Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
8: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Motability Operations leaseholders
(1) A person who is—
(a) a recipient of a sum or sums specified in subsection (4), and(b) a leaseholder of a car, powered wheelchair or scooter from Motability Operationsmay petition the Secretary of State if, during tax years 2014-15 and 2015-16, the sum or sums specified in subsection (4) are insufficient to allow them to meet their obligations under the lease specified in this subsection.(2) On receipt of a petition under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must increase the amount of the sum or sums specified in subsection (4) received by the petitioner to a level sufficient to make the payments required under the terms of the lease specified in subsection (1), or arrange for equivalent additional payments to be made to the petitioner to allow them to meet their obligations under that lease.
(3) The Secretary of State must, in each of the tax years ending with 5 April 2014 and 5 April 2015, consult Motability before making an order by statutory instrument increasing each of the sums specified in subsection (4).
(4) This section shall apply to sums—
(a) specified in regulations under section 79(3) of the Welfare Reform Act 2012;(b) specified in paragraph 11 of Part IV of Schedule 1 to the Naval, Military and Air Forces etc (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 2006 (S.I. 2006/606).”
My Lords, Amendment 8 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson. In moving the amendment, I am returning to a subject that I raised in your Lordships’ House on 17 January, 24 January and 13 February, and in a series of Written Questions that all relate to the issue of Motability.
During the debate on 17 January, I asked this question:
“Can the Minister confirm the Government’s own prediction, made earlier this month, that 27% fewer working-age people will be eligible for the Motability scheme once PIP is fully rolled out? Disability organisations say that the new proposal means that 42% fewer disabled people of working age will be eligible—an average of 200 people in every constituency”.—[Official Report, 17/1/13; col. 818.]
I received no answer from the Minister that day, and that failure to set out the Government’s own estimates of how many people will actually be affected has driven me to raise this issue yet again. On 24 January the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, the chairman of Motability, said that there are some 620,000 vehicles on the road,
“which is probably the largest fleet of its type in the world”.—[Official Report, 24/1/13; col. 1181.]
For Parliament to be asked to walk blindfolded into decisions that will result in some Motability users having their specially adapted vehicles repossessed is simply unconscionable. It is also deeply irresponsible.
One-third of disabled people live in poverty, and with some claimants losing as much as £150 a month if they fail to meet the newly tightened criteria—an annual loss of nearly £1,800—the situation is unbelievably bleak. The Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents more than 50 disability rights groups, reminds us that for disabled people, Motability vehicles are,
“their means of independence and participation, the lifeline that enables them to get to work, to GP appointments, to the shops, to take their kids to school”.
On 13 February, at the conclusion of the debate on the regulations, we got a little closer to the scale of what is about to happen. I quoted the figures and asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud:
“Does the noble Lord agree with those figures? If he disputes them, what figure would he give the House?”.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, replied:
“My Lords, we know how many people will get the higher mobility component, a figure that will clearly be fewer under PIP than under DLA. I have provided those figures but, just for the record, the figure of roughly 1 million people on the DLA component in a steady state will reduce to roughly 600,000. That is the decline”.—[Official Report, 13/2/13; col. 741.]
When pressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, the Minister also remarked:
“Yes, my Lords, there is some churn”.
He added, after an intervention that I made:
“In closing, it is simply not possible for me to confirm, deny or reach any figures in answer to the noble Lord’s question on how many cars will go”.—[Official Report, 13/2/13; col. 742.]
Yet we are asked to sleepwalk our way into allowing people’s Motability cars to be taken away from them. I might remark that “churn”, when referring to people losing their means of mobility, strikes me as an unfortunate expression to put it mildly. It sounds like a calculating or statistical term when we are debating an issue with enormous human implications.
Amendment 8 has been accepted by the Public Bill Office and is in order because underpinning the link between the 2012 Act and this Bill is the fact that this Bill is about changes in the amounts of welfare benefits, and PIP is a welfare benefit. It is therefore in order to legislate on changes to any welfare benefit via this Bill, even those not originally included in it, and so, before it completes its stages, the Government and Parliament have the opportunity, if they so wish, to safeguard those who will otherwise see their Motability vehicles repatriated.
My amendment is simply a plea to the Government to think about providing a transitional arrangement—perhaps a two or three-year period of grace—for those who already have vehicles and who risk losing them. If this amendment does not achieve that objective, I hope that the Minister will at the very minimum say that the Government will bring forward on Report an amendment which does. This Bill cannot be used to change the eligibility criteria, but it can be used to prevent sequestration of vehicles.
