Case study on Access to Work.
Deepa Shastri and Stephen Collins
Deepa is a Project Manager and is both an employee and self-employed. Stephen is a self-employed performer and workshop facilitator.
Transcript of conversation
Stephen Collins: So, Disability Arts Online have asked us to come and talk about our experiences in relation to Access to Work. They know that we work within the arts and culture world.
I’m a performer and also a workshop facilitator. Sometimes I work as a BSL (British Sign Language) consultant on video work. I work across the UK. Sometimes outside of the UK. I’m self-employed. What about you?
Deepa Shastri: I work under an arts and culture organisation who provide captioning for theatres within museums and galleries. My job is actually based in London, but I also travel to other areas as well and I work under an employer. So, it will be interesting to compare our different experiences in relation to Access to work. So, we can give different perspectives on self-employed and employed and see what’s the same and what’s different.
SC: True, you’re right. So, when I first started using Access to Work it was about ten years ago. Initially, I was employed and had lots of support from my employer and seven years ago, I became self-employed. And having had all this stuff done for me before then, I had to learn the process, which was really difficult and quite confusing.
I wasn’t sure which information meant what but it’s become clearer and easier now.
DS: What support did you receive?
SC: I’ve always had a BSL interpreter support and usually two because of the theatre environment. What about yourself?
DS: I have used Access to Work for over fifteen years now. I’ve had a lot of experience with them. Over the years things have changed in terms of the support I’ve received just because my jobs have changed.
Because it was difficult to always look up at the interpreter and also take notes myself. So, I had a notetaker back then, but all the way through I’ve had interpreters. Recently I’ve added a video relay service which has been really useful to me as support.
DS: What was the process like for you? And also, in terms of communication, how did you communicate with Access to Work?
SC: When I first applied I was very confused. Not sure what to do, so, I had to make the initial contact and during that initial contact we agreed my preferred method of contact would be e-mail. But when I applied [I had to be clear 2:58] about what my job was; an actor, workshop facilitator.
I had to be very clear of the sorts of things I would be doing so they could get a sense of what my work was like. The fact that the hours where variable, I might need somebody for an hour or I might need somebody for a week.
I also had to give them my tax records. Obviously, my tax return, proving that I was eligible for Access to Work with the business that I run. So, there were lots of questions that were overwhelming. It felt a bit too much, but it was important because they had to understand my self-employment one hundred percent.
So I had to apply on an ad-hoc basis, based on the jobs I get. And I know that I’ll be asked those questions again and again. In hindsight, I now know I have to be prepared because I know those questions will come up.
I may get a different advisor who doesn’t know my situation at all so, if all of the information is ready, the process is smoother. If you’re clear about support and hours etc, the process will be much smoother. What’s your experience? The same or different?
DS: Well, I work under an employer so sometimes that can be easier. Now I have experience with everything I need for this process, I have to explain that to my employer, and make sure that we are both obviously on the same page so they know my needs and together we are giving the right information.
If we give different information, it can become confusing. Over the years my role has actually changed. I do get a bit fed up with explaining the same things to my employer for so many years but I do have to keep on explaining to them.
At the same time, I do understand that process; my role has changed, my hours have changed, support needs have changed as well. So, there’s a link on their website where you can do a video call with Access to Work and you can say that I want to start a new application, then they will e-mail from that point onwards.
Sometimes I call the advisor through the video relay service, So sometimes I feel like we go back and forth. And sometimes they’re busy too. They’re quite strict with the hours. You must respond within, I think it’s seventy-two hours.
But obviously I work part time, so I have to explain clearly to Access to Work “I’m part time, so I can’t always respond within those seventy-two hours. You need to give me a little bit of extra time to respond.”
Like you said, you get asked so many questions and they are the same ones time and again that I’ve had to have them ready and prepared. So, I’ve got interpreter fees, interpreter costs. I’ve got all that stuff prepared already.
SC: When you’re working for an employer, can the employer speak on your behalf?
DS: Yeah, I have to ask my manager to become involved then to actually check because I’m working under that company so, I check my role and everything that I do there. To help prove that I do the job that I do and I’m not just making things up.
SC: I know sometimes from previous experience you have to ask for third party consent. This means they can communicate with the employer. Or sometimes I might delegate it to my client to deal with, which means I have to give them permission to speak to Access to Work. If I don’t, they can’t speak on my behalf.
So, I have to let them know that I give permission for them to contact. Is your experience the same?
