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Access to Work: A Guide for the Arts and Cultural Sector – Self-Employed

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

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

Music class

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


💡Top Tip: There is no list of conditions or impairments that are ineligible for Access to Work. So long as you face barriers doing your job, you can make the case for a grant. People with many different requirements get Access to Work from support for dyslexia, communication, mental health through to mobility assistance.

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

To be eligible for Access to Work you must either have submitted a self-assessment tax return or be ready to fill one in for the end of the current financial year.

💡Top Tip: Remember that the lower earnings limit is based on your turnover and not your profit. For example, if you got an Arts Council grant of £10,000 for a project, and out of that grant you paid yourself £1,000, the rest of it going on other project expenses, your turnover would be £10,000, and your profit £1,000.

Your turnover must meet the lower earnings limit which is currently £6,025 per year (correct as of April 2019). If you are new to self-employment you have twelve months to test out your earning potential whilst getting support from Access to Work. You must meet the lower earnings limit by the end of your second year of self-employment.

Access to Work’s criteria for being satisfied that you are self-employed are:

    • That you have a Unique Taxpayer Reference.
    • Accounts for an established business, or your most recent tax return.
    • If you are new to self-employment you may need to provide a viable business plan. If you do not see yourself as a business, then a Unique Taxpayer Reference and a CV which demonstrates your earning potential may be appropriate.
💡Top Tip: If Access to Work query you only sending a CV and not a business plan, you can quote back to them the wording in their own staff guide: ‘In the case of self-employed applicants, such as entertainers who do not necessarily see themselves as being a business, then a UTR and CV is appropriate’. Clause 58 in the Access to Work Staff guide available here.

If you get benefits these may affect whether you can get an Access to Work grant. If you are receiving Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support, you can still get help from Access to Work if you work more than one hour a week. You can get Access to Work if you’re on Employment Support Allowance if you are doing permitted work as agreed with Jobcentre Plus.

From 1 April 2018, all new applications are subject to a maximum annual award limit (cap) of twice the national average salary and the figure was set at £59,200. This figure is uprated annually in line with the average salary.

Dancers in healthcare setting

Performers Dave Toole, Welly O’Brien, Greg Hall, Emily Andrews, Clare , FRONTLINEdance. Photo by Eleanor Babb

Access to Work cannot pay for the costs of setting up a business or cover costs while the business is being formed. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Standard items of equipment ie equipment that doesn’t relate to access needs.
  • Support for fact-finding.
  • Attending courses, seminars or similar events.

If you are a company director, you can apply to get Access to Work support. You must prove that your company is registered with Companies House in Cardiff. The business viability criteria, including the lower earnings limit, is applied to the company not the individual in this instance. It is possible to be both self-employed and a company director. Access to Work would require a separate application for each aspect and both aspects would need to separately meet the eligibility criteria.

Person hanging painting

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

What you can apply for

💡Top Tip: Access to Work can cover the costs of meeting your access requirements for paid work. Remember as a self-employed person, the fee for your paid work is reflective of ALL aspects relating to that job i.e. time spent on pitching and tendering for work, meetings, studio and research time, training and professional development time, administration and accounting.

You will need to identify what support you’ll need to make your everyday work accessible. There might be one-off access equipment costs, but also ongoing support required. Although in reality, your work might vary wildly, you must be able to quantify the access support you will need in terms of a typical working week.

You can apply to Access to Work for a grant to help cover the costs which fall into the following three categories:


Access to Work can help fund essential equipment or adaptations to existing equipment that is needed for access reasons. This might include:

  • A specialist wheelchair if you are a dancer.
  • Digital hearing aids (where there is a clear work-related need, not just a social need).
  • Installing mind-mapping or planning software on your work computer if you have cognitive impairments.
  • The cost of training in any equipment provided.
Two dancers on table

Candoco Dance Company. Photo by Camilla Greenwell, 2018

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 you, Access to Work can help pay towards the cost of getting around to do your job. For example, if you need to travel to a meeting or rehearsal, but public transport causes panic attacks, Access to Work will pay for the additional costs of getting a taxi to and from the location.

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

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 you need 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.

If your access requirements mean you need a support worker, Access to Work will consider funding this. 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
Two deaf people communicating

Deepa Shastri and Stephen Collins

Access to Work will not pay for a support worker to give nursing or personal care. Support starts when you are ready to start the working day.

If you need to travel and stay away from home as part of your work, you can indicate the number of nights you 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 your award from the outset. This can include overnight stay fees for a support worker and their related accommodation and subsistence costs. If you do not include this in your original request you will have to make a new application for this type of support when you need to travel.

💡Top Tips: If you do not know set dates of when you will need to travel away from home for work, it’s a good idea to work out an average for the year so you don’t have to put in continuous extra claims for individual trips.

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

Application process

You can apply for Access to Work by online application form or:

Two women sitting at a desk

Jess Thom and Deepa Shastri

There is no guarantee that Access to Work staff will be familiar with your specific medical condition, impairment or access requirements. You should be able to clearly articulate your situation so that the advisor fully understands the barriers you face. It’s also useful to think about how to best to describe the work you do, remembering that Access to Work staff will most likely have little knowledge of the arts and cultural sector.  It’s a good idea to have a trusted friend or colleague to lean on for support throughout the process.

The stages of an Access to Work application:

  • Initial application form.
  • Access to Work adviser contacts you to discuss what help you could get.
  • Access to Work request additional information eg evidence from a medical professional.
  • An assessor may visit you to assess your needs.
  • You receive a decision, which could include a grant offer.
  • To accept the offer you will need to complete the declaration within four weeks of the date of the offer.

For more help see our Tips for Completing the Online Form downloadable resource sheet.

If you are unsure what support is available, the Access to Work adviser can discuss the options with you, but it is helpful if you research and know your access support needs in advance.

💡 Top Tips: 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 may be 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.

If your condition or impairment is variable (good days and bad days) think carefully about the support you need overall to do your job, as you will still need to be able to work on your bad days.

Man filling in a form

Monthly Claims

You will need to pay for your access costs upfront. Access to Work will send you a form for claiming the amount of support you use on a monthly basis with accompanying guidance notes.

For every calendar month you use support, you need to post a completed claim form, along with any relevant receipts and invoices. If you use a support worker they will need to sign the form too. Your claim must arrive within 6 months of the activity for which you are claiming.

You need to make a separate claim for each type of support. For example, if you have a Support Worker, Job Aide and get 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.

Check out the following resource sheets for examples of different claim forms:

Support worker claim form.

Travel to Work claim form.

If circumstances arise where you need support worker help outside of your normal working patterns, including overseas travel, you can apply for additional support. Contact your Access to Work advisor to talk about making an application.

💡Top Tips: It’s a good idea to write in bold both on the claim form and the invoice what type of support you are claiming for.

Make sure you post claims individually as posting two or more claim forms in the same envelope may cause some of them to get lost.