It’s been revealed that parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can qualify for a free car under the £1.5 billion taxpayer-funded Motability scheme. Paid for by the mobility component of the £12 billion-a-year Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Motability is meant to help people with severe walking difficulties, and allows claimants to directly channel their mobility payments into a new car purchase.
So why are ADHD kids eligible? Creative interpretation of the eligibility requirements might mean they need ‘supervision most of the time from another person when walking out of doors in unfamiliar places’. Or perhaps they would ‘be at risk if they tried to walk’? Taxpayers will be outraged that a condition like ADHD, behavioural rather than physical, is being used to justify mobility grants.
But this story illustrates far broader problems with the administration of DLA.
The 3,000 cars that people with various behavioural conditions in the family are eligible for are a tiny percentage of the 575,000 being paid for under the Motability higher-rate mobility scheme. This is 200,000 more vehicles on the road than a decade ago. Why has this figure risen so quickly? There cannot be 200,000 more immobile disabled people than in 2001. The evidence points to a serious lack of oversight by the relevant authorities.
No medical assessment is required to qualify for mobility money. An assessment can be bypassed if the ‘decision-maker’ is happy with the application, and a medical exam ‘may be to check you are receiving the full amount of benefit you are entitled to’, rather than a comprehensive medical examination of the condition itself.
Given that diagnosis of ADHD has been criticised for often resting on parental evidence alone, there is substantial potential for abuse by parents looking to cash in on generous hand-outs.
There’s also no means-testing. The Motability website allows claimants to explore topping-up their £2,500 annual payments with their own cash, with tempting images of BMWs and Audis likely to provoke envy even in the most scrupulous. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidise new cars for wealthy families.
Most seriously, little effort is made to tackle abuse and fraud. Motability released a statement in June telling of the 800 claimants removed from the scheme in 2010/11. But its annual report mentions 7,144 allegations of fraud or abuse, including uninsured driving, unauthorised use, criminal activity, and drink driving. Just 2,139 of these were pursued, with only 829 resulting in punitive action – the figure quoted in the press statement. Given that an estimated 200,000 are regularly used by the disabled person’s friends or relatives, these figures are worrying small.
Motability relies on the public reporting misuse of these cars. A scheme costing £1.5 billion a year ought to have far more rigorous methods of preventing abuse than the odd tip-off from neighbours. Questions should also be raised about the necessary burden of proof – success rates in pursuing allegations are shockingly low. Given how easy it is to get a car, it seems incredibly difficult to take one away.
The Work and Pensions Secretary is right to take action on the ADHD car scheme, but the entire DLA mobility component should be re-examined. Investigating 3,000 cars out of 575,000 will do little to change the fundamental problems that allow uncontrolled spending of taxpayers’ money, with insufficient investigation of whether that spending is working or needed. The disabled must be supported, but the DWP must ensure the money goes to the right people and for the right reasons.
[Update: We have edited the post above to clarify that the figure of 3,000 is an estimation of the number eligible for the cars, rather than those who received them, and that this refers to a broader spectrum of behavioural disorders, in line with this article. This strengthens the argument in the original post that this is a small part of the overall cost of the scheme.]