Disabled drivers could soon be faced with additional transport challenges following potentially discriminatory policies announced by the Motability car scheme.
The scheme, which provides disabled people with an adapted car, powered wheelchair or scooter on a three-year lease, is currently available to anyone in receipt of the higher rate of DLA or PIP. But under new rules, grants made from the Specialised Vehicles Fund (SVF) for a drive-from-wheelchair (DFW) vehicle (which allows the disabled person to drive, rather than being a passenger) would only be made to those who are working, volunteering, in education or caring for at least 12 hours a week. Disability News Service reports that Motability expects to make around 50 fewer grants in 2014 / 2015 from the SVF fund than in the previous year.
The drastic change to the criteria is in spite of Motability having around £190million in reserves and has been met with heavy criticism from disability organisations such as DPAC and Inclusion London. It will have a devastating effect on disabled people who are too ill to work or volunteer, as well as those who simply do not have the energy or strength due to chronic health conditions to commit to 12 hours a week.
In what has been described as an ‘underhand move’ by disability charity, Inclusion London, the changes only came to light when current customers were contacted by Motability in advance of their renewal date asking if they were in employment, education or engaged in caring or volunteering duties. Those who were not for at least 12 hours a week were informed they were no longer eligible for a vehicle.
Transport for All have also criticised the changes, not least because Motability vehicles give disabled people the freedom and independence to live their lives, whether it is by enjoying leisure activities, visiting family or friends or going shopping. Working, volunteering and caring, whilst important, should not be seen as the only valuable activities. Moreover, many Motability customers rely on being able to travel with equipment such as hoists and oxygen cylinders, which they would struggle to take onto a bus or taxi.
In October last year, The Telegraph reported that Motability Operations CEO Mike Betts was taking home bonuses of nearly £1million on top of his basic salary of just over £500,000. Transport for All believe the six-figure sum is in exceptionally bad taste, considering the on-going welfare reforms which are hitting disabled people hard.
Motability ‘should hang their head in shame’
Fred Williams, a Motability customer and one of the thousands – if not millions – of people who will be affected by Motability’s policy changes said: “It is totally outrageous that the very people who need their vehicles the most are being turned away simply because they are on ESA benefit.
“I use my car for everything: Shopping, GP/hospital appointments, visiting friends, basically, anything that enables me to lead a normal life. I can’t use a telephone because I have a bad speech impediment so I can’t even ring for a taxi. I can’t even use a bus because my power chair is too big. So without a car, I might as well lie down and die. Motability should hang their head in shame for how they are treating their customers.”
The changes come at a time when bus routes across the country are being cut , leaving people in rural communities across the UK without any public transport options. Those who lose their eligibility for a Motability car may find themselves without any alternatives to get out and about.