The government is very conscious of the needs of people with a disability who require transport supports from the State. 4,700 people receive a Mobility Allowance and 300 people a year receive a Motorised Transport Grant. The government is also conscious of the position of the Ombudsman that the schemes are illegal in the context of the Equal Status Acts.
Following detailed consideration of issues surrounding the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant, the government has today decided that it is no longer possible to allow the two schemes to continue as they presently operate and to devise an alternative scheme for meeting people’s needs.
The decision has been taken after the commencement of a consultation review process with representatives of those people affected. Independently chaired by Ms Sylda Langford, the review group will seek an alternative method for ensuring that the needs of persons affected can be provided for in a manner that does not run counter to the Equal Status Acts.
It is important to note that the decision is in no way intended to save costs and the funding involved in the two schemes (€10.6 million) remains committed to meeting the transport needs of relevant people.
It is also important to note that despite the fact that today’s decision ends both schemes to new applicants with immediate effect, the payment of the Mobility Allowance to those who are currently in receipt will continue for another four months as we devise an alternative method of meeting people’s needs.
Persons who are currently in receipt of the allowance will continue to do so for another four months from today but payments will cease at that point.
Fresh applications, already received by the HSE, will be processed. If found to be qualified after their assessment, these persons will be paid the allowance from the date of the application up until four months from today.
There is no change to the medical and financial eligibility criteria for the Mobility Allowance.
Applications already received by the HSE will be processed and if found to be qualified after assessment, the grant will be paid.
No further applications will be accepted, including from applicants who may have received a grant in the past.
The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and the Minister with responsibility for Disability, Older People and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, have already started a consultation process, meeting a range of groups representing persons affected by this decision. It has been agreed that a special review will now be implemented to seek an alternative method to provide for the needs of people in a manner that does not run counter to the Equal Status Acts. Ms Sylda Langford will act as an independent chair of the review group. Following the initial phase of the group’s work, which will concentrate on issues around the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant, a key concentration of the group will be to look at opportunities for the enhancement of the transport options provided to relevant persons in need.
The group will consider those transport supports which are already in place as part of that process.
Among the supports currently available are the following:
The government is very conscious that there are many people who cannot access public transport and who rely on supports such as the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant for their transport needs. In particular it is recognised that some people rely on such supports to enable them to participate in employment, where a public transport solution is not available. Accordingly the review will include an examination of how best to support the transport needs of those persons with disabilities who cannot readily access public transport. The review will also look at how such matters are addressed internationally.
The current budget for the two Schemes is in the region of E10.6m per annum. This total amount will be reinvested in the solution to be identified arising from this review.
The Government is very conscious of the 4,700 people receiving the Mobility Allowance and the 300 people who receive the Motorised Transport Grant every year. Unfortunately it is not possible to expand these schemes in such a way to achieve compliance with the Equal Status Acts without incurring very significant additional costs which could amount to 100 million per annum in respect of the Mobility Allowance and 200 million over a three year period in respect of the Motorised Transport Grant.
Meeting such costs would result in a requirement for severe service cut backs in current disability, older people and mental health services and this is not something which either the Minister for Health or the Minister of State consider practical or fair.
The Minister for Health has instructed the Health Service Executive to contact each individual who is in receipt of the payments in order to notify them of this decision.
Minister James Reilly and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch attended the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on Wednesday 6th February 2013 in relation to two Ombudsmans special reports regarding the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant.
The Mobility Allowance was established in 1979 as an administrative scheme by way of Departmental circular. There have been two further circulars (2002 and 2007) but the basic criteria for the allowance remains the applicant must be unable to walk or be in such a condition that the exertion required to walk would be dangerous to their health. The Mobility Allowance is payable by the Health Service Executive, subject to a means test, to persons with a severe disability. Applicants must be 16 years or older and under 66 years. The allowance is designed to help eligible people who are unable to walk or use public transport to benefit from a change in surroundings – for example, by financing the occasional taxi journey. The Mobility Allowance is paid monthly and the current rate is 208.50 per month. There are in excess of 4,700 recipients of mobility allowance at an annual cost of over 9m.
The Motorised Transport Grant is also an administrative scheme and a means tested Health Service Executive payment to enable a person with a severe disability to purchase or adapt a car where that car is essential to retain employment. The maximum grant is 5,020 payable once in any three year period. More than 300 people receive the grant each year at an estimated cost of 1.3m.
In order to be eligible to receive the grant, a number of conditions must be satisfied.
The key eligibility criteria are that the individual applying must:
Eligibility for the Motorised Transport Grant may also be considered in Exceptional Circumstances other than for employment retention, for a person with a severe disability who lives in very isolated circumstances and where their disability prevents them from using public transport.
The Ombudsman has recommended that the Department of Health should revise both schemes to make them compliant with the Equal Status Acts, in terms of removing the age limit on the Mobility Allowance Scheme and using a broader definition of disability in respect of eligibility for both schemes.
Currently, the upper age limit on the mobility allowance is 65 years. Persons of 66 years and older, even if they have mobility issues, are not eligible for payment under the Mobility Allowance scheme unless the Allowance was first awarded to them before their 66th birthday. (There is no upper age limit for the Motorised Transport Grant).
In addition, the Ombudsman has recommended that the definition of disability used in relation to the schemes should be broadened, to include all those with physical, intellectual, sensory or mental health disabilities, where such persons cannot access public transport and would otherwise qualify under the schemes in terms of the means assessment.
The Minister has considered the recommendations of the Ombudsman in relation to both schemes carefully. In particular, he has looked at the potential cost of implementing the recommended changes.
Using figures from the National Disability Survey there are upwards of 59,000 people over the age of 65 who have either a lot of difficulty walking for 15 minutes or could not do it at all and therefore could potentially make a claim for the Mobility Allowance if the upper age-limit were removed. Allowing for the fact that some people would not be eligible on the basis of their means, should the definition of disability be expanded to include people with a sensory, intellectual or mental health disability, it is estimated that the potential cost of paying the Allowance to that additional group could be in excess of 100 million per annum.
The current budget for the Mobility Allowance is in the region of 9.3 million per annum.
In respect of the Motorised Transport Grant, Census 2011 Profile 8 Our Bill of Health November 2012 states that:
Allowing for 50% eligibility, the possible additional cost per annum of broadening the definition of disability could be as much as 200m in any three year period. (The Grant is payable once in any three year period).
The current budget for the Motorised Transport Grant is 1.3 million per annum.
Having looked at the matter and in particular the estimates above, the Minister has come to the conclusion that an extension of either scheme would create serious financial pressure on the health budget in the current climate and would be unsustainable. Therefore having discussed the issue with his Cabinet colleagues, it has been decided that the schemes cannot continue as the currently operate.
The Minister and the Minister of State have asked Ms Sylda Langford to chair a project group which will examine both schemes and will recommend a solution which will address priority mobility and transport needs of those who require supports.
The terms of reference are being finalised and agreed with the group at present, however, it has been agreed that the group will work in a number of stages, commencing as a priority with a review of the issues around the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant.
The group will continue its work once this first phase is over and examine wider issues around transport for persons with disabilities.
The group is chaired by Ms Sylda Langford and will, for this first phase of its work, be supported by the Department of Health. Membership includes:
In addition, representation on the group is to be sought from other relevant government departments and State agencies.
The Department of Health has also sought the views and input of the Disability Federation of Ireland and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies.
Part of the review will involve wider public consultation on the issues to be addressed and will also look at how mobility needs are addressed internationally.