Leading sight loss charity Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) calls for drastic improvements to Access to Work scheme.
Blind and partially sighted people attempting to secure work are facing delays averaging five to six months in getting support from a Government scheme that helps with the additional costs to themselves and their employers.
The Access to Work scheme, administered by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), can pay for a range of support, including support workers, adaptations to work premises and specialised equipment.
The scheme also pays for travel to work where there are no practical public transport alternatives as well as awareness training for colleagues.
However, in December 2022 there were 25,103 outstanding applications throughout the UK, an increase of more than 10,000 in 12 months.
RNIB is demanding that the Department of Work and Pensions makes drastic improvements to the scheme.
The current lengthy delays, often as long as six months, for applications and claims to Access to Work are putting thousands of jobs at risk for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions.
Many blind and partially sighted people are having job offers withdrawn or are unable to start work.
The support Access to Work offers aims to help narrow a wide employment gap. The employment rate for the general population is 76 per cent, but only 27 per cent for those who are blind and partially sighted.
David Clarke, RNIB chief operating officer, said: “We are calling on the Department of Work and Pensions to take decisive and comprehensive action to cut the backlog urgently.
“RNIB has repeatedly raised concerns about their ongoing inability to administer the scheme since December 2021.
“Six months is far too long for people with sight loss to be without support with many having job offers withdrawn or finding their careers in limbo due to the delays.
“We have met with the DWP on numerous occasions to discuss the delays, but little progress has been made and the situation is rapidly worsening with 15,000 outstanding applications in December 2021, rising to 25,103 in December 2022.
“The DWP needs to provide adequate resources to Access to Work so that support is put in place within four weeks of any application, and claims are promptly processed.
“At the same time, the DWP could make efficiency savings by stopping their practice of making people go through an unnecessary renewal process if their needs haven’t changed. They could also extend support packages while people are seeking a renewal, rather than suddenly cutting off support altogether, as sometimes happens at present when a renewal is delayed by their own system.
“The steps taken so far to address the problem are clearly inadequate and RNIB believes that the ongoing delays in administration of the scheme are so significant as to risk being unlawful.”