At present, the enhanced rate of the mobility component is established by Section 79 of the 2012 Act. Section 79(3)(b) states that the weekly rate, or “the enhanced rate”, may be prescribed. Section 95 explains that “prescribed” means prescribed by regulations and Section 94 explains that these regulations have to be set out in a statutory instrument. The Government have committed that PIP will be linked to inflation. As the regulations setting the rate of PIP, the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013, agreed by the House on 13 February, do not make any reference—as we heard earlier today—to a link to inflation, the Government will need to announce new rates via statutory instrument each year. Therefore, subsection (3) of the proposed new clause in this amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult Motability before publishing the new rate.
Subsections (1) and (2) take a different approach. If an existing leaseholder of a Motability vehicle is being charged more by Motability than the enhanced or standard rate of mobility allowance awards them, they may under the amendment personally petition the Secretary of State for more money, and the Secretary of State would have to pay them—just the petitioners, not everyone receiving the mobility component—exactly enough extra money to meet Motability’s requirements.
I would like to prevent all the reductions which the Government are making to the Motability scheme, but this amendment does not do that—indeed it would be incapable of doing that at this stage. It takes the most extreme situation that will occur as a consequence of government cuts in public finance to save current users of Motability vehicles and to save the Government from the disaster of being seen to be responsible for taking away a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Let me share one or two comments which I have received. The following letter arrived just this morning from a Mr and Mrs Stanton who live in Uxbridge. They state:
“We are both terrified that we will lose any monies that we desperately need just to carry on a normal life and, may we add, just to exist”.
Mr Stanton says:
“I have Crohn’s disease and was born diabetic, and recently have had two stents fitted after a heart attack … We are not layabout scroungers as Mr Cameron would like to portray us both, but in fact both had jobs each, myself 38 years, but no time off except for holidays and my dear wife 27 years until illness stopped her in her tracks”.
I have also looked at some case studies which have been provided by some of the disability rights organisations. I have many of them, but I realise that time is at a premium, so I shall cite only one or two.
“My DLA helps me lead a more independent life, be less reliant on parents and feel less of a burden on family. DLA helps me do this as much as I can. Without it, I may as well give up. I know one thing: without it, I wouldn’t be able to work at all. Why is this the case? The car for one thing. Without my mobility car I couldn’t get to the local shops. I may only live a mile from the local shops and for most people walking this isn’t a problem but for me it is next to impossible”.
There is also this comment from someone living in a rural area:
“I will be one of the house bound. I live in a rural location and rely on my hoist in my Motability car to lift my mobility scooter in and out. I cannot self-propel my wheelchair far enough to be useful. So I will be stuck at home. I feel powerless to cope with it”.
Finally, there is this comment from someone in Wales.
“We live on a mountain in the Welsh Valleys. Even our main high street is on an incline. We have no roads that are on the flat. I had until March 2014 left on my higher rate mobility claim, and to lose my Mobility Car entitlement would condemn me to being virtually house bound. I do have a mobility scooter but this limits me to short distances and the mercy of the weather. My mobility payments help cover the running costs of my scooter electricity usage and repairs. My future is looking very bleak”.
Let me say a word about attempts to blur the responsibility for the loss of Motability vehicles in the kind of case studies that I have just alluded to. On 13 February, in answer to Written Questions that I tabled, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said:
“As an independent charity, Motability is wholly responsible for the administration of the Motability scheme, including setting policy on the recovery of vehicles. We are continuing to work closely with Motability to understand what impact the introduction of PIP might have on its customer numbers and to ensure the smooth introduction of PIP as it relates to users of the Motability scheme”.—[Official Report, 13/2/13; col. WA 157.]
That is true only up to a point. Motability can run the scheme only with government support. Motability did not change the ground rules. Motability did not introduce PIP. The Government must accept responsibility for those changes.
What will we lose? What is at stake? Oxford Economics, in a report drawn to my attention by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and which the Library kindly made available to me, entitled Economic and Social Impact of the Motability Scheme and published in 2010, reminds us of the many important benefits that the scheme brings to its users and wider society. It states:
“The impacts are difficult to measure but one estimate suggests that by enabling people to visit family and friends more frequently, Motability increased its customers’ well-being by the monetary equivalent of up to £3.2 billion in 2009”.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, will take that figure and one or two others which I shall give in due course back to his noble friends and others at the Treasury.
The Oxford Economics survey found that almost all—99% of—Motability customers had participated in social activities outside their home in the previous month. The vast majority of customers—73%—said that they are more independent now that they have a Motability car. Of those, 49% said that they are a lot more independent. It also found that having a Motability car improves disabled people’s financial independence: 60% reported that they were better off after receiving a Motability car. The car also significantly increases the degree of choice and control that customers have over their lives. Their average ranking of the extent of choice and control they have rises from 3.8 to 7.9 after receiving a Motability car. The car also affects disabled people’s financial independence. Of the Motability customers surveyed, 60% reported that, taking all the impacts of the car into account, they were better off after receiving the car rather than purchasing their own car or using other forms of transport. That was particularly the case for the youngest age group, the three to 24 year-olds, who would be expected to have the lowest income and wealth. The qualitative discussion groups consulted said that the financial benefits were secondary to the other benefits that having a Motability car brings to disabled people’s lives.
