The head of the Motability car scheme has admitted his organisation has made no attempt to persuade the government to soften its disability living allowance (DLA) cuts and reforms.
Government figures suggest that more than 400,000 fewer disabled people will be eligible for a Motability vehicle in 2018 as a result of the reforms, which will see DLA replaced with the new personal independence payment (PIP).
Declan O’Mahony, director of Motability, said he knew that some of his more than 600,000 current customers would lose their cars over the next five years.
But he said that Motability was “not a lobbying organisation” and therefore was not trying to persuade the government that its customers needed their vehicles, even though he accepted that “what the government is doing to disability benefits is one of the most significant changes in decades”.
He said: “We are not responsible for the government’s choices about policy. We are not in a position to wave a wand for any customer who loses their eligibility.
“All we can do is manage that impact with that customer as best we can and we are working on a package of transitional measures for such customers.”
Only those who receive the “enhanced” rate of the mobility component of PIP will be eligible to stay on the Motability scheme. Reassessment of existing working-age DLA claimants will begin this October, although those with a lifetime DLA award will now not be reassessed until at least October 2015.
In an interview with Disability News Service (DNS), O’Mahony also declined to estimate how many of his customers would be forced to hand back their cars as a result of the reforms.
He said: “We can cope with whatever the next few years brings. What we can’t do is say for certain how big the scheme will be in two years’ time or five years’ time.”
He added: “I think forecasting these big scheme numbers is a futile exercise until we see how the reassessment process operates in reality. The real story for us is what is happening customer by customer.
“What we don’t want to do is frighten customers to no good effect… also, we are not the DWP: it is not for us to tell people how the benefit system works.”
O’Mahony said Motability’s own research had found that “having an affordable, reliable car for many of our customers hugely enhances their opportunities in life”.
He said that Motability was therefore in the “awkward position” of knowing this but having to accept that some of those customers would lose those opportunities as a result of the government cuts and reforms.
He said this was why Motability was developing “transition measures” for customers affected by the changes.
Motability has previously suggested – during a workshop at a Disability Rights UK conference last November – that up to 100,000 of its customers could lose their eligibility for the scheme in the three years to 2016.
But O’Mahony said he did not believe Motability had enough information to make any accurate estimates.
He also said he was not in a position to comment on last month’s government announcement of a further tightening of the eligibility criteria for the enhanced rate of the PIP mobility component.
He said: “It’s really not for us to guess, second guess or judge the degree of somebody’s disability.”
He said he believed that many of those Motability customers who lost their eligibility to be part of the scheme would instead be forced to make do with much older, second-hand vehicles, rather than the new vehicles provided by Motability.
Many former customers are also likely to be forced to rely on cheaper third-party insurance, rather than the fully-comprehensive version they enjoy as part of Motability’s all-inclusive package.
10 January 2013