The Access to Work Action Group has written to Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work (Department of Work and Pensions), in response to ever-worsening delays in the processing of Access to Work claim forms. You can read the Minister’s response here.
The intention of the letter is to make Mr Tomlinson aware of how our members, who are predominantly self-employed and work regularly as ‘support workers’ with Deaf AtW claimants, are suffering and struggling to make ends meet due to a DWP process that is both archaic and broken.
The letter points out the stark difference between Access to Work’s “aim to process claims within ten working days of receiving a correctly completed claim form” and the reality faced by our members and their clients.
Since the start of 2021 and particularly, since April, it has become the norm for interpreters and translators to have to wait in excess of two months for payment, despite a correctly completed claim form having been submitted with their invoice(s).
Delays cause frustration to Deaf claimants
It goes on to include reference to the frustration of Deaf claimants, who are having to take the time to chase up payments for the interpreters and translators they have worked with, only to be told that they need to fill out the paperwork again and re-submit their claims – sometimes more than once. The result of this poor practice is an unacceptable wait for payment, as a direct result of a system and process that isn’t fit for purpose.
In addition, the Minister is informed that, because the DWP continues to refuse to recognise interpreters and translators as its customers, even though we are paid directly by the DWP’s commissioned finance organisation (SSCL), the only option available to our members who are missing payments is to ask the Deaf claimant to investigate whether or not the claim has been received and processed.
Over the past few months, this has created additional stress for both parties and placed unnecessary strains on their working relationships, solely due to failures in the Access to Work process.
The communication also mentions the sad state of affairs whereby many interpreters and translators either have, or are considering, withdrawing from work where remittance is dependent on Access to Work processes, because they cannot afford to risk payment being delayed for months, if it is ever received at all.
Similarly, we have members who feel they have to write off a certain amount of income every year due to Access to Work payments not being received, despite chasing payment by all means available to them.
Minister asked to provide urgent response to current situation
Whilst NUBSLI is pleased to learn that that the Minister has committed funds and resource to the development of a digital solution for Access to Work, which should be in place by the end of the calendar year, the letter stresses that our members cannot be expected to tolerate a continuation of the current situation for, at least, a further six months.
It also mentions the various ‘reasons’ given to NUBSLI members, by a variety of AtW Advisers, for the current crisis in the processing of AtW claims. These range from missing post bags, to a glitch in the DWP system randomly not displaying some scanned documents, with blame being placed on organisations from the Royal Mail to the contract company brought in to scan post directly onto the system.
Justin Tomlinson MP is asked to provide NUBSLI with a response on the following points as matter of urgency:
- Clarification on the actual reason(s) behind the current backlog of claims and resultant requests for Deaf claimants to re-submit their claim forms, causing delays to payment that our members are relying on to cover their bills and living costs.
- Assurance that urgent measures are being taken to resolve the current backlog and associated issues with unacceptable delays to payments for ‘support workers’, with details of what these measures will look like and how they will address the problems being experienced by our members.
- If the “missing post bags” comments from AtW Advisers are correct, were the missing claims ever found and, if not, was the loss the responsibility of the DWP or Royal Mail? With Access to Work demanding that interpreters and translators’ invoices include items of personal information, such as their name, address, contact information and a Unique Tax Reference number, the Minister’s response to this point will be relevant in determining NUBSLI’s next steps regarding consulting with the Legal Team from Unite the Union on potential data breaches under GDPR legislation.
- With DWP advocating for prompt payment to suppliers and the law stating that a payment is late 30 days after the invoice is received, with ‘statutory interest’ of 8% plus the Bank of England base rate being due on the invoice amount at this point, the Minister is invited to announce a change in DWP policy allowing interpreters and translators to issue late payment invoices for work carried out in good faith that they have not been reimbursed for after 30 days, despite the Deaf claimant having done everything they can to ensure payment to be processed by DWP. As the severe delays to invoice processing have been caused entirely by the changes to a government system and processes, if such a change in policy is not forthcoming, in order to support our members, whose livelihoods have been threatened by the Department’s failure to comply with its own legislation, NUBSLI will be seeking legal advice from Unite the Union on this issue.
Minister’s response to NUBSLI
Despite the funding announced to improve the current system, it seems no improvements are being made currently to the backlog of claim forms and missed payments we’re facing. This causes deaf people an unnecessary burden when chasing these payments with ATW and is frustrated by the fact that interpreters themselves cannot liaise directly with ATW to sort these issues. The seriousness of loss or delay of income to us as largely freelance professionals was also emphasised.
We received a reply from the minister to our comprehensive letter that left much to be desired.
It seems clear to us that the minister has no intention of addressing our concerns or responding to the above points. Despite the clearly laid out explanation of the issues, the minister has not confirmed any strategies he will be putting in place to address this or answered our questions about a data breach.
NUBSLI and the ATW action group will be working together with feedback from members at our branch meeting to form an appropriate response to this. If you’re a member and feel able to volunteer some time to support with this, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org