Having a Motability vehicle enables disabled people to make spontaneous and independent decisions to travel to places and to undertake activities of their own choosing. That increases their independence. Having a Motability car also enables disabled people to enhance their social lives. Since getting the car, 60% of customers said that their ability to visit family and friends had improved. In this comprehensive study, estimates are made of the economic value of some of the social impacts that are enabled by disabled people having a Motability scheme car. The study of social impacts has been able to quantify amounts of up to £1.3 billion a year in worth to the economy. In addition, customers’ enhanced ability to visit family and friends is worth the monetary equivalent of £3.2 billion.
Are we really willing to cast aside all these gains and condemn disabled or immobile people to revert to living without transportation? Even worse, are we really willing to sanction reforms that will result in existing vehicles being taken away from users who have qualified for their vehicles under arrangements already legislated for by Parliament? I cannot believe that a decent, humane or civilised country would do this and I trust that the Minister will give the principles that underline the amendment serious consideration and, before forcing us to divide on this at a later stage, will promise to come forward with transitional arrangements to prevent these sequestrations and repatriation of vehicles occurring. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool has very clearly explained the amendment to which my name is also attached. I declare an interest in that I am in receipt of disability living allowance, but I do not have a Motability car. I have used the scheme in the past when I was first able to drive, because it was the only realistic and economical way that I could have become mobile.
At the briefing that was held on the PIP regulations on 22 January 2013 with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the Minister in another place, Esther McVey, it was my understanding that the timescale for someone having to return their car if they were no longer eligible for PIP could be relatively short, perhaps just a matter of a few weeks. At the briefing, the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, the chairman of Motability, expressed a strong wish to do as much as possible to help people. However, I do not believe that Motability has too much room for manoeuvre.
I will not relive the debate around the 20 to 50 metres issue—I am sure your Lordships’ Chamber has heard enough from me on that matter. However, my concern is for those who have very expensive adaptations, which are what they require in order to drive—they could be left without an adequate method of getting around—and for people who live in an area where public transport is not terribly accessible. The short timescale between notifying someone of their car being removed and it being taken away could make life extremely difficult. Without some further protection, it could lead to chaos for many disabled people.
I am also concerned that there is perhaps not a lot of sympathy for some people in receipt of DLA. In the media, they are often referred to as people with a “free car”. The Daily Mail just today ran a cartoon which trivialised those who claim DLA, and compared a disabled person who was eligible for DLA to someone who had a blister on their foot. DLA helps a disabled person with the additional costs of disability—transport being significant—and the individual in many cases also has to pay a deposit to access the Motability scheme. If a disabled person was notified that their car was being removed, the amount of unused deposit would be paid back to the individual, but this could quickly be used to pay for extra costs such as taxis. As a comparison, the journey from King’s Cross to Westminster by tube is relatively easy and costs a few pounds. That is easy enough for someone who is not disabled, but if you are a wheelchair user, it costs £17 in a taxi—or that is what I paid today. It would be easy to see how quickly the money returned from a deposit could be spent.
If at a later stage, on appeal, it turns out that the person did indeed qualify for the appropriate level of support, then a new deposit would have to be found, ahead of the budgeted date, and they may not have that money available. A new car would have to be found and adapted, and the process therefore starts again. Of course, we do not know what the potential success rate at appeal is at the moment, but if people have at least the guarantee of running through to the end of their contract for a Motability car, this would give many a more adequate time to make other provision.
I have heard many people say, “Well, disabled people should just use public transport like many others”. I do not disagree with that. Public transport is okay but, in many cases, is not much better than that. London is perhaps one of the best cities in the country for disabled provision, and I declare that I am a board member of Transport for London. However, “patchy” is the best word that I can use to describe transport outside London.
My noble friend Lord Alton talks about spontaneity. He is absolutely right. Motability cars are essential for spontaneous trips as well as for getting to work or hospital, and for taking your children to school. As a wheelchair user, I have to book train travel 24 hours in advance; trains have only a couple of wheelchair spaces. I am always grateful if there is an accessible toilet on board, but the situation is not great if you are going from London to Darlington. It is not easy for disabled people spontaneously to travel by public transport. I know of at least one ongoing court case around disability access to public transport and I was informed this morning of one major bus company whose wheelchair spaces do not give priority to wheelchair users. There is so much work that needs to be done in this area.
A Motability car gives access to work and hospital, as I have said, at, I believe, a considerably lower cost than that of local authority or other services, or indeed of pushing the cost elsewhere if the car is removed. A too-hasty removal of vehicles from disabled people does not really protect those who need them.
