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Returning to work or study

Things to consider after taking time off because of an illness or disability

If a health condition or disability means you’ve been away from work or your studies for a while, it’s worth taking time to plan your return.

The effects of a health condition or disability on your personal life can be challenging. But if you’ve been away from work or your studies for a long spell as part of your recovery, the prospect of returning may be too much to even think about.

Knowing a little about the options available to you can help when it comes to making big decisions about your future and finances. While it may not be easy, open communication about your needs and plans is also key to making sure you get the right support – whatever your next steps may be.



Returning to work

How can my employer help me?

Talking about personal issues with your employer can be tough, but sharing concerns you may have about your job can help make them easier to deal with – and it’s an important first step when it comes to planning a return to work following an absence because of an illness or disability.

Making ‘reasonable adjustments’ 

Most employers will be open to discussing how you can return to work successfully after time off because of a health condition, but all are legally obliged to take steps to prevent discrimination against all employees with a disability. 

The Equality Act 2010 requires all employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid putting people with a disability at a disadvantage – what counts as ‘reasonable’ depends on both your job and the nature of your disability.

Reasonable adjustments typically include making changes to your work environment, or your working pattern or location, such as 

  • Using different office equipment
  • Fitting a wheelchair ramp
  • A car parking space nearer your building entrance
  • Working on the ground floor to avoid stairs
  • Flexible working hours, so you can commute at times to avoid the rush hour
  • Working from home

You can read more about the steps employers are expected to take to reduce the difficulties you may face when you have a disability at the Equality and Human Rights website.

You can also get advice from the Work Coach at your local Jobcentre Plus. 

Can I get financial help?

If you already have a paid job (or you’re about to start one) and your employer isn’t able to make all of the changes you need to help with a health condition, you may be eligible for a government Access to Work grant.

Access to Work helps cover the additional cost of workplace support, such as buying additional equipment, or travel to and from your workplace. The grant doesn’t have to be paid back and doesn’t affect other benefits you receive – although other benefits may affect whether you’re eligible for a grant in the first place.

There’s more information about Access to Work grants at the GOV.UK Carers and disability benefits website.

Working part-time, redundancy and retirement

Your employer may suggest other options when you talk about your plans to return to work – or you may want to raise them yourself.

  • Reducing your hours may help you ease back into your job. If you’re considering a long-term switch from full-time to part-time work, it’s vital that you fully understand the impact this will have – not only on your income, but also on any additional benefits you may receive, such as workplace pension contributions.
  • Voluntary redundancy might also be an option. Redundancy usually gives you a lump sum that can help cover your cost of living while you look for another job, but always consider the wider implications – such as whether any payment protection insurance you may have still applies if you take voluntary (as opposed to involuntary) redundancy.
  • Early retirement is another possibility, depending on your age, but it’s a big decision to make. If nothing else, early retirement may mean you need to rethink your pension plans and it could make returning to work later more difficult.

All three cases come with important financial considerations and you should seek independent advice before deciding.

If you’re a Union member, your representative may have some advice, or else be able to put you in touch with a specialist advisor. Otherwise, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or an independent financial advisor are also worth contacting.

What if my old job no longer suits?

If you decide to leave your old job, there’s lots of advice available to help you find something new.

Employers are also subject to the same Equality Act 2010 when it comes to recruitment, so people with a disability should face no greater difficulty than those without – though it may not always seem that way.

Potential employers are entitled to ask about certain aspects of your health condition or disability as part of their recruitment process. This may be part of your application or a subsequent interview, and it could

  • Help establish that you can do an essential part of the job
  • Help make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ for the interview process
  • Be part of an employer’s ongoing commitment to equal opportunities

You don’t have to answer questions about your health when applying for a job, or even mention it at all, but bear in mind that this may make it more difficult to complain about discrimination later – if you need to.

Get help finding a new job

Whether you’re just changing jobs or making a bigger move by changing careers, there are various ways to get help and support with job hunting, writing your CV and sharpening your work skills – or learning new ones.

  • Barclays LifeSkills for Working Life has lots of resources for job hunters, including some you might otherwise overlook – such as using social media to enhance your career prospects.
  • Barclays Digital Wings helps you brush up on what you know about computer technology.
  • The GOV.UK National Careers Service has advice on all of these areas, plus a helpline you can call to talk about learning, training and working.
  • Although aimed at employers, GOV.UK guidance for its Disability Confident scheme has some useful insights about what to look for if you’d like to work somewhere that’s especially considerate of people with disabilities. 

Returning to education

Talk to your educational establishment

If you’ve taken time off studying to deal with a health condition or disability and are ready to return, the advice is similar. Again, the best first step is to talk to your educational establishment.

Most universities have a Disability Support Officer to help and support students with particular needs – contact details should be available online, else get in touch with a student union representative.

What benefits can I claim?

Full and part-time students with an illness or disability may also be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to help with any additional costs – specialist equipment, travel, non-medical helpers and so on.

You don’t need to repay these allowances, but how much you get depends on your particular needs and those may need to be independently assessed. 

Get help managing your finances

Whatever your plans for returning to work or education, the MoneyHelper Budget Planner can help you better understand your finances and how to manage on a reduced income.

We’re also on hand to help with any concerns you may have, from practical tips about money management to advice about how living with an illness or disability that affects your finances. Start at our Money management page – you’ll find our contact details there, too. 

We also have other guides you may find useful if you have a disability

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