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Access to Work: A Guide for the Arts and Cultural Sector – Employers

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Access to Work is a Department for Work and Pensions fund which can help cover some of the extra costs your employees may face in doing their jobs, or travelling to, from and during work because they’re disabled. There are three parts to this guide: one for self-employed people, one for employees and this one, which is for employers.

It covers Eligibility, What you can apply for,  the Application process and Managing monthly claims. For each section we’ll also give you top tips from colleagues and other organisations who employ people who get Access to Work. There is also a glossary for terms you may not be familiar with, or which require further explanation.

Group of disabled people in procession performance

Graeae Theatre Company. This Is Not For You. Photo by Dawn McNamara


💡Top Tip: There’s no lower earnings limit for employees to be eligible for Access to Work, so long as you are meeting your legal obligations as an employer, for example paying at least minimum wage.

To get help from Access to Work, the applicant must be disabled or living with a long-term health condition which means they face barriers doing their job. They must also be 16 or over and there is no upper age limit. They must live and work in England, Scotland or Wales, there’s a different system in Northern Ireland. Access to Work isn’t available if you live in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

The applicant needs to have a paid job, or be about to start or return to one. There is no minimum earning limit for PAYE employees (different rules apply for those who are self-employed). A paid job generally means full or part-time paid work, whether permanent, casual or temporary (a standard PAYE job); but also could include:

  • An apprenticeship.
  • a work trial arranged by Jobcentre Plus.
  • up to 8 weeks of unpaid work experience.
  • or a Department for Education Supported Internship.
  • Self-employment (see separate guide).
Two dancers on table

Candoco Dance Company. Photo by Camilla Greenwell, 2018

💡Top Tip: Actors on ITC Equity Contracts are treated as if they are employed, even if they handle their own tax, and therefore are not subject to the Lower Earnings Limit.

Grants aren’t available for voluntary work or when in training, except for training related to paid employment. Access to Work is also available for people who need communication support at interviews.

In order to be eligible for Access to Work, self-employed applicants (freelancers, contractors etc.) must have a turnover (not profit) of at least the lower earnings limit, which is currently £6,025 per year (correct as of April 2019). If they are new to self-employment they have twelve months to test out their earning potential whilst getting support from Access to Work. They must meet the lower earnings limit by the end of their second year of self-employment. For more detail, see the Self-Employed section of the guide.

Reasonable Adjustments

💡Top Tip: Make sure you’re clear on what reasonable adjustments means and what you have already put in place for your employees.

In accordance with the Equality Act 2010 all employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace so that disabled people aren’t ‘substantially disadvantaged’ when doing their jobs. This applies to all workers, including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners.

Before your employee makes an application to Access to Work, you must have a conversation with them about what reasonable adjustments you can make in the workplace. For example, this might include a phased return to work for someone who has recently become disabled, flexible working hours or allowing someone with social anxiety disorder to have their own desk, instead of hot-desking.

Access to Work’s main principle is to fund support that is above and beyond a reasonable adjustment; which means it is support that complements but does not replace or subsidise an employer’s legal duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Therefore, Access to Work may pay extra employment costs which go beyond what is reasonable for an employer to provide. What is considered reasonable or unreasonable is often due to financial reasons and Access to Work will consider the size of your organisation and available budget as part of the application.

Group of actors in rehearsal

Blood Wedding cast members in rehearsals with Jenny Sealey.

The costs

As an employer, you may have to share the cost with Access to Work if the person has been working for you for more than six weeks when they apply. You will only have to share the cost for new equipment and adaptations to premises or existing equipment. Cost share does not apply to self-employed applicants or to the Mental Health Support Service.

Access to Work will consider paying grants of up to 100% for:

  • Self-employed people.
  • People who have been working for less than six weeks when they first apply for Access to Work.
  • The Mental Health Support Service.
  • Support workers.
  • Additional travel to work and travel in work costs.
  • Communication support at interviews.

The level of grant will depend on:

  • Whether the person is employed or self-employed.
  • How long they have been in their job.
  • The type of help required.

The employer’s contribution is determined by the number of employees at the organisation:

  • Organisations with less than 50 employees do not have to share the cost.
  • Organisations with between 50 and 249 employees pay the first £500, plus 20% of the costs above that, up to £10,000.
  • Organisations with over 250 employees pay the first £1000, plus 20% of the costs above that up to £10,000.

If the support also provides a general business benefit, a contribution will be sought in addition to any compulsory cost share.

Music class

Mind the Gap Academy – Music Class 2017. Photo © Les Parkinson

What you can apply for

💡Top Tip: Your employee may have never received support from Access to Work before, and may not even have fully articulated their access needs previously. Give them time or support to work it out.

Once you have worked out what reasonable adjustments you can make for your employee, they can apply for a grant from Access to Work to cover the costs of any additional support needs, including equipment, travel and support workers.


Access to Work can help fund essential equipment that is needed for access reasons. This might include (but is not limited to):

  • An induction loop.
  • A height-adjustable desk.
  • Mobility equipment (if not already provided by the NHS).

It can also fund adaptations to existing equipment such as installing speech-to-text software on a computer or adapting a workstation.

It will not fund standard work equipment like a standard desk and chair a non-disabled person would use, standard business costs or anything related to health and safety requirements.


