Motability admits it might have to take back 100,000 vehicles

Motability has admitted that up to 100,000 disabled people could have to hand back the vehicles they lease under its car scheme, because of the government’s cuts and reforms to disability living allowance (DLA).

Motability currently has about 600,000 customers, who all use their higher rate mobility component of DLA to lease a vehicle.

But the government’s reform of working-age DLA, which will see it replaced by a new personal independence payment (PIP), will involve cuts of 20 per cent to spending by 2015-16, with an estimated 500,000 working-age disabled people losing their right to DLA/PIP.

Disabled people will only continue to be eligible to lease a vehicle through the Motability scheme if they are awarded the PIP enhanced mobility element.

Motability admitted for the first time this week, during a workshop at a conference organised by Disability Rights UK, that an estimated 100,000 of its customers – based on government forecasts – could lose their eligibility for the scheme over the three years to 2016.

Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said afterwards: “For Motability to be raising concerns now clearly means disabled people using Motability schemes need to be ready for significant change, and many will lose the ability to get around.”

He said government figures suggested that an average of 150 people in every parliamentary constituency would lose their Motability vehicle because of the cuts.

He said: “MPs should be very aware that this will mean high-profile cuts to disabled people who are at the moment assessed as having the highest mobility needs.

“Many thousands of people will lose the ability to get around and will lose the means to stay in work.”

Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for the user-led campaigning organisation Disabled Motoring UK, said she was “alarmed” by the “vast number” of people who will have to hand back the keys to their Motability vehicles.

She said: “I do fear the implications for people currently using Motability vehicles, and relying on those vehicles for work or education, suddenly losing not just the vehicle but the benefit.

“A lot of people who will lose their vehicles will not be able to use public transport. A lot of people are going to become much more housebound. Will they be able to get out at all?”

A Motability spokeswoman said: “We recognise the importance of Motability cars to the lives of our customers and their families, and are considering how best to support customers through the transition period.”

When asked what impact this would have on Motability’s own finances, she said: “Following the full implementation of PIP, if 100,000 fewer customers use the scheme, Motability would continue to operate in the same way as it does today.

“The Department for Work and Pensions plans to gradually introduce PIP between 2013 and 2016. Therefore, customer numbers could gradually reduce over this period.”

15 November 2012

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Classification flaws could mean missed swimming opportunity at London 2012

The lack of severely-impaired swimmers in the British team at this summer’s Paralympics could mean a missed chance to highlight sporting opportunities for other people with similar conditions, according to a leading athlete and activist.

Helen Dolphin is Britain’s fastest 200 metre freestyle swimmer in the S5 category, but because of flaws in the classification system missed out on qualification for London 2012 at the Paralympic trials.

British swimmers could only qualify for the games by clocking times that matched the third best time in the world for their classification – plus an extra two per cent – when the trials were held in March at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park.

The world record for her S5 event is 45 seconds faster than her personal best (swimmers with physical impairments are categorised from S1 to S10, with S1 for those with the most severe impairments).

Dolphin, who is director of policy and campaigns for the charity Disabled Motoring UK, says she would have had to secure a time which was fractions of a second slower than that of swimming sensation Ellie Simmonds – who competes in the S6 category  – in order to qualify.

She said: “I believe that there are problems with the classification system, particularly in the lower categories where disabilities are so diverse.

“I don’t wish to take anything away from anybody’s achievements, but for the sake of future athletes with severe impairments I believe it is time for the classification system to be looked at properly.

“I really don’t believe it is possible for anybody with my impairment to swim anywhere near the GB qualification time. I’ve looked at the times of men with similar disabilities and even they are not close to this time.”

The classification system is the responsibility of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), while British Swimming, the governing body for British swimmers, selects the teams.

Dolphin fears that problems with the classification and selection system will mean very few swimmers with severe impairments will represent Britain at London 2012.

With so few British role models on show, she says, this could make it harder to encourage more people with impairments such as hers – she had her legs and hands amputated 15 years ago – to take up swimming.

She said: “Surely it is better to have somebody in these categories swimming there than nobody.

“The message should be that people – whatever their disabilities – can be involved in sport. And if you are number one in your category, surely you should be swimming at London 2012.”

The IPC said it could not comment on individual cases, but a spokesman said that Paralympic athletes were grouped by the “extent of activity limitation they have in common” rather than by their impairment or performance.

He said: “Because the extent of activity limitation and impairment is complex and has continuous variables, it is mathematically impossible to create a classification system in which classes only comprise athletes experiencing exactly the same degree of activity limitation.

“By furthering our understanding of both biomechanics of swimming and more accurate measuring of impairment, the boundaries of classes are subject to regular review.

“However, no system should systematically disadvantage more severely impaired [athletes] within a class.”

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Blue badge reforms are ‘huge step forward’

The government has announced major reforms of the blue badge parking scheme for disabled people – the first on such a scale since its launch 40 years ago.

Councils will be forced to use more independent mobility assessments – instead of asking GPs to assess applicants – of those who do not qualify automatically for a badge.

How this will work has not yet been finalised, with new guidance for councils expected in May or June.

Included in the reforms is a long-awaited plan for a national database of the 2.5 million badge-holders, which should make it easier for councils to enforce the scheme. The database could include badges issued in Wales and Scotland.

Councils will be given “tough” new enforcement powers, including the right to cancel badges that have been lost, stolen, have expired or been withdrawn due to misuse, and on-the-spot powers to confiscate such badges.

The government also plans to contract a company to design, print and supply all blue badges across England – with a new electronic badge that will be harder to forge and alter – although councils will still process applications.

The maximum fee a council can charge will rise from £2 to £10, the first increase in nearly 30 years.

It will also be possible to renew badges online through the government’s directgov website.

The government says faster renewals and less abuse could save £20 million a year.

The National Fraud Authority’s latest estimate is that blue badge fraud costs the UK about £46 million a year.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said at the launch of the new plans in Camden, north London, that they would ensure the badge was “fit for purpose” and that “people who need blue badges can get them and use them”.

He also promised to write to supermarkets to encourage them to tackle abuse of accessible parking bays in their own carparks.

Dai Powell, chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), said the plans were “a huge step forward” but it was vital that they delivered “integrity” to the scheme.

Helen Dolphin, a DPTAC member and director of policy and campaigns at the charity Mobilise, said: “I am pleased that at last we have some reforms that are hopefully going to make a difference to the tremendous abuse the scheme is still suffering from.”

She said too many local authorities were issuing badges to people who do not need them.

Eligibility for the badge will also be extended to more disabled children aged between two and three, with automatic entitlement given to disabled service personnel and veterans with high support needs.

Many of the changes announced will be introduced within a year.

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