Disabled people have reacted angrily after they were told they will no longer be able to drive vehicles worth over £25,000 through the Motability car scheme.
The announcement of tighter new rules by Motability follows a series of inaccurate, hostile and disablist media reports attacking the disabled people’s car scheme.
Earlier this month, campaigners complained to the press watchdog after the Mail on Sunday suggested there was widespread abuse of the scheme.
The paper claimed that more than 3,000 families of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – which it called “naughty child syndrome” – were “abusing” the benefits system by receiving “free” cars through the scheme.
It claimed that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was “determined to stop what he regards as abuse of free cars for the disabled”, and said the Motability website “openly advises claimants how to use the benefit to get luxury cars”. The newspaper later published a series of corrections to its story.
Duncan Smith is attempting to force through a controversial package of welfare reforms, including proposals to cut spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by a fifth.
In a statement announcing the rule changes, Motability’s chair, Lord Sterling, mentioned “recent press comments” which had focused on customers obtaining “prestige” cars through the scheme.
He stressed that only five per cent of cars leased through the scheme had a recommended retail price of more than £25,000 – those available only with an advance payment of more than £2,000.
The average car obtained through the Motability scheme is worth £19,500, far less than the UK average of over £28,000. Motability vehicles can only be obtained by disabled people claiming the higher rate mobility component of DLA.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for the user-led charity Disabled Motoring UK, said she was “angry” and “disappointed” with the new rule, and accused Motability of bowing to media pressure.
She said: “I feel they have listened too much to the negative press reports and reacted to them in this way.
“I am saddened by it because it is restricting the choice of the car for disabled people.”
Dolphin also pointed out that the new rule would not save the government any money on its benefits bill.
She said: “It is not going to save a penny. It is going to limit people who have chosen to drive a slightly more expensive car.
“If the government think that restricting vehicles for disabled people is going to save money, they have clearly misunderstood what the scheme is about.”
She said there was a “gross misunderstanding” about the scheme in the media and among the public, who failed to realise that if a disabled person wants to obtain a prestige car they have to pay a much higher advance payment.
She said she would not in future be able to lease the Motability car she currently drives, because it was worth more than £25,000.
She said: “It was a completely personal choice because I do a lot of mileage and I wanted a car that could reach reasonable speeds and was safe to drive.
“Is it outrageous for me to want to have a nice car? I work full-time and I put my money towards it. What is outrageous about it? I don’t get it.”
But Dolphin said she did agree with some of the other changes introduced by Motability, such as only accepting named drivers – people the disabled customer can choose to drive their car – who live within five miles of the DLA claimant. Previously this was set at 25 miles.
Motability also said that from January 2012 it would no longer accept named drivers under the age of 21, unless they lived with the disabled customer.
And Lord Sterling said Motability would “invest further in our capacity to investigate and act on allegations of abuse, as well as piloting new vehicle technologies to monitor how cars are used where we perceive the greatest risk of abuse”.
Asked whether Motability had bowed to government and media pressure, a spokeswoman declined to comment.
She also declined to comment when asked whether Motability believed the new maximum price would actually cut government spending on disability benefits.
20 October 2011