One of the greatest fears currently facing people on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is when they will be reassessed for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), and whether they will still be deemed eligible for the benefit. The current timescales for reassessment is that anyone receiving DLA whose claim is coming up for renewal will be reassessed at that time, and those who have previously received an indefinite DLA award will start to be reassessed from October 2015.
Many people who have the High Rate Mobility element of DLA will have swapped their benefit payment to receive a car on the Motabilty scheme instead. The whole point of the Motability Scheme was that it was recognised that the cost of buying a decent and reliable car that met the needs of the disabled person was going to be prohibitive in cost.
My first Motability car was a Ford Focus, but not long after I’d had it I was assessed as needing a new electric wheelchair, and unfortunately no matter which chair I’d gone for, it wasn’t going to fit into the car. So Motability allowed me to change my car earlier than the normal three year lease. The most important feature I was looking for in a new car was a high boot to accommodate the height of the hoist to get the wheelchair in and out, and also have room for the chair itself.
In an ideal world I would have been looking for a small car – such as a Ford Fiesta (I do really like Fords, but any car around that size) in a bright blue, but the large boot thing crossed those off the list, and mostly left huge van-like cars and seven seaters, and when I was looking they all seemed to come in dull colours. I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t want to be driving such a big car, particularly a big box of a van, or a seven seater. And yeah, maybe I’m being picky, but I am in my 20s without six children, and I’d feel silly driving such a big car.
So, I went out searching for a car that fit what I needed, and with a tiny, tiny dash of what I wanted (as small as possible while still fitting the chair). I went to 17 dealerships in my town and, measured a lot of boots. Funnily enough I ended up back at the Ford dealership – looking at the Ford C-Max which is actually based on the Ford Focus, but is taller. It had other benefits as well, it was generally higher – which really helped with getting in and out of it. It has keyless entry, which to me is such a lifesaver. I often have wrist flare ups which makes it difficult to turn a key, but also when you’ve put your wheelchair away, and are using sticks to get in the car, it saves valuable time of searching through your bag looking for the keys, when every additional second on your feet is incredibly painful. Similarly when I reach the car, I’m drained and again it’s so handy to just worry about getting in, than trying to unlock everything.
Motability also offer a means-tested grant scheme. Usually if you pick a bigger car, it has a larger advance payment – and they expect you to cover it, as you chose it. However the reason I needed a bigger car was for documented disability-related reasons, so I was eligible for the grant.
Having the car allows me to leave my home on good days. I’m not always driving, in fact the vast majority of the time someone else drives me, but my wheelchair can’t be lifted without a pretty heavy-duty hoist, so isn’t possible to go into another car. I also can’t use a bus (for lots of different reasons too numerous to mention), and the wheelchair accessible taxis are few and far between, charge a lot more (despite being illegal), need booking days in advance and often don’t turn up and so leave you stranded.
I see my car as an extension of my mobility aid. It’s a place I store things helpful to my condition; it has seats I can cover in cushions and blankets so I can sleep on the journey and have less pain; it has a seat I can recline back so pressure is taken off my spine; it has additional medications hidden away just in case and if I’m out for a longer day, it’s a place I can return to in order to rest/sleep to help me get through it.
Without my car I’d be trapped at home, so the thought of losing my Mobility Element when I transfer to PIP is a constant worry. Now, you might think those who are genuine have nothing to fear – but this, sadly, is not the case. Look at all the regular articles in the press about people who have been told they’re perfectly healthy and had their benefits removed, and yet just looking at the conditions or health issues they have shown they’re obviously entitled to the benefit. The high rate of appeals that overturn the decision made by the Department of Work and Pension’s also show things are regularly going wrong.
However, the real fear is that the government have declared their intentions. We know that the fraud and error rate of Disability Living Allowance is just 0.5%, and yet the government have declared that 42% of working-age people will no longer be eligible for the Motability scheme under the new system. They are therefore admitting in perfectly plain language that they are targeting legitimate claimants, and removing them from the scheme. Of course some of the rules have also changed, particularly of concern is the distance someone can walk. Under DLA it was 50m, but it has now reduced to 20m. This will have a huge impact on people with painful conditions that may simply vary depending on the day. 20m is not far at all – it’s often less than the walk into a shop, or from a parking spot to someone’s front door. This will of course mean many people will no longer be able to work, or go to their local hospital or GP, let alone do normal day-to-day activities like shopping or visiting a friend.
I know so many people like me are living with this fear that I wanted to look at some of the possible alternatives and solutions if someone does not receive the new PIP Enhanced Mobility. These suggestions won’t suit everyone, but may provide a little bit of comfort that there is some help available at least.
First of all if you do find yourself in a position of no longer being assessed as eligible to receive PIP and you have a Motability car, you will continue to receive your DLA payments for four weeks, and you will also be able to retain your vehicle for another three weeks from the date of payments stop – so this gives you around two months to try and find an alternative. You will also be given the option of purchasing your vehicle, and can use these three weeks of payments towards the cost of this.
The government has also announced a payment will be made to people in this position to help with sourcing alternative transportation. For those of us that joined the scheme before January 2013, and therefore were unaware of the impending risk of PIP, will receive £2000. For those who joined after this time will receive £1000.
For customers with wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) Motability may be able to help the customer keep their current vehicle depending on their circumstances, and for those with adapted cars they will pay for the adaptations to be made to a non-scheme vehicle.
It’s well worth knowing this information, as in my experience with similar promises, it may only be offered if you ask for it.
Another option is to privately purchase or lease a car from an independent organisation such as Allied Mobility. They offer both a lease option, and sell adapted cars and WAVs that were previously on the Motability scheme. A company like this will be used to dealing with disabled customers, to may be able to offer more assistance with the transfer between cars.
So there is a little bit of help out there, and some alternatives. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, and I hope that anyone reading this will not be impacted by the changes, or can find an alternative that meets your needs.
Do you have any suggestions you’d like to add? Please comment below.
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