My Lords, I am very surprised to see the need for this amendment. Usually, when benefit changes are introduced, it is standard practice not to take them away from those who are currently in receipt of them. If the Government go ahead with the provisions in the way that is currently envisaged, it is clear that they will effectively be depriving people of a benefit which they currently enjoy, because what is a Motability car if not a benefit? It is every bit as valuable as a cash benefit and I find it difficult to imagine that the Government seriously intend to strip people of benefits which they currently enjoy.
I am very sorry that I missed the first couple of minutes of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I do not know whether he referred to the numbers but he cited the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Freud: that in a steady state the number of disabled people with mobility difficulties in receipt of personal independence payment will reduce from about 1,000,000 to 600,000. I am given to understand that of those, it is estimated that 27% might have a Motability car. I believe this equates to about 200 Motability cars per constituency. That is a large number of people who are likely to be beating a path to their MP’s surgery with a very real grievance. I hope that the Government will take that into their calculations when considering whether to press ahead with this provision.
I remember several occasions when Lord Newton, who is sadly no longer with us, would taunt the Government when we came to debate provisions of this sort—the bedroom tax was an example and others could be thought of—with the fact that changes of this character would not survive five minutes once they had been introduced and aggrieved constituents were beating a path to their MP’s surgery. That is the situation which the Government are facing with this provision, if they press ahead with it.
I cannot believe that the Government seriously intend to proceed with a measure which will take Motability cars out of the hands of disabled people who currently rely on them for their mobility and without which they will effectively be rendered prisoners in their own house. I will be interested to see what the sense of this Committee is as we listen to the debate but I would be very surprised if there was not widespread sympathy for this amendment right across the House. I beg the Government to take this one seriously and to make a constructive response to the very full case set out by my noble friend Lord Alton and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.
My Lords, I also support the intention behind the amendment. I declare an interest as a vice-patron of Motability, while two members of my extended family—though not my immediate family—enjoy the use of Motability cars.
A number of us at first welcomed and were appreciative of the amount of consultation that the department engaged in concerning the new regulations for PIP, only to learn that, at the very last moment and without consultation, the Government had made two amendments, one of which was to withdraw the magic words “safely”, “reliably” and so on, while the other allegedly clarified what was meant by “virtually unable to walk” by confining it, as of right, to a territory of 20 metres, as opposed to the original territory of 20 to 50 metres that had informed previous decisions.
The Government, rightly and sensibly, moved on the first of these amendments and reinstated the test for the higher-rate DLA mobility component by introducing the key words “reliably”, “regularly”, “accessible” and so on, but failed to move on the second on the issue of 20 to 50 metres, assuring us that it made no difference in practice. When they were pressed on the statistics, however, the “no difference in practice” turned out to be a very real difference. Although the noble Lord, Lord Freud, suggested that of the 1 million, 600,000 would retain it and 400,000 would lose it, that was not the complete figure because 200,000 people who are currently on the lower-rate mobility allowance—needing psychological supervision and so on—would move up into the higher group, so there was a net loss of 400,000 but a gross loss of 600,000 people in higher-rate DLA who would now lose it, although to some extent that would be compensated for by the further 200,000 coming in from the lower group. Still, the gross figure is something like 600,000.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I am delighted to acknowledge that I am drawing on the Oxford Economics report that came out in December 2010, which is full of very valuable figures on this. We know from that report that about 28% of people on higher-rate DLA turn that mobility component into a Motability car. There are currently around 543,000 people driving a Motability car on the basis of three-year leases, and around 185,000 new cars are bought each year by Motability. It is the largest purchaser of new cars in the country, accounting for about 10% of them. This will have serious ramifications for jobs and the car industry, which Motability does so much to support.
However, I am not even going to argue about that. I am arguing on behalf of what Motability does for people’s independence. I remember being struck many years ago, back in the late 1990s when I first met the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, by what she said about the Independent Living Foundation. She said, and for me this was a mind-changing moment, that the ILF, which gave people what we now call personal budgets—generous, or at least adequately generous, sums of money to enable them to employ their own carers and so on—put that disabled person at the centre of the care system, not as a recipient at the end of that system, so that people could determine what time they went to bed and so on. The same is true of a Motability car; it puts the person who is enabled to drive it at the centre of their mobility, not dependent on the charity, good will, altruism, convenience and so on of other people. Of those people who have a Motability car, something like 76% of them drive it themselves, so it becomes their means of movement. The result of that is that it frees not only them to be mobile but their informal carer as well, because without that transport they are totally dependent on someone else to take them to places where they need to go. As one person quoted in the Oxford Economics study said, if they are housebound—that is, without that car—it makes their informal carers housebound too. Removing the car locks two parties into immobility.
