Disabled people are being forced to hand back their Motability vehicles at a rate of up to 700 a week because of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms to disability benefits, according to the organisation’s own figures.
Motability expects 35, 000 vehicles to be handed back by disabled people during 2016 as a result of the government’s programme to reassess people for its new disability living costs benefit, personal independence payment (PIP).
And fewer than five per cent of those customers who will have to return their vehicles to Motability this year are likely to be able to re-join the scheme after they have gone through Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and independent appeal processes, Motability believes.
The figures show that, of Motability customers reassessed for PIP so far, 44 per cent of them have lost their entitlement to the scheme and have had to hand their vehicle back.
The Motability scheme, which has a turnover of about £4 billion a year, is still growing slowly overall, at about 1.5 per cent a year, because of new members joining, and currently has 651,000 vehicles (636,000 through the car scheme and 15,000 powered wheelchair and scooter customers).
Motability does expect the overall number of customers to start falling at some stage in the reassessment process but does “not expect the number of vehicles to fall below 600,000 over the next few year”.
The figures show the impact of the reassessment programme – part of the government’s plans from 2010 to cut 20 per cent from spending on working-age disability living allowance (DLA) – as it starts to accelerate.
Only those qualifying for the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP – or the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA – are entitled to obtain a car through the Motability scheme.
In March 2015, two years after PIP was launched, Motability said that more than 100 customers a week were losing their vehicles.
And in May this year, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said that between 400 and 500 vehicles a week were being returned after PIP reassessments.
Baroness Thomas said the latest figures were “very alarming and completely unacceptable”.
She said: “Surely the government must see that they are never going to be taken seriously about trying to halve the employment gap for disabled people if they continue down this disastrous path.
“They must also, surely, take into account the knock-on effects of this harsh policy on other government departments such as health and transport.
“I urge them again to rethink the policy before creating yet more misery for disabled people who are trying to do the best they can for themselves, their families and their country.”
Gordon McFadden, chair of the charity United Amputees (UA), who passed the figures to Disability News Service following a Motability event in London, said his organisation was “concerned in the extreme with the accelerating rate of returned vehicles”.
He said UA was “deeply worried” that the government’s decision to tighten a key eligibility criterion for the enhanced mobility rate from being able to walk less than 50 metres under DLA to 20 metres under PIP was leading to people previously “considered disabled enough to warrant access to the Motability scheme to improve their independence” now no longer being eligible.
He said UA was “alarmed” that hundreds of thousands of disabled people would lose access to disability benefits that were designed to help pay for the “extra costs of living independently with a disability”.
The government has previously predicted that 548,000 of the 892,000 working-age people who were receiving the higher rate of the DLA mobility component in February 2013 would not receive the enhanced mobility rate of PIP – and therefore would not be eligible to join the Motability scheme – once they were transferred to the new benefit.
Asked if the process of dealing with so many thousands of disabled people being forced to return their vehicles was proving difficult for Motability staff, a spokeswoman said: “The Motability Scheme has invested heavily in developing a first-class customer services team.
“Recruitment, training and development are key to continuing to provide this high quality service.
“Scheme customer services staff go through a continuous programme of training to enable them to deal and cope with many difficult situations, including dealing with those customers who lose their eligibility to remain on the scheme.
“The key difference in recent months is around the volume of customers impacted as staff have always had to manage customers who lose their allowance for a variety of reasons.”