Current work and pensions secretary Esther McVey stands accused of lying to fellow MPs about the Motability disability car scheme. In parliamentary-speak, this is called ‘misleading the house’.
And the accusation comes from within her own party!
Lord Sterling, who was a founder of Motability in 1977, told McVey in a letter that the “litany of inaccuracies”, in a House of Commons debate earlier this month, were “deeply troubling”.
His letter revealed that 75,000 Motability customers had to return vehicles following reassessment for which her department (DWP) was responsible. They had previously claimed disability living allowance (DLA) but had been reassessed for personal independence payment (PIP), and lost entitlement.
The February 8 debate followed a claim, in the Daily Mail newspaper, that Motability Operations (MO) had £2.4 billion reserves. A second claim was that Motability chief executive, Mike Betts, had a £1.7 million pay and bonuses package.
But Lord Sterling’s letter said that the debate had been “deeply flawed and misleading”. He wrote that some errors related to claims that the charity was holding the reserves and running the scheme, and that Betts was employed by the charity. None of those is true.
He pointed out the scheme was delivered by MO under contract to the Motability charity, not by the charity itself.
He told McVey that a separate letter, correcting “many false statements”, was sent to her by Motability Operations.
McVey makes serious errors in Commons
He pointed out that McVey herself had made four serious errors:
- Error 1: She had called for the charity’s trustees to be “held to account” after another MP told how a constituent who had been a lifetime recipient of DLA had been threatened with having her Motability vehicle removed on Boxing Day.
Fact 1: Sterling said this was a result of a PIP reassessment – carried out by the DWP. It was the department that had decided the constituent was no longer eligible for the higher rate of mobility support. This made her no longer eligible to lease a car through the Motability scheme.
- Error 2: McVey’s claimed in the debate that it had been her intervention, as minister for disabled people in 2013, that led to Motability agreeing to pass £175 million to former DLA claimants who lost their Motability vehicles in the reassessment programme.
Fact 2: Not true said Lord Sterling. Minutes of the charity’s meetings showed that its own trustees had made this decision themselves the previous year. They “felt a moral obligation to help people at risk of losing cars due to government policy changes”. In fact, they had already decided by December 2012, months before McVey’s intervention, “to provide a package of significant financial support and other assistance”.
Furthermore, he said McVey had suggested in 2013 that this support should only be focused on the initial stage of reassessments, up to 2015-16. However, Motability’s trustees wanted to provide financial support “over the full period of the DWP’s reassessments”.
He added the charity had to face customers who were “confused, distressed and even suicidal, as they worry about losing their mobility”.
No basis to demand money
- Error 3: McVey told MPs that the DWP would use money regained from Motability to help constituents whose cars had been removed before their PIP appeals had been heard.
In the debate, she said: “When we have got the money back from Motability, we believe we should to support disabled people, that is one of the first things it should be used for.”
Fact 3: Lord Sterling poured cold water on this suggestion. He said there was “no basis on which the government can demand any money to be handed over”.
- Error 4: McVey claimed that the charity was piloting a scheme – “after direction from the department” – to help disabled children under the age of three.
Fact 4: Lord Sterling dismissed this, and said the scheme was actually being piloted by MO and there had been “no direction” from DWP.
A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if McVey would apologise for the “inaccuracies” in her statements to MPs.
Instead, she said: “When PIP was first introduced, the government worked with Motability to design an extensive £175 million transitional support package to support Motability customers who have not been awarded the enhanced mobility component on reassessment from DLA to PIP.
“While the department works closely with Motability, it is an independent charitable organisation and therefore we are not directly involved in determining scheme policy or operational issues.”
Review call rejected
McVey has suffered another setback. She called, in the debate, for the Charity Commission to carry out another review of the financial relationship between the charity and Motability Operations. This would have followed one it carried out last year. In response, the commission declined to do so, and said that it has no new concerns.
It issued a statement, saying: “In light of media reporting about the Motability scheme, we reviewed the highlighted issues to see if there was anything we had not investigated as part of our previous regulatory compliance case in Motability… which was under our jurisdiction as regulator of charities in England and Wales.
“Having reviewed the latest information in the media we have concluded that, as set out in our statement on 8 February, there are no new concerns that come under the commission’s jurisdiction.”
As a former client of Motability, I can say I always received excellent service. If I still lived in the UK, I would still be driving one of the schemes cars. Unfortunately, the mobility element of DLA and PIP is not paid to people living overseas – so I bought my own.
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.
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