The report goes on to show us how effective the Motability car has been in enlarging the horizons of people’s lives. It shows that, for example, most of the recipients had cars in the past that they could no longer use by virtue of their arthritis or their heart problems. Whereas before their disability two-thirds of the recipients of cars were in work, subsequently only 16% were able to hold down paid employment. The Motability car helped 12,500 of them get a job and 56,000 to keep their job. It was crucial for those who needed specially adapted cars that they could not provide for themselves or for people in rural areas, such as my county of Norfolk where, frankly, public transport is non-existent and a complete myth. That car took some of them—16%—to work; it took younger ones into education and training, allowing them, in due course, to get work; it took them to their medical appointments, the shops, their children’s schools and to see their families. It allowed them, as one of them said, to access life. This is what the Government are apparently proposing to take away.
We all accept that people’s disability needs can diminish over time, or may increase over time, but for the most part, those who have reached the threshold of higher-rate DLA continue to have very real and substantial mobility problems wherever that line is to be drawn, whether at 20 metres or 50 metres. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I urge the Government before Report to hold discussions with the noble Lords, Lord Sterling and Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and come up with a way forward on this. We have to have a transitional period—a period of grace—on this, either to the end of the lease or for a two-year period, whichever comes last, which would, at the very least, allow adequate time for the appeals procedure to go through without people losing a car in the mean time and then having to go through the routine that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, described to regain it.
We had a similar discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about adapted houses. At one stage, if people were underoccupying a house that had had £20,000 spent on adapting it, they were to move from there, go somewhere smaller and have all the adaptation put in again, but good sense prevailed. The Minister agreed that where such money had been invested it was wise for those people to be allowed to stay. That argument makes sense for the home, and it makes sense for the agency of mobility which is the Motability car. That transitional period of grace, whether it is to the end of the lease or for a two-year period, whichever comes last, would prevent the awful situation of cars being taken back in and piled up in scrapyards because nobody would want that supply of used cars on the market when there will not be the purchasing power to buy them. We would not see Ford and the rest of them finding that they suddenly had closed order books, and we would not see people losing their cars, appealing, regaining them and having to go through all the trauma of these arrangements.
At the very least, there is a huge moral, legal, practical and economic obligation on the Government to provide a way forward to allow that transitional period—that period of grace—to allow those who feel that they should keep their car to appeal and, I hope, to retain it and to allow those whom it is deemed must lose their car time to adapt. Without it, I warn the Minister that she has seen nothing yet.
My Lords, I shall start by setting out our position. We certainly support the thrust of this amendment and the intention behind it. We certainly support the concept that there needs to be consultation between the Secretary of State and Motability. The precise formulation of proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment needs careful consideration of the idea of benefits being on an individual basis rather than more generally, but I do not think that particularly concerns the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I think the idea is to press the Government to come forward with some transitional arrangements.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a comprehensive and passionate argument in favour of the amendment. Indeed, he has been assiduous in following this issue and has been leading on it now for some months. It is probably fair to say that, in all the discussion, the to-ing and fro-ing and all the consultation that was undertaken on the move from DLA to PIP, this did not originally have the prominence that it should have had. The efforts now to ensure that it is properly focused on are very important.
We have heard the reasons why Motability is so important to people. It enables them to visit family and friends, gives them financial independence, enhances their social life, enables spontaneous activity, enables getting children to school and offers access to work. However, there was some debate when we discussed the DLA/PIP regulations about how access to work would be substituted for in some way. The Minister’s response at that time was that it was under consideration. Having thought about that, if access to work can be a means of providing support, it would deal with only one of the reasons why people need and enjoy Motability arrangements. It would not cover all the other social components.
The arguments in favour and understanding of the importance of Motability arrangements to users cannot be overstated. It is hugely important. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Low, that there is no transitional protection for these arrangements. That is something which the Government should take on board. The root of this problem, of course, is that the Government have failed to allay the alarm about access to the enhanced mobility rate of PIP, given the new 20-metre walking criteria. Although we know that it is the Government’s position that, as a practical matter, they do not believe that it makes a difference, that is not how it is seen by people currently in receipt of DLA. The Government have a real job to do to; they must articulate more effectively why that is the case, if it is. We have not heard it effectively to date.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to a whole raft of questions that he had raised, particularly when we were dealing with the main regulations on this, which remain unanswered. I hope that he, and those of us here tonight, could receive a full follow-up on that before we get to Report stage.
What is being asked for here is a transitional arrangement which means that people do not in short order lose a Motability vehicle that has made a real difference to their lives and enhanced their quality of life, and without which their life would be diminished. It is not only a question of the individual’s quality of life. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, cited a number of figures about the savings to society—the costs that society does not have to incur because of these arrangements and the freedom they give to people who would otherwise potentially remain isolated and not be able to live so independently. Certainly, they would not be able to rely on public transport which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, leaves something to be desired in some places, although not all.