If public transport is not accessible to your employee, Access to Work can help pay towards the cost of getting to and from work via a travel to work grant. For example, if a wheelchair user’s local train station does not have level access and there is no suitable bus service, Access to Work could fund the difference in price between a taxi and the train fare (if a taxi is the most cost-effective solution). The case should be made for the solution that is accessible for your employee.

If they already have a vehicle via the Motability scheme, they won’t receive additional support from Access to Work, unless that vehicle is unsuitable for travelling to and from work.

Access to Work can also pay towards the extra costs of travel during the working day (e.g. travel to an external meeting), if public transport is not accessible.

Person hanging painting

Tony Heaton OBE at the NDACA Repository at Bucks. Thanks to

Support Workers

💡Top Tip: Access to Work use certain terminology for the different types of support worker. You are much more likely to get the support needed if you use their language. If you want to get into the real nitty-gritty, you can also look at the Access to Work staff guide.

Access to Work will consider funding a support worker if this is best placed to meet the needs of your employee. The Access to Work support worker categories are:

  • sign-language interpreter
  • lip-speaker
  • note-taker
  • palantypist
  • personal reader
  • travel-buddy
  • counsellor
  • the Mental Health Support Service
  • driver
  • job coach
  • carer (paid PA)
  • job aide

Access to Work will not pay for a support worker to give nursing or personal care. Support starts ‘at the front door’ i.e. when the employee is ready to start the working day.

💡Top Tip: If the dates of when your employee will need to travel away from home for work are not yet known, it’s a good idea to work out an average for the year so they don’t have to put in continuous extra claims for individual trips.

If your employee needs to travel and stay away from home as part of their work, they can indicate the number of nights they will need to stay away for in a year during the application process. The costs of any applicable Travel to Work and support worker requirements can then be built into the award from the outset. This can include overnight stay fees for a support worker and their related accommodation and subsistence costs. If this is not included in the original request a new application for this type of support will have to be made when they need to travel.

Your employee can also apply for additional support worker hours to assist with monthly Access to Work claim forms.

From 1 April 2019, all new applications are subject to a maximum annual award limit of twice the national average salary and the figure was set at £59,200. This figure is uprated annually.

Woman's hand on a laptop

Image by Marco Verch used under CC license:

Application process

💡Top Tip: You should make your employee feel supported enough to discuss their access needs in the workplace but remember they don’t have to disclose details of medical conditions to you.

The Access to Work form is filled in from the perspective of the employee seeking support. You should talk to them about whether they need help to complete the form. If they require a support worker, but they are not in place yet because Access to Work funding is needed, you may need to provide access support to fill in the form.

It’s really helpful to have a member of staff who is familiar with the process so that they can be available to offer guidance.

💡Top Tip: Having a designated staff member who can carry out research beforehand and support employees during the application process will streamline things for future applications. This staff member can be nominated by the applicant(s) as the point of contact for Access to Work (this is called granting third-party consent).

Applications can be made online or via:

There is no guarantee that Access to Work Staff will be familiar with your employee’s specific medical condition, impairment or access requirements. Your employee should be able to clearly articulate their situation so that the advisor fully understands the barriers faced.

The whole application process can have an emotional toll on the applicant, so it’s a good idea to encourage your employee to have a trusted friend or colleague to lean on for support.

💡Top Tip: If you are planning a project with a set timeframe or have an employee who needs specific support, the application process can take longer than expected, especially if this is your first time applying. Try and plan accordingly and have contingencies in your budget.

The stages of an Access to Work application:

  1. Initial application form.
  2. Access to Work contact your employee to discuss what help they could get.
  3. Access to work request additional information eg evidence from a medical professional.
  4. Advisor contacts your organisation to discuss support for your employee.
  5. An assessor may visit the workplace to assess your employee’s needs.
  6. The employee receives a decision, which could include a grant offer.
  7. The employee needs to complete the declaration within four weeks of the date of the offer.

More detailed guidance on filling in the form can be found on our Tips for Completing the Online Form downloadable resource sheet.

When Access to Work contacts your organisation to discuss how funding could support your employee they will ask you what reasonable adjustments you have already considered and implemented to comply with your obligations for the Equality Act 2010. They will also inform you that they require your agreement to counter-sign any claim forms, as necessary. Additionally, they will attach the factsheet for employers.

💡Top Tip: Regular updates to Access to Work mean that call centre staff are not always up to date with all of the detailed information. If they tell you something that you think maybe incorrect, double-check the information and then contact Access to Work again to confirm. If possible, get details confirmed via email so that you have a paper trail, or at the very least keep a diary of every conversation.
Woman writing in notepad

Image by Marco Verch used under CC license:

Monthly Claims

💡Top Tip: Your employee may need support filling in the monthly claim forms, especially in the first few months. Another staff member who is experienced at administration might be able to help.

It is common practice for organisations to pay for support workers and travel costs upfront and then be reimbursed by Access to Work. For every calendar month that support is used, a completed claim form must be sent by post, signed by you and your employee, along with any relevant receipts and invoices. The claim must arrive within 6 months of the activity it relates to.

Separate claims need to be made for each type of support. For example, if your employee has a Support Worker, Job Aide and a Travel Grant, they must all be claimed separately, even if the Support Worker and Job Aide are the same person. This also means they have to invoice separately. Post each claim in its own envelope.