The Motability car scheme is facing anger from disabled customers over new restrictions that will make it harder for them to find personal assistants (PAs) to drive their vehicles.
The announcement of tighter new rules in October followed a series of inaccurate and hostile media reports attacking the disabled people’s car scheme, which is only open to those claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance.
Initial anger with the new rules focused on Motability’s decision to stop disabled people paying higher advance payments through the scheme in order to obtain more expensive vehicles. This will restrict customers to cars worth less than £25,000.
But disabled people have now been contacting Motability to complain about another new rule, which will mean the scheme will only accept named drivers – people the disabled customer can choose to drive their car, such as their PAs – living within five miles of their home.
The new limit – previously set at 25 miles – will start coming into force next year when current leases run out and need to be renewed.
Motability has argued that “95 per cent of nominated drivers live either at the same address, or within five miles, of the disabled person, and so the vast majority of our customers will not see any impact from these changes”.
But Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said many disabled people were concerned that the new rules could see them being forced to look for new PAs.
He said: “This is about disabled people being able to choose who they employ and how they employ those individuals.”
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, said she had been “inundated” with letters and emails from members concerned about the impact of the new measure.
She said many members believed the clampdown was a “backlash to negative press stories”.
Dhani agreed. He said: “I suspect this is linked to the recent tabloid stories, the claims that disabled people have very expensive cars and that family members end up driving them.
“I think Motability should investigate such cases, but I don’t think it warrants a blanket policy that is going to affect very many people who use Motability vehicles to meet their everyday needs.”
Dolphin will be meeting Motability to discuss the proposed changes to the rules later this month.
The campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has already written to Motability about the changes.
Linda Burnip, a member of the DPAC steering group, said in her letter that the new rule could breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and would be particularly difficult for disabled people in rural areas, who would now find it “difficult if not at times impossible” to recruit PAs.
Family members, who may also be named drivers, might also live more than five miles away, she said.
Michelle Daley, a leading disability equality consultant and Motability customer, who uses PAs to drive her wheelchair-accessible vehicle, said: “There are so many problems with this. It is going to affect thousands of disabled people.
“You can’t guarantee that you will be able to employ someone only five miles from where you live.”
She was unsure how the changes would affect her, because she has an “open” insurance policy through Motability, rather than having to submit named drivers. But of her five PAs, none of them lives within five miles of her home.
A Motability spokeswoman said it would “consider requests” to include drivers outside the five mile range “where this is essential to support the disabled person’s mobility needs”, and that it had always been the intention to “allow exceptions to any policy where appropriate”.
She added: “We are listening carefully to feedback and concerns and will continue to tailor our communications accordingly.”
She insisted that the changes to the rules were not linked to tabloid coverage of the Motability scheme.
And she said that Motability customers with open insurance policies would be “unaffected” by the five-mile rule, although such policies were “only available to customers in exceptional circumstances”.
1 December 2011