your employment status, Access to Work pays up to one hundred per cent of the approved costs of help with:

  • support workers
  • communicator support at an interview
  • additional travel to work costs (above standard costs).

If you work for an employer, have been in your job for six weeks or more and need special equipment or adaptations to premises, Access to Work can pay a proportion of the costs of support, and will look to agree this with your employer.

You, the employee, make the application and should contact Access to Work directly at


If you need help with travel to work or travel in work and can't use public transport due to your sight loss, it may be possible to get support through Access to Work to help meet the extra costs of travelling. This could be using taxis, or with help from a travel buddy or support worker driver.

Support workers

Assistive technology can usually help people to remove barriers in the workplace. Technology can let us read text, access computer systems and do parts of the job that weren’t accessible. But despite all attempts to overcome them, some barriers remain. For example, some computer systems have been so badly designed that screen reader software can’t read the content. Or bad handwriting just can’t be read using character recognition.

Some people find that support workers are the best way to tackle these barriers.

What is a support worker?

We’ve used the phrase 'support worker' but people use different names, including personal reader, enabler, scribe or assistant. This is probably because support workers have very specific roles helping individuals and are assigned to deal with particular tasks.

When thinking about a support worker, it’s important to consider exactly what tasks are required. Your exact needs will depend on your area of work, but generally a support worker will be able to offer help with:

  • reading computer screens or handwritten documents
  • completing tasks that need to be handwritten
  • driving
  • guiding
  • describing diagrams.

How are support workers funded?

The main funder of employment support workers is Access to Work, which often covers all the costs of recruiting and employing a support worker. However, you'll need to check that you're eligible for this funding. Many government workers are not able to use Access to Work, and negotiate similar support from their employers. Details can be found at:

Employing a support worker

If you secure funding for from Access to Work there are several ways you can employ a support worker.

  1. 1 Your employer provides the support worker through an agency, on a long term or temporary basis. Agencies can provide a permanent support worker to ensure consistency, but they can also provide support on an ad hoc basis if it is required regularly. Agencies usually have the flexibility to cover if your support worker is ill or on holiday. Access to Work will generally fund agency rates but will often ask you to get three quotes.
  2. The support worker is self-employed. Some support workers are self-employed, and this can be an attractive option, as paying an hourly rate will appear to be less expensive than other options. However, if the support worker is unavailable for any reason, you may not get the support you need. Some people feel uncomfortable about working with a self-employed support worker.
  3. You employ the support worker directly. This arrangement gives you more control over who you employ. Remember, though, that you could be responsible for payroll, national insurance and tax deductions. You will also have to consider that all employment legislation is adhered to, so you will be responsible for statutory sick pay and insurance. In addition, you may be required to pay the support worker yourself and then claim the money back from Jobcentre Plus, which can be a substantial financial burden.
  4. Your employer provides the support worker via an existing employee. If your employer is willing to take on the responsibility for employing a support worker, you won’t need to get involved in administering payroll. However, your support worker will be an employee of the organisation and will need to meet their requirements.

Recruiting a support worker

Your options for recruiting a support worker depend on how they are employed. If it is an agency or your employer, then they will have processes in place for recruitment and selection. If you are to employ them yourself then you could consider friends, family or a wider recruitment.

Regardless of who employs the support worker, it would be helpful if you are involved in the selection process.

Paying a support worker

Access to Work make payments in arrears, through an online portal. You should consider the implications of this and prepare yourself for any potential cashflow issues. Further information is available on the Access to Work website.

Managing the relationship with your support worker

How will I work with my support worker?

Your relationship with your support worker needs to be a professional one, where you have some control. However, it is also a very close relationship, and it is essential that you can get on well with your support worker.

How many hours a week can I have a support worker?

You will need to estimate how many hours per week you will need a support worker and provide detail to AtW, so they can reach a decision. It is important to establish the maximum time you are likely to need a support worker as you can always use and claim less.

How will this affect my independence?

The support worker is there to assist you, and not to take away any of your responsibility for your work or decisions. Unless you agree, all communication with other people should be directly through you.

What effect will this have on colleagues?

Your colleagues and managers will need to understand the role of your support worker. In small or open plan offices you will need to consider whether having a support worker may be intrusive for others, or whether it would be best to work with your support worker away from your workplace for some of the time. If your support worker also works for your employer, you and your manager will need to be clear when they are working for you.

What about sensitive information, security and confidentiality?

Support workers will be expected to agree to all employers’ policies and codes of conduct. In addition, they will be expected to treat everything you both work on in the strictest confidence.

Who will train the support worker to do their job?

It will be helpful if your support workers attend your employer’s induction courses to gain an understanding of their business and your job. However, the development of working practices will be mainly your responsibility. Only you can work out how best you can work together.

What happens when I'm on holiday or off sick?

Your support worker can only be employed when you are working.

What if my support worker is on holiday or off sick?

You will need to have the flexibility built into any arrangement with your employer or external agency to bring in a temporary replacement. As before, you will need to be involved in this selection, but bear in mind that this will only be for a short time, so more flexibility may be needed all round.

Can I have driver support or assistance with work-related travel?

A requirement of your job may be to travel to a variety of places, not necessarily serviced well by public transport. Do not be put off because of not being a car driver. Driver support can be provided if it is the only or most cost-effective way of meeting this need.

Remember AtW will only provide support for additional costs related to disability needs. The employer must meet their obligations to pay for travel within work at the same rate they pay their other staff. For example, AtW pays for the support driver hours, but the employer provides the vehicle and petrol costs.

Reviewing the arrangement

It is important that you regularly review the effectiveness of your support worker. Everyone needs to be realistic about this complex relationship. If there are difficulties with your support worker, try to communicate with them directly.