DS: Yeah, I do think that depends on the person’s needs and sometimes you can actually delegate to somebody to deal with on my behalf but you’re right, you have to sign that agreement to say it’s fine for Access to Work to talk to your employer, if that’s what you want. And over time it becomes easier.
SC: And you’re right, you can communicate via different methods, over the phone or over e-mail. the responses can take longer. They don’t necessarily see your e-mail straight away and when you’re self-employed and desperate to know whether a job that’s coming up you can get support for, it might be better to make a phone call because the process will move a little bit faster.
E-mail will take longer, but you need to be patient and just keep with it because you’ll get there in the end.
DS: It’s also important as well that if you actually call send an e-mail in English, so I’ll video relay. They will need to send you an e-mail as proof of your conversation and what has been agreed.
If they don’t send that e-mail, where is the proof that you have actually had a discussion with them? So, I always request that confirmation email when I talk with them.
SC: So, you applied to Access to Work, did you receive the support that you applied for?
DS: In the past I think I’ve asked for X amount of hours and Access to Work have said that I have to bring that down, which I found quite restricting. It made my job harder to do. But now I have to really think clearly about everything that I need and the maximum that I need because I know that Access to Work will try to reduce those hours if they can.
It’s just impossible for me to do my job without those hours. Sometimes I might lose my hours because I have to cover my interpreter’s travel. For example, when I go travelling far outside of London I have to think about how I pay for the interpreter’s travel.
My job is in a way unique, so I can’t get a local interpreter because it’s not always practical to try and explain what I do. If I go with local interpreters, they may not understand the job I do.
So, it’s easier to pay for an interpreter from my base, travel to the job, work, and we come back. During the train journey, I will also need support, so I don’t miss announcements.
if there’s a problem, I might need to make a phone call for example. So, it’s best to include everything that I need and put down all that information. Just make sure there’s nothing missing, because that can cause problems later on if there are.
In the past I’ve been both self-employed and also worked under an employer as well and I’ve realised that Access to Work treats both of those differing capacities, as one case, not two. So, I have to be fairly clear when I explain on the application form that I have an employer and I am an employed person, but I also have another job that is as a freelancer.
So, I still get a cap for both of those and therefore I have to work out how I’m going to use that cap. What is your situation?
SC: I think as self-employed I have always got the support which has been lovely, but within the nature of self-employment I get very last-minute requests for work. Sometimes I can get an interpreter in that time, other times I can’t.
Or I can’t get support for the full days that I require them, so there might be days when I don’t have an interpreter. I might have the support package available,but they are just not available to book, so, in those cases I have to negotiate with the client to arrange different forms of communication.
So, less talking and more practical work. So, for example I could be focusing on some translation on my own while they get on with something else, until the interpreter is available.
I don’t want to stop myself being involved in the rehearsal when there is no interpreter. In rehearsals, we all focus on more practical and physical elements. We work together as a team. This also means that the company have a better understanding of others’ needs. Sometimes it can be a barrier.
DS: Talking about barriers. Are there other barriers? And if so, how do you resolve those as a self-employed person?
SC: In terms of barriers, not much. The support I need is signed interpreters. I don’t have any other support needs. I think it’s just the timeframe, the process of getting the support package in place and making sure it covers all the dates of work I have booked in.
DS: So, for example you have a project, then you have a gap, and then another project. Do you have to apply for funding in between that?
SC: Not really. I tend to apply per job. So, when a job comes up, that’s when I make my application and that seems to work well for me.
DS: Is that quite smooth or have you faced problems with that?
SC: I might need to go to an audition last minute or there might be a professional development opportunity for which I need support but I won’t have that in place, so I should apply for those gaps when I’m not actually working to continue developing myself as an individual.
So that’s something I need to think about, I don’t have the support in place on an ongoing basis, so it may be that I have to audition without an interpreter present, which can sometimes be ok, but other times can be tricky, and I realise I should really have an interpreter, for those in-between times.
DS: So, if there’s no interpreter when you go to audition for example, could you ask them in terms of reasonable adjustments to provide you with a certain script? Or certain questions in advance so you can prepare them?
SC: Myself and my acting agency have a guide for individuals on when they are auditioning deaf actors on what to do so they are prepared if there is no interpreter available, so, they have that guide. If there’s an interpreter, it’s fine but if not then whether I’m going by myself or in a group, I always email that in advance to say I know it’s going to be hard, but advise them what you need, because if you don’t tell them, then it will be more difficult.
