A Tory peer has accused work and pensions secretary Esther McVey of making a series of untrue statements about the Motability car scheme to fellow MPs.
Lord Sterling, who co-founded Motability in 1977, has told McVey in a letter that he found the “litany of inaccuracies” in the comments made by her and fellow MPs in a debate earlier this month to be “deeply troubling”.
Only last month, Disability News Service reported how McVey had been appointed as the new work and pensions secretary despite previously being repeatedly shamed in 2013 for misleading fellow MPs and the public about the impact of her policies on disabled people.
Lord Sterling’s letter also reveals that of 180,000 Motability customers who were previously claiming disability living allowance (DLA) and have so far been reassessed for the new personal independence payment (PIP), about 75,000 have lost eligibility to remain on the scheme and have had to return their cars, because of decisions by McVey’s department.
The Commons debate on 8 February followed an urgent question asked by the Labour MP John Mann about claims in the Daily Mail newspaper concerning the £2.4 billion in reserves held by the company that runs the scheme – Motability Operations (MO) – and the £1.7 million pay and bonuses package of MO’s chief executive, Mike Betts.
But Lord Sterling told McVey (pictured in the debate) in his letter that the debate had been “deeply flawed and misleading”, with some of the errors relating to claims by Mann that the charity itself was holding the reserves and running the scheme, and that Betts was employed by the charity.
The Tory peer pointed out that the Motability scheme was delivered by MO under contract to the Motability charity*, rather than by the charity itself.
But he also told McVey – a separate letter aimed at correcting the “many false statements” made in the debate was sent to her by Motability Operations – that she herself had made four serious errors.
The first, he said, was that she had called for the charity’s trustees to be “held to account” after another MP told how a constituent who had been a lifetime recipient of DLA had been threatened with having her Motability vehicle removed on Boxing Day.
But this was a result of a PIP reassessment – carried out by McVey’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – which had found the constituent was no longer eligible for the higher rate of mobility support, and therefore no longer eligible to lease a car through the Motability scheme.
Lord Sterling pointed out in his letter that PIP assessments were the responsibility of McVey’s department and that it was DWP’s decision to remove her eligibility.
He then highlighted McVey’s claim in the debate that it had been her intervention as minister for disabled people in 2013 that led to Motability agreeing to pass £175 million** to former DLA claimants who lost their Motability vehicles in the reassessment programme.
Lord Sterling said that minutes of the charity’s meetings showed that its own trustees had made this decision themselves the previous year because they had “felt a moral obligation to help people at risk of losing cars due to government policy changes”.
He said they had already decided by December 2012, months before McVey’s intervention, “to provide a package of significant financial support and other assistance”.
And he said that McVey had even suggested in 2013 that this support should only be focused on the initial stage of reassessments, up to 2015-16, whereas Motability’s trustees wanted to provide financial support “over the full period of the DWP’s reassessments”.
The Tory peer told her that the charity had had to cope with the loss of about 75,000 customers through PIP reassessment, many of whom were “confused, distressed and even suicidal, as they worry about losing their mobility”.
Lord Sterling also said that McVey was wrong when she said that DWP would use money regained from Motability to help constituents whose cars had been removed before their PIP appeals had been heard.
She had told MPs: “When we have got the money back from Motability that we believe we should to support disabled people, that is one of the first things it should be used for.”
Lord Sterling said this was wrong because there was “no basis on which the government can demand any money to be handed over”.
He also said that McVey had been wrong when she claimed that the charity was piloting a scheme – “after direction from the department” – to help disabled children under the age of three, when the scheme was actually being piloted by MO and there had been “no direction” from DWP.
A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if McVey would be apologising for the “inaccuracies” in her statements to MPs.
But she said: “When PIP was first introduced, the government worked with Motability to design an extensive £175 million transitional support package to support Motability customers who have not been awarded the enhanced mobility component on reassessment from DLA to PIP.
“While the department works closely with Motability, it is an independent charitable organisation and therefore we are not directly involved in determining scheme policy or operational issues.”
Motability revealed this week that the number of its customers had fallen to 628,000 by December 2017, a drop of 5,000 since March 2017.
Although it has lost about 75,000 customers through reassessment, the rollout of PIP has also opened eligibility to more disabled people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
Meanwhile, despite McVey’s calls in the debate for the Charity Commission to carry out another review of the financial relationship between the charity and Motability Operations, following one it carried out last year, the commission has said this week that it has no new concerns.
It said in a statement: “In light of media reporting about the Motability scheme, we reviewed the highlighted issues to see if there was anything we had not investigated as part of our previous regulatory compliance case in Motability… which was under our jurisdiction as regulator of charities in England and Wales.
“Having reviewed the latest information in the media we have concluded that, as set out in our statement on 8 February, there are no new concerns that come under the commission’s jurisdiction.”
*The Motability charity is a DNS subscriber
**The £175 million came from a series of donations from Motability Operations to Motability during 2014 and 2015. Motability says it has so far paid out about £100 million, usually in sums of £2,000 to “departing customers”, as well as allowing customers to retain their cars for longer periods after losing their PIP eligibility and providing them with other advice and support. It is not yet sure whether it will spend “slightly more or less” than £175 million in total but plans to continue providing this support until the end of the reassessment programme, which is likely to be in 2020.