New rules introduced secretly by the Motability car scheme mean only disabled people who spend more than 12 hours-a-week in education, work, volunteering or caring will be given grants to lease a vehicle they can drive from their wheelchair.
The Specialised Vehicles Fund (SVF) is run by Motability on behalf of the government, and provides grants for disabled people who need vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible, that they can drive from their wheelchairs, or that have other expensive adaptations.
The government provided £17 million for the fund in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15, in effect a real-terms cut.
But following this drop in funding, and an increase in demand, Motability has quietly tightened SVF rules so that only those disabled people who spend at least 12 hours-a-week in employment, education, volunteering or caring can now qualify for a grant for a drive-from-wheelchair vehicle.
The average drive-from-wheelchair grant is £27,000 but payments can be as high as £60,000.
Motability said this week that it expects to make about 50 fewer grants this year for drive-from-wheelchair vehicles (down from 362 in 2013-14), while the number of grants for less expensive wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) will rise by about 500 (from 3,039 in 2013-14).
Anger over the new rules comes following reports that Mike Betts, head of Motability Operations, which runs the car scheme on behalf of the Motability charity, received bonuses and other payments totalling more than £1 million in the year to September 2013, on top of his basic salary of more than £500,000.
Motability admitted this week that it carried out no public consultation on the new SVF rules, failed to inform customers before they were introduced, and refused to provide a copy of the new rules to at least one disabled customer.
Anne Novis said the new rules meant she was now not able to afford to lease a new drive-from-wheelchair vehicle and has had to extend the lease on her existing vehicle.
And she said that many other disabled people with high support needs would be left without a vehicle at all.
Novis, a pioneering campaigner on disability hate crime, said the new rules meant that only disabled people judged “worthy” of government support would now be able to qualify for a grant.
And she said the new rules took no account of factors such as the availability of accessible taxis, whether someone travelled with a hoist or other bulky equipment, and whether they lived in a rural area with little or no public transport.
Novis said: “As someone who has done ongoing voluntary work for decades, for which I received an MBE in 2012, I am not deemed to be ‘worthy’ of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle for I cannot physically cope with doing 12 hours a week outside my home, plus travel time, due to my health and impairments.
“I know many wheelchair-users who will not be able to meet the new eligibility criteria, or [use]black taxis or buses, due to their special access needs like a hoist or hand controls to drive, who will become so restricted in their lives they will feel worthless and despair.
“Our ability to get out and about, to socialise, practise our faith, to be free from harassment and fear, is affected.”
A Motability spokeswoman admitted that “some small changes to the way the underlying criteria are used were applied in June this year to ensure the funds are spent fairly and sustainably”.
And she confirmed that this included a 12 hours-per-week minimum usage for drive-from-wheelchair applications.
She said the number of grants for drive-from-wheelchair vehicles was limited because of their high cost, but there had “also been an increase in demand from new customers joining the scheme, and an increase in demand for passenger solutions [wheelchair-accessible vehicles for a disabled passenger]”.
She insisted there had been a “thorough assessment” of the impact of the changes, but admitted there had been no consultation with customers, with the changes agreed instead by the four Motability governors on its funding and grant-making committee.
She said: “Eligibility criteria for drive-from-wheelchair/internal transfer vehicles are in place to establish that the vehicle will see extensive and essential use to support substantive employment, education, volunteer working or to enable the disabled driver to provide vital and sole care to another, for example, a school-age child or children or a disabled loved one who resides with the disabled person.
“In exceptional circumstances we may look at applications which fall outside of these criteria; however, help on this basis is very limited due to limited funding.”
When asked why Novis had not been allowed to see a copy of the new rules, she said: “We are currently looking at how we communicate our criteria in a way that makes them more readily accessible to interested parties, including our customers, prospective applicants and other stakeholders.”
The spokeswoman said the financial package enjoyed by Mike Betts was not relevant because SVF was operated by the charity Motability, on behalf of the government, and not Motability Operations.
She said: “Motability Operations is an independent commercial company which is contracted to provide services to Motability (the charity).
“The remuneration arrangements for the chief executive of Motability Operations are the responsibility of its board and its remuneration committee.”
27 November 2014