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Access to Work will be digitalised from April 2024

While some parts of the system are already digitalised, others still require paperwork

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that from April 2024, disabled people will be able to apply for Access to Work grants online.

Access to Work grants can be used for people with a disability to pay for equipment, travel costs or practical help they need at work, such as a sign language interpreter.

Read more: When will we get serious about attracting disabled talent?

While some parts of the system are already digitalised, others still require paperwork.

Angela Matthews, head of policy at the Business Disability Forum, said online access is particularly important as more companies work remotely.

She told HR magazine: "We welcome the introduce of online applications for Access to Work and hope it will improve access to grants and reduce waiting times. Online applications will be key for many organisations where the manager is not in the same location as an employee.

"The need for this has been greater since increased remote and hybrid working. We saw the impact of paper based applications during the Covid pandemic when Access to Work applications required ‘wet signatures’. During the pandemic, many employees we spoke to had to post their paper form to their line managers’ home address for them to sign, and then the manager would mail it back to the employee’s home address. This caused delays in employees getting the support they needed."

However, she stressed that the application system must remain accessible to people without digital skills or capabilities.

She said: “It is important that the online application system is as accessible as possible in order to meet the differing communication needs of disabled people. Other ways of applying for Access to Work must also remain. Not everyone’s job means that they have access to a computer or know how to navigate online application systems, and some prefer to pick up the phone to make an application or apply in British Sign Language where their first language is not written English.”

The news follows government proposals to push disabled people into work, including making it harder for those on long-term sickness to claim benefits, and a focus on new work practices, such as the ability to work from home, to enable more people deemed unable to work to access employment.

However, critics say the plans do not solve hiring problems or support issues for employees with additional needs.

Jo Mackie, head of employment law at Lawrence Stephens, said the government cannot force genuinely disabled people into work and further measures are needed to close the UK’s skills gaps.

She told HR magazine: “The skills gap will be closed with investment in training and education, not by putting unskilled or unqualified people into roles they are not suitable for.

“Taking people into the workplace who are unwell and not able to perform at their best puts a business at great risk and it can make a business liable for disability discrimination claims, costing time and money… and will increase the burden on employers.”

Read more: Government plans to push disabled workers into employment condemned