Law firm Leigh Day has commenced legal action against the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, over what it describes as an “inconsistent, unlawful and opaque application of its policy” toward the Access to Work scheme (AtW).
Lawyers acting on behalf of the campaign group ‘Stop Changes To Access To Work’, and steering group member Ellen Clifford, argue the scheme provides vital support to disabled people, helping them to overcome barriers to employment.
Leigh Day is challenging the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish a document detailing the criteria for eligibility and the rules that will be applied to people’s claims, which the legal firm says has not been made publicly available.
The lack of publicly available guidance on the scheme is unlawful, says Leigh Day.
In a letter sent to the DWP ahead of launching formal legal action, lawyers describes what it calls the ’30 hour rule’ as an example of the ‘apparently inconsistent, unlawful and opaque’ way in which the scheme has been applied.
Access to Work guidance was changed in June 2011, so that where a claimant required a support worker for 30 hours or more a week, the scheme would fund that support as an annual salary, rather than an Agency worker employed on an hourly basis.
Disabled people voiced their concerns about the 30-hour rule, with a significant number of deaf users saying the specific requirements of a sign-language interpreter made it difficult for employers to employ them on a full-time basis.
On 15 May 2014 it was announced that the 30-hour rule was under review and was suspended. Despite promises the suspension would last for the duration of the review, those affected continue to wait for any clarification as to the future of this rule.
Failure by the DWP to publish the document detailing Access To Work eligibility criteria means the status of the 30-hour rule is unknown. This is unlawful, says Leigh Day.
The Government has been given just 14 days to publish the documentation before formal legal action is taken in the High Court. It has been asked to publish the current, and any future, guidance on AtW.
It has also been asked to reinstate grants and funding to all those affected by the ’30 hour rule’.
Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day, who is representing the ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ group, said:
“The failure by the Department of Work & Pensions to publish clear guidance on such a crucial scheme is, we believe, unlawful.
“Access to Work users, who depend on the support provided to them by the scheme, are having their support arbitrarily cut or suspended, this is putting their employment and their businesses at serious risk.
“The Secretary of State should now ensure his department deals with this matter urgently. It should publish clear AtW guidance and resolve the many outstanding claims.”
Ellen Clifford, on behalf of Stop Changes to Access to Work said:
“This scheme is key to safeguarding both the social and financial inclusion of disabled people in society.
“The support it provides, such as travel grants, special aids or equipment and support workers, transforms lives and safeguards careers, it cannot continue to be applied so haphazardly and in such an opaque manner.”