Not only do the Government seem to be in a difficult position if we are to have wholesale repossession of Motability vehicles—I cannot believe, as others have said, that the Government really want to face that—but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, we do not know what scale of appeals will be driven by these arrangements and all that that will entail for the department. It is incumbent on the Government, at the very least, to commit to take this issue away tonight, to seriously address how they can help those tens of thousands of people who are at risk of losing their Motability vehicle in short order, the effect of which would be really quite devastating on lots of individual lives. I do not believe that the Government want that. Undertaking to address this issue and the transitional arrangements tonight would go some way to alleviating the concerns that many people have.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. In responding, first, I will address the points that I have put under the heading of “uprating” and then come to issues linked specifically to Motability and PIP. I want to make it clear, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Alton, acknowledged, that this Bill, which is about capping the annual increases of certain benefits to 1%, does not include DLA or personal independence payments. It is really important that that is properly understood by everyone when we are discussing this matter.
If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Alton, correctly, having acknowledged that PIP is not part of this Bill, his amendment would seek to require the Secretary of State to consult Motability every year before he sets the annual rate of increase on PIP. However, I do not think that that is necessary. As I have said, PIP is excluded from this Bill and would be subject to a CPI increase. If there were any shortfall in the benefits over the course of a three-year lease and if the PIP annual uprating was to affect the level of benefit that a person was due to receive, any change in the rate of the enhanced mobility component would not impact on a claimant with a Motability lease directly because that would be borne by Motability as part of the risk to it of operating the lease.
Governments have worked with Motability for more than 30 years and, as I understand it, thus far we have never required protection for Motability leaseholders in the way that the amendment suggests. As noble Lords are well aware, the Motability lease is a private agreement between the claimant and Motability. It is entered into without any influence from the department. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, just under one-third of eligible claimants uses Motability.
That being said, I absolutely understand the points made in this debate about how those who take advantage of the Motability scheme value the vehicle provided. Therefore, it is essential that Motability remains available to those deemed eligible to receive it. Sometimes, as regards the way in which noble Lords talk about the changes that are being made, the impression could be given that the Motability scheme is coming to an end for everyone. We absolutely understand the importance of Motability. It is an important scheme and people must continue to have access to it, albeit that fewer numbers will have access than up to now.
This is the Committee stage, not Report. The Minister said that we were suggesting in the way we talked about the numbers that this was in some sense a catastrophic activity—that the Motability scheme might come to a close, and so on. But on the figures that she has more or less confirmed for us, something like 600,000 people currently getting a higher rate of DLA will not get the enhanced rate of PIP. Just under 30% of all those on higher rate DLA turn that into a vehicle; that is just under one-third. So of the 600,000 people who lose the benefit, something like 185,000 or thereabouts of people who currently have a car will lose their car. That is not small beer.
I do not think that the noble Baroness heard me say that it was small beer. That is not the point that I am making at all; I am making the point that Motability is incredibly important to people, but it will still continue. Yes, some people will not be eligible for it in future, and I know that those who will be affected will feel it very strongly. However, I want to make the point that sometimes in the way in which this is talked about the impression can be given that we are removing Motability from everyone. That is clearly not what is happening.
I am sorry that the Minister feels that that impression is being given. It is certainly not the intention of myself or, I think, anyone else who has spoken in debates to suggest that everybody is going to lose Motability. But one problem that we face is that we are all debating in the dark, because the Government have not been able to provide figures to tell us how many people are likely to lose Motability. It would be extremely helpful for us to know that. Perhaps the noble Baroness could also confirm that in this year’s annual report Motability said that about £17 million was given by way of government aid, and that the Government will support the scheme by about the same amount during the next 12-month period. By what amount will it be reduced in the next four or five years? That will give us some hint of the reduction in the number of vehicles that will be available.
I will have to write to the noble Lord on that question. I do not have that information in front of me.
I was going on to say that we are continuing to work closely with Motability to understand what impact PIP might have on the number of people who use the service and ensure that they are well placed to manage the introduction of the new benefit. Because Motability is based on an individual’s choice, it is difficult to predict the impact on Motability customer numbers from the introduction of PIP. Noble Lords have referred several times to what my noble friend Lord Freud said in response to other debates on this topic. I am not in a position to add to what he said at that time.
I understand that it would not be the noble Lord’s intention in pressing this amendment, but it is worth pointing out that one effect would be to give some kind of different treatment to those who had chosen to use Motability versus those who have not. We need to be careful that we do not run a risk of discriminating against those who have chosen not to use Motability. I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord intends, but it is worth making the point that there is a risk in that.
I move on to issues around Motability itself. As noble Lords have acknowledged there has been recently—only last week—an extensive debate in the House about the new regulations introducing PIP. The amendment does not address the issue of those eligible for PIP or the higher rate, once the transition is made from DLA to PIP. The amendment refers to the steps that the Secretary of State must take if someone who is a Motability leaseholder finds that they do not have sufficient sums to meet their obligations under the lease. In the case of someone who does not receive the enhanced rate of PIP, the amendment would not have an impact, as the person in question would not be eligible for a lease. That is an obvious point but it is worth mentioning.
As noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, as chairman of Motability, is looking at how Motability can help to mitigate the impact of the measure for those who may be affected by the move to PIP. Measures could include allowing people to purchase their scheme car, providing a package of information and advice, and allowing them to retain use of their vehicle for a short period after their benefit payments stop to give them time to make other arrangements.
Several noble Lords questioned the adequacy of the process whereby somebody is able to retain their Motability vehicle for 28 days between a decision being made and the point at which Motability has said that it would have to recover the vehicle. These proposals are certainly consistent with what happens now. The proposal for the 28 days is not a new arrangement affecting a transition from DLA to PIP. This procedure would happen now if somebody was no longer considered eligible for this provision.
The noble Baroness made two points. The first was that the vehicles will be offered for sale to existing users rather than them necessarily being repatriated. Will she explain to the House what research has been done by the department and by Motability to establish how many people would be in a position to afford to buy their own vehicle? What work has been done to look at the maintenance costs of those vehicles, should they purchase them?
The noble Baroness went on to describe the circumstances in which people would be able to keep the vehicles if an appeal was pending. Surely that is precisely what this amendment is seeking to do: that is, to find transitional arrangements in all those circumstances. Would it not therefore be sensible for the Government to take the amendment away and to come forward with an amendment that does all the things that it seems to me we are agreed we need to address?
On the point about the cost of purchasing, all the evidence suggests that a Motability car in effect acquires through its VAT exemptions and tax exemptions something like a 40% discount on what it would cost to hire a similar car in the private market, and that is before any adaptations. Given the level of income of disabled people and the poverty that we know so many of them face by being out of the labour market and having the additional costs of heating and so on associated with their disability, I cannot see how that would be a realistic option for all but a very few of them.
All I am able to add to what I have already said is that the department is continuing its discussions with Motability to see what arrangements can be put in place to ease this burden on people as the process of replacing DLA with PIP comes on board. We expect Motability to have some measures in place by the autumn of this year. However, on the basis of this debate, I will certainly go back to the department and obtain further information about where we are with those discussions and what evidence is being examined as part of that process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, asked about advance payments that people make when leasing an expensive car with specialist adaptations and whether they lose that money if they lose eligibility, even if they are successful on appeal, as they will have lost the car. If someone loses their car as a result of PIP reassessment, any advance payment outstanding will be returned on a pro rata basis. I realise that that does not address the whole point, but I hope that it goes at least some way to addressing it.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, asked about the use of Motability cars for work and whether people who might not have access to a Motability car might be affected by this and lose their jobs. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said that in any case he thought that what my noble friend Lord Freud had said about the possibility of the use of access to work as a way of addressing some of these measures might not be an adequate response.
Although my noble friend had said that discussions were going on to see whether access to work was one way of addressing the concerns of some people who would lose Motability under PIP but who might be able to use access to work as a way of funding a car for use for work, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie correctly I think he said that this was not satisfactory because it would not address social issues. I understand what he is saying, but I think that none the less while not addressing all the issues he has raised this is an important facility that is available to disabled people to apply for. If there is a way of using that facility to help people to fund their Motability vehicles in the future, I hope it could be made possible. I would not want it to be diminished just because it does not address everything.
Finally, my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson, if I may call her my noble friend, also raised the issue of public transport, particularly outside London. I will not go into any great detail, but I am aware that the Department for Transport as recently as December published an accessibility action plan for public transport, particularly focusing on transport outside of London, and outlined what measures could be taken to improve facilities on public transport. If she would like more information on that, I will happily give it to her and put her in direct contact with the Department for Transport if she would find that helpful. I am sure the department would welcome hearing about the experiences she faces regularly on her extensive travel up and down the country.
I absolutely appreciate the concern that has been raised by noble Lords in the debate tonight that people want to see Motability remaining available for disabled people as an affordable scheme. The benefits in question are not part of this Bill, as I have already said, and I do not believe that there will be a shortfall between these benefit rates and the obligations that people have as part of an outstanding lease in the years in question. However, even if such a shortfall were to arise, Motability would absorb the cost, so the impact would not fall on the claimant. I hope that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness feel able not to press their amendments.
As we are in Committee, we can come back to the Minister as many times as we wish on this. I just want to pick her up on this, if I may. She has said nothing at all—unless I am being unfair to her, and I certainly do not mean to be—about the main thrust of all the arguments put by my noble friend Lord McKenzie, myself, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, the noble Lord, Lord Low, and, above all, the noble Lord, Lord Alton: that what is needed, at the very least, is a decent transitional period of grace. All that the noble Baroness has offered is the existing 28 days. That applies now, so there is no change. What movement, if any, is the Minister willing to offer us on the key point about having a transitional period of grace for those who will lose? Some 100,000 people—or 185,000, which is my crude estimate—could lose their cars in a relatively small space of time. Without a transitional period, there will be huge problems. What can the Minister tell us about that transitional period?
