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Thousands of jobs remain at risk due to Access to Work delays

Blind and partially sighted people are still facing delays in getting Access to Work support, putting jobs and job offers on the line.

Access to Work, a scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), provides crucial employment support for many blind and partially sighted workers. However, delays in getting this support are threatening the jobs of people with sight loss.

For more than a year we’ve been raising our concerns with the DWP about how ongoing delays to the processing of Access to Work claims and applications are affecting people with sight loss. With 24,565 outstanding applications, we are working hard to ensure the DWP takes urgent and comprehensive action to stop the delays and clear the backlog of claims and applications.

In response to the dire situation and inadequate action from the DWP, we published a report to shine a spotlight on the impact these delays are having on blind and partially sighted people and outline our recommendations to the DWP for urgent action. We shared this report with the DWP, MPs, ministers, the VI Charity Sector Partnership and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Eye Health and Visual Impairment, and now are keeping up the pressure in several important ways.

We’ve met the Minister for Disabled People, Tom Pursglove MP, and urged him to act, as well as outlining the need to improve the quality of Access to Work support once in place. We are sending him details of how RNIB can improve the understanding of sight loss and assistive technology with Access to Work staff.

We’ve also been raising the issue of ATW delays in Parliament. At the latest APPG for Eye Health and Visual Impairment meeting in Parliament, alongside Lord Blunkett and Thomas Pocklington Trust, we highlighted how the delays are worsening the employment barriers people with sight loss experience. Marsha De Cordova MP, the APPG chair, will be writing to the DWP to emphasise the group’s concern.

We’ve drafted parliamentary questions for MPs to submit on the numbers of outstanding applications, average timescales for the processing of claims and whether the DWP has considered the recommendations made in our report. A recent response from the Minister for Disabled People showed “the total number of colleagues employed by the department to process and support Access to Work applications is 451. A further 50 colleagues have been recruited and will join the team in March and April 2023.”

While a parliamentary question revealed the number of outstanding applications slightly fell in January to 24,565 outstanding applications (compared to 25,103 in December 2022), this backlog needs to be cleared.

David Clarke, RNIB chief operating officer, explains: "We are pleased to see the number of outstanding applications reduce for the first time in a year. But this still leaves more than 24,000 people in the queue for vital support. We need comprehensive and adequate measures from the DWP to address the problem.” We will continue to keep up the pressure on the DWP to urgently cut the backlog and put measures in place so people facing long delays can access support in a timely manner.

If you are, or anyone you know is, having problems as a result of Access to Work, support is available from RNIB’s Employment Team. Our team offer advice, information and a range of practical solutions to assist while you are waiting on Access to Work support. To get in touch phone our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email [email protected].