New insurance rules that effectively ban foreign personal assistants (PAs) from driving Motability vehicles are likely to breach the Equality Act, it has been claimed.
The new rules, introduced in January, mean foreign drivers without a UK licence can only be named on a customer’s insurance policy if they provide written proof of their driving history – in English – including details of endorsements and any disqualifications in their home country.
But foreign drivers can only exchange their home licence for a UK version once they have lived in the UK for at least six months, while those from many non-European Union countries have to pass a UK driving test.
Helen Aveling, a Motability customer since last autumn, has contacted the scheme, her social services department, the PA agency she uses, and her MP, in a bid to find a solution to the problems caused by the new rules. She has also launched a petition which calls on Motability to change its mind.
She told Motability before she signed her contract that she would need an “open” insurance policy – allowing her flexibility in the number of PAs she used – as a “reasonable adjustment” under the Equality Act.
But in a letter to Ian Goswell, commercial services director at Motability Operations, she said the new rules would make it “impossible” for her to recruit PAs.
Aveling wrote: “As with many other disabled people who require 24/7 personal support, I employ agency workers who live in my home for a fortnight or more at a time.
“The majority of these workers are from overseas, and many do not remain long enough to make it worth their while to obtain a UK driving license.”
She often does not know the name of her PA until shortly before they arrive, she added.
The new rules could leave her Motability vehicle effectively “useless” if she cannot find PAs to drive it, trapping her at home.
Aveling told Goswell that she only signed her contract on the understanding that she could have an insurance policy that allowed any driver to drive her vehicle.
She suggested Motability now had a legal duty under the Equality Act to transfer her insurance policy to an insurer that continues to issue “any driver” policies.
Even if Motability allowed her to return her vehicle and cancel her lease, it would charge her a £250 “cancellation fee”.
She and other Motability-users received backing this week from the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who said the new rules had clearly been drawn up “on the back of a packet”.
She said: “What about this thing called the right to control your own package? That includes your right to choose the people that will suit you best in your particular chosen lifestyle.
“I learn from all my PAs. One is from Bulgaria, one is from Brazil, one is Polish, one is Welsh and one is English.”
Baroness Campbell said the new rules would create serious problems for her if she joined the Motability scheme.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, said she also had concerns about the new rules.
She said: “Although I appreciate Motability’s need to ensure all drivers of their vehicles are safe and fully licensed, the consequences of this for some disabled people could mean that their mobility is drastically impaired.”
A Motability spokeswoman declined to comment on the organisation’s duties under the Equality Act.
But she said: “While the Motability lease package includes cover for named drivers, Motability must do all it can to protect the scheme from misuse and keep costs proportionately low for all customers.
“It is therefore necessary to set some parameters on who is eligible to drive a Motability vehicle.”
She added: “Where a customer wishes to terminate their agreement, a cancellation fee is applied.
“However, in some individual circumstances we may be able to waive the cancellation fee if a suitable mobility solution cannot be found for the customer.”
It is just the latest in a series of moves by Motability to tighten the rules of its scheme. Last year, it began fixing location tracking devices to the cars of customers who live in care homes or have open insurance policies.
The previous year, it introduced other rules, including restricting named drivers – such as PAs – to those living within five miles of the customer’s home.
20 March 2013