I regret that in the context of this Bill I am not in a position to be able to offer the noble Baroness the kind of response that I know she is looking for. I will, as I have promised, go back to the department and discuss further with colleagues and Ministers the issues that have been raised in the debate tonight. They are clearly important issues. I can see why people wanted to raise these concerns in the context of this Bill and I do not have any problem with the fact that this has been debated and discussed tonight. However, I am not in a position to offer the kind of assurance that the noble Baroness is looking for, but I will go back to the department and follow up in writing with further information, as I am able to, after I have had those discussions.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her reply, and especially her assurance that she will ponder on some of the things that have been said in your Lordships’ House this evening and discuss them with officials and come back to us in writing. I also thank my noble friends Lady Grey-Thompson and Lord Low, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for their contributions to this evening’s debate.
The Minister is quite right that this would not be the ideal vehicle; it is not the ideal amendment. No pun is intended. But you have to take what you can in parliamentary life and this is the only Bill that is before Parliament at the present time that is capable of amendment on this crucial issue. I felt that it was incredibly unsatisfactory when we debated this issue last, when it was lumped in with a number of other unamendable regulations that we took one after another. As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, rightly said, this is not an issue that has been given sufficient attention in either House during the progress of all the Bills and regulations that have been proceeding, yet it is one that causes great anxiety outside your Lordships’ House. If the estimate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has given is correct—that 185,000 vehicles could be affected—that should give us all pause for thought. We should all stop and think about the implications for the owners and users of those vehicles. It will place limitations on their freedom of travel and their ability to get to work, schools, health appointments, shops, engage in social life, and all the other issues that have been raised during the debate.
It is also extraordinarily unfair on Motability, particularly on the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, who does such important work on behalf of disabled people throughout the country and who is held in such high esteem here in your Lordships’ House. It is unfair to expect people to operate in the unknown. I was surprised, therefore, that the noble Baroness was unable to confirm whether the £17 million mentioned in the annual report of Motability will be the figure for the following years. I am grateful to her for saying that she will establish what the figures are. That will give us some idea of where the balance of responsibility then truly lies. Obviously, we cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If Motability has not been given adequate resources, it will not be its fault if vehicles then come to be repatriated.
I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said about the appeals process. I tabled some Written Questions just a week or so ago involving that issue, among others. I tabled four Questions and got eight lines by way of reply in which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that the Government have no plans to fast-track appeals to Motability customers or provide financial support to the Motability scheme to help those people who lose their vehicle through personal independence payments reassessment. It could not be clearer that not only will there be no resources made available if this position continues to apply but there will be no plans to fast-track appeals from Motability customers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, rightly told us, in the 28-day period that people will have it will simply not be possible to deal with the avalanche of appeals that will arrive.
The noble Baroness also said that there had never previously been a need to protect Motability users in the way that is set out in the amendment. However, never previously were there circumstances in which people’s Motability vehicles were going to be taken away from them. Never before were we confronted with the sequestration or repatriation of vehicles that were awarded to people as a result of a properly established process created by the department and indeed by Parliament.
The noble Baroness also said that the amendment discriminates in favour of those who have opted into the scheme. Of course, that is true. I would rather that everybody who will find their mobility allowance limited as a result of the changes will be assisted. However, simply because we cannot help every group, that is not a reason for not helping any of them. Not being able to solve the problems of the entire world is not a reason for not helping anyone.
My modest amendment simply sets out to help users of the scheme at the moment as they stand to lose their vehicles. I hope that we will address what will effectively be an even worse form of discrimination should that proceed. The amendment simply seeks to create what the noble Baroness referred to as a period of grace—the time in which the issue can be resolved. Nobody should be placed in the invidious position of being told that if they cannot afford to buy their vehicle—we are talking about vast numbers of people who by definition are living below the poverty line and so will not be in a position to buy, maintain and continue to run their vehicle—it will be taken away from them.
I do not believe that the Ministers who are sitting on the Front Bench are the sort of people who would happily or willingly see such a set of circumstances occur. That is why I hope that between now and Report it will not be left to my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson, me or others to bring forward an amendment that by definition the Government will say does not do this or that. I hope that the noble Baroness will use the Bill as an opportunity to put right something that will otherwise come back to haunt many people, including the Government, in ways that I do not believe they would wish. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Clause 2 : Up-rating of tax credits for tax years 2014-15 and 2015-16
Amendments 9 to 10A not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
House adjourned at 10.03 pm.