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Ombudsman: Personal transport supports for disabled people 'inadequate and unfair'

The Ombudsman has published his report on unequal access to transport schemes for disabled people, an issue first highlighted 20 years ago.

PERSONAL TRANSPORT SUPPORTS for disabled people are inadequate, unfair and inequitable, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has said.

In his report ‘Grounded: Unequal access for people with disabilities to personal transport schemes’, published today, the Ombudsman says that both he and his predecessors received many complaints about three schemes – the Motorised Transport Grant, the Mobility Allowance, and the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme.

Ireland is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which places an onus on signatories to “provide access to transportation on an equal basis to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life”.

However, the Ombudsman said: “Many people with disabilities are stuck at home unable to engage on an equal basis in employment or in their community as they can’t access government support to help with their personal transport needs.

“This social isolation casts a shadow on us as a country and on our commitment to equality and social inclusion for all.”

The Ombudsman said that he and others have highlighted the problems in accessing supports on numerous occasions. Despite years of delay by government, he hopes this report will result in urgent action by policymakers and legislators to provide adequate transport supports for disabled people.

Motorised Transport Grant and Mobility Allowance

The Motorised Transport Grant is a payment for disabled people who need to buy or adapt a car in order to retain employment.

The Mobility Allowance is a payment to disabled people who are unable to walk or use public transport and who would benefit from a change in surroundings (for example, by financing the occasional taxi journey).

Investigations in 2011 and 2012, by then Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, found that the eligibility criteria for the schemes were in breach of the Equal Status Acts.

The government decided to close the schemes to new entrants in 2013 and promised a replacement scheme.

However, some eight years later, and despite the Ombudsman and others frequently highlighting the delay, a replacement scheme is still awaited.

As part of a recent major investigative series on transport accessibility, a spokesperson for the Department of Health told Noteworthy that “there are no plans to reinstate these schemes”.

Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme

The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme provides a range of tax reliefs (for example, a Vehicle Registration Tax or VAT rebate) linked to the purchase and use of specially constructed or adapted vehicles by drivers and passengers.

In order to qualify for tax relief under the scheme, the disabled person must have a Primary Medical Certificate from the HSE. And in order to receive a Primary Medical Certificate the person must meet one of six medical criteria.

The Ombudsman first highlighted problems with the scheme in 2001.

He said that the criteria in the scheme are extremely limited and excessively restrictive.

The Ombudsman explained that this has resulted in people who do not meet the criteria, but who are just as immobile as those who do, being excluded from the scheme. 

The Primary Medical Certificate, required for tax relief under this scheme, confirms you are severely and permanently disabled, and:

  • Are completely or almost completely without the use of both legs or,
  • Are completely without the use of one of your legs and almost completely without the use of the other leg to the extent that you are severely restricted as regards movement in your legs or,
  • Are without both hands or both arms or,
  • Are without one or both legs or,
  • Are completely or almost completely without the use of both hands or arms and completely or almost completely without the use of one leg or,
  • Have the medical condition of “dwarfism” and serious difficulties of movement of the legs.

The report outlines a number of cases of people who were refused a Primary Medical Certificate as the HSE and, following appeal, the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, said they did not meet any of the six criteria.

One case study outlines the experience of a man named David: 

He has restricted movement and severe nerve damage on one side of his body. He also has special insoles for his shoes, and heel supports. He is significantly incapacitated from the pain.
David has a Disabled Drivers Parking Permit. He said that an adapted car would help his mental health and mobility but he has been refused the Primary Medical Certificate.

Another case study outlines the story of Tadhg, whose mother Orla contacted the Ombudsman:

Tadhg is in his 20s and has Down Syndrome and a diagnosis of severe and profound autism. He is also non-verbal and needs full-time care.
Tadhg is a very strong young man and can physically lash out at times. Orla says that Tadhg’s behaviour can be very challenging and he becomes very frustrated.
The situation has been exacerbated by the current pandemic. During the lockdown, a drive in the car helped to calm Tadhg down. However, sometimes his behaviour can still be very challenging in the car and on one occasion he was able to reach from the back seat into the driver’s seat, putting his arms around the driver’s neck and forcing the car to a sudden halt.
Unfortunately, his parents had to stop taking Tadhg for a drive in the car and they have repeatedly applied for a Primary Medical Certificate for him to enable them to adapt their car to make it suitable for Tadhg’s needs.

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