So, I would email them in advance and tell them I can’t get an interpreter for this but these are the ways we can communicate.
DS: So, I work under an employer, and obviously there is the reasonable adjustment there flashing lights or making sure the staff have deaf awareness training for example. Recently I have been in the situation when I have applied to Access to Work for an interpreter and also, the video relay service and that has been really useful because, for example, when I have been trying to find interpreters, quite often I can’t find one available.
For example, I have a team meeting and there’s no interpreter there, it’s been really useful to have have that video relay service there as a backup in terms of phone calls, but also in terms of in the room as well. If I’m going out to meetings that have occurred at the last minute, it’s not always possible to plan everything in advance.
Many interpreters are in demand and it can be difficult to book one at short notice. It’s interesting because the scenario really depends. For a meeting, that would suit, but for a rehearsal or a practical studio based environment where there is a lot of conversation, you need the physical presence of an interpreter. you can’t use a remote interpreter because they just wouldn’t be able to see anything. So, there are situations where you have to think of backup measures. So, I always think of backup measures, it’s that I don’t have the funding, or that somebody isn’t available to come, have those backup measures ready, hope the funding is there so you can still do your job.
SC: So, once you got your funding from Access to Work, what was the claims process like for you?
DS: There is a funding department within the team that I am employed with so, when I receive the form, I have got different support. So, I’ve got interpreters and I’ve got remote video service. When they have been approved, I send that through to finance.
They then pay the particular support service that I’ve had. They then claim separately for the interpreter and the video relay service, and then they claim back from Access to Work afterwards.
SC: So, the self-employed service is very different because I’m doing it all myself. So, once I get my funding, I book interpreters.
When I work with those interpreters, I have to complete a claim form for each interpreter, and that depends on how many interpreters I’m using. So, it’s one claim form per interpreter.
So, it’s best to get those claim forms sent to Access to Work as soon as possible. So, in a single month, try and get them filled in within the first two weeks of the month. But if you’re working on a project that covers a few months, you’re required to fill out a separate claim form for each month.
It’s a lot of paperwork including sending the claim form itself. The interpreters also always include their details so Access to Work can pay them directly. That’s perfect, but there may be occasionally an issue where an interpreter is not able to contact Access to Work about a payment issue, so I have to do it on their behalf and ensure they get paid. I can give third party permission for the interpreter to speak to them directly so it’s quicker, but even when I move on to a new job, they can still be chasing me about payment from a previous job.
And they have payment terms up until thirty days, so, I have to make sure that I send off the claim forms as soon as possible, so it meets their terms because usually Access to Work pay within ten days of you sending the form off. Sometimes I ask interpreters if they can be more flexible, because many interpreters are aware of the system, and if they are flexible then that is great.
DS: So, what are you three top tips and advice for everybody out there?
SC: My top tips are firstly, when you apply for Access to Work, make sure the information you provide is as clear as possible.
The clearer the information, the easier the process. If you are vague, you will get lots of questions, and it will go on forever. Be extremely clear. Secondly, as a self-employed person, I can work varied hours, and sometimes work overtime.
Or sometimes I need to cover travel costs so, make sure you have a contingency in your budget to cover those last-minute unexpected requests, those extra dates, extra hours. So have an extra budget to cover that. Thirdly, sometimes I can be working with other deaf actors, which means we share our access to work support.
When you sign a ‘shared hours’ claim form, make sure the date you sign for was a date you were present at the job. Because if not, you could be claiming fraudulently for the date.
SC: What are your three top tips?
DS: My three top tips are: If you know you’ve got support that might run out on a certain date, it’s best to contact Access to Work way in advance so you know that, when that date finishes, so, you’ve set up the process for the support to continue after that.
Secondly, I work part-time, and you’re supposed to respond within seventy-two hours with Access to Work so, I have been able to say to them before, can you wait a little bit longer for that response?
Otherwise if not, they could cut my budget and I’ll be left with no access. If some people don’t know or are unsure of the process, then it’s best to ask someone who has a similar job or knowledge of it.
Ask what is involved so it puts yourself at ease. It is complicated but it does get easier.
SC: It’s important to ask each other because we are all in the same boat. Wow! We now know so much about each other’s experiences. Hopefully people will find the information we have shared useful.
DS: Yes hopefully… Good luck!
